rev revcropElisa Citterio. Photo credit: Monica Cordiviola.rev cropTafelmusik, Toronto’s best-known period performance ensemble, played the first concert of their new season from September 21-24 at Koerner Hall. The program included concerti by Handel, Corelli and Vivaldi and a suite by Rameau, all led by their new music director, Elisa Citterio. The playing was incredible throughout, but I also experienced an unexpected revelation during the show: rather than seeing the performance as merely a gathering of musicians onstage, stuck in a static, determined and immovable formation (pairs of players sharing a music stand, ancient in its acoustically optimal strategies), I became aware of the subtle physical communications that took place between the orchestral players as they moved through the music. It occurred to me that they were dancing as well as playing, not just as individuals but also as a group, realizing the innately dance-based structures of the composers’ works through their bodies as well as their violins, violas, bassoons and flutes. They were, in essence, dancing a tango for us there onstage.

The orchestra is onstage, dancing a tango; the leader is moving her hips, arms, legs, head, torso, clavicles heading the charge. Everything is vital and exciting but always in control, and the players behind her are feeding off her energy. Smiles are traded back and forth between players; the violinists smirk and wink and giggle (one misses the occasional entry, he’s having so much fun! He always recovers admirably.)

Everyone onstage is dressed in black, or close enough. A violinist downstage left, sparkling in a silvery, glittery dress, bops to the music like a go-go dancer on roller blades while cellists play solos like Dizzy Gillespie, riffing like Hendrix, fingers flying like Jimmy Page. A cadenza is improvised and for a moment the sounds of the prescribed, notated music on the page are overtaken by the vibe of an impromptu jam session. You forget that you’re in one of the city’s finest concert halls and get taken to that place all performers remember as the purest form of the art, spontaneous and free extemporization, that place where things happen that can never be repeated, although this performance has been and will be repeated throughout the week.

Bassoons look like saxophones boxing as they bob and weave, taking the bass line then the melody, oboes and violins and horns trading solos – a great feeling, a great vibe (and this is only the beginning!) and it seems for a brief moment like you’re the only one in the hall.

But you’re not. The man in the row behind seems unaware that he is whispering, more than audibly, throughout the concert:

“Yesss…”

“Mhmmmm…”

And, once a movement or work is over,

“That’s the end.”

He whispers with delight at a skillfully executed cadenza or flourish even when others in the crowd look bored. Listening attentively takes a lot of different forms.

At intermission there’s a reception for the younger crowd (hosted by Tafelscene, the under-35 club that has intermission parties at certain shows throughout the year) in a bustling cordoned-off area with free beer and wine. Everyone seems to know each other, breaking into cliques and groups like a high school reunion or an office lunch break around an alcoholic water cooler, and it’s good to see so much support from and for a younger demographic, still underrepresented in the classical world. Some of the performers step out onto the mezzanine and mingle with these young concertgoers, exchanging looks and smiles and conversation, welcoming them and encouraging them in their exploration of this ancient music and its age-defying wonders.

Later in the evening the final suite jives along, lively and sprightly and ebullient, vivid in its characterization. You can imagine the first performance in 1763 Paris: powdered wigs, ridiculously voluminous gowns, collars, gold and palatial scenery as the gentry dance and the performers perform.

The drummer hammers a beat and the players stomp through the Airs gay:

“Yeeesssss…”

The string players’ fingers move frantically but uniformly, choreographically, on their fingerboards as the Contredanses sprint past our ears – if they had ribbons, the bows would look like gymnastic wands:

“Mmmhmmmmm…”

As the last notes are played, the audience stands in rapture:

“That’s the end.”

Onstage these masterful musicians possess dual powers – part black-collar courtiers playing the baroque folk’s jazz, entertainers like Counts Basie, Bernstein, Brubeck and Barenboim – part mythical gatekeepers, opening our ears and minds to the wonders of the past. Where else can someone with no everyday musical, artistic, or spiritual knowledge suddenly become enlightened by and immersed in previously unknown cultural wonders? Such is the beauty of this music, a time capsule opened before our eyes and ears. For two short hours that Saturday night all sense of the present was lost, overwhelmed by the energy put out by that group of dancers that took us all for a ride through some of the great songs of long ago, and we are the better for it.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

The New Horizons Band of Toronto.Mont Orford is nestled in Mont Orford National Park, in the eastern townships region of Quebec. It's also where the New Horizons International Music Association – perhaps best-known for their New Horizons band program for mature student and amateur musicians – held a music camp, from September 10 to September 14, 2017. As a clarinetist and member of the New Horizons Band in Toronto, I packed up my instrument and prepared to attend.

The New Horizons philosophy of music-making for mature adults, founded by Dr. Roy Ernst, was prevalent at this camp. Ernst, former professor emeritus at Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, attended himself, and performed in many of the camp’s activities.

The talented faculty from Canada and the United States enjoyed sharing time and music-making with over 150 mature attendees, over four days of rehearsals and workshops. Music sessions included several interesting and motivational choices: conch choir, Celtic and ukulele ensembles, and Jazz and Dixieland bands; chorus and pop song choirs; and concert bands at both advanced and intermediate levels. Excellent performances by all camp attendees at the final concerts concluded the four-day program.

Dan (left) and Lisa Kapp, with alphorn, at a performance of an alphorn solo with Resa's Pieces Band earlier this year.Several members of the New Horizons Toronto Band were in attendance. The talented Toronto musicians participated in all sessions, playing a cross-section of wind and string instruments. One outstanding instrument was the alphorn, played daily by none other than Dan Kapp, music director of the New Horizons Band of Toronto. At 7am every morning, camp attendees/musicians were awakened with that tone! Dan also conducted the advanced band. The president of the New Horizons Band of Toronto, flutist Randy Kligerman, was also in attendance, performing in the advanced band as well as in the woodwind and ukulele ensembles.

As I have discovered, a music camp experience has many motivational aspects. For mature adult music makers, the self-directed learning opportunities in music ensembles, sectionals, choirs, choruses and bands are available, for those who seek them out – with New Horizons being a prime example. Attending my third International New Horizons Band Camp was rewarding – and with this motivation, I will continue to attend band camps in 2018.

On that note, do attend a New Horizons band camp. Soon.

More information on New Horizons music camps, as well as the New Horizons band programs, can be found at www.newhorizonsmusic.org.

Gail Marriott is a clarinet player (intermediate and jazz) and an educator/financial planner.

pimienta cropLido Pimienta performing during the Polaris Music Prize gala in Toronto on Monday, September 18, 2017. Photo credit: Chris Donovan / The Canadian Press.It is almost three years to the day that I first covered the Polaris Music Prize Gala for The WholeNote.

I’ve spent my creative and journalistic career in the classical, contemporary concert and various world music camps. Founded in 2006 by Steve Jordan, a former A&R Executive with Warner Music Canada and True North Records, Polaris seemed to me to represent an alternate – and in many ways much more mainstream – picture of our national music scene. Embedded in the Canadian music industry and notwithstanding its inclusive-sounding mission statement – “A select panel of [Canadian] music critics judge and award the Prize without regard to musical genre or commercial popularity” – I must admit Polaris was just not high on my personal radar.

That was until Tanya Tagaq’s brilliant, overtly political album Animism made the 2014 Polaris shortlist. Joined onstage by her band (including violinist/producer Jesse Zubot and extraordinary drummer Jean Martin) and Christine Duncan’s 40-voice Element Choir, Tagaq’s Animism album was awarded the Prize later that September 22 night.

The video of their exhilarating 10-minute performance eventually garnered a record number of online Polaris views. Tagaq’s win marked an even more significant Polaris milestone – the first time the Prize was awarded to an Indigenous musician. (The album also took the JUNO Award for Aboriginal Album of the Year the following year.)

My report When Tanya Tagaq Won the 2014 Polaris Music Prize mentioned the importance of sonic mindfulness in her work, privileging not so much music as an entertainment commodity, but sound as a universal human experience, a force for good in this world. Animism embodied those notions, and more. I saw in the album “a musical, political and cultural act of great bravery, [as well as] a provocative confrontation on colonial and ecological fronts…[and] a platform from which to continue discussions of social reconciliation and healing.”

Fast-forward to the Polaris 2017 shortlist.

What immediately caught my attention was that four of the ten albums chosen this year directly reflected current Indigenous realities. A Tribe Called Red, Lido Pimienta, Tanya Tagaq, all Indigenous artists, were joined by Gord Downie’s Secret Path, a powerful concept album about Chanie Wenjack, the young Anishinaabe boy who died in 1966 after escaping from a residential school. Secret Path acknowledges a dark chapter in Canadian history – and offers the hope of starting our country on a road to reconciliation by facing up to some very troubling truths. “We are not the country we think we are,” wrote The Tragically Hip’s frontman and lyricist Downie. “It will take seven generations to fix this.”

Arriving at the seventh floor foyer of Toronto’s The Carlu for the Polaris Gala on September 18, 2017, I was met with a room full of very loud music industry buzz. I bumped into a friend, Lido Pimienta’s percussionist Brandon Valdivia. It was Valdivia’s first Polaris and he seemed a mix of bemusement and excitement. When I mentioned the sometimes-sketchy sound system in the hall, he adroitly replied, “but Glenn Gould called the Eaton Auditorium’s acoustics among the best in North America,” before rushing off to set up.

Of the performances at the gala, Tanya Tagaq’s performance, of songs from her album Retribution, stood out – and stunned the audience. She ended with a cover of Nirvana’s Rape Me, during which a number of women in the audience rose dressed in red, fists held high, reminding us of the tragedy of the multitude of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

A Tribe Called Red was represented not by a live performance but a music video, as was Leonard Cohen and BADBADNOTGOOD. Feist sang I Wish I Didn't Miss You solo, accompanying herself on guitar; Leif Vollebekk sang his loose-limbed ballad All Night Sedans with his band; and the band Weaves rocked the house.

The Colombian-born Canadian singer-songwriter Lido Pimienta, who identifies as Afro-Colombian with Indigenous Wayuu heritage on her mother’s side, sang an explosive set, animated by a group of white-clad dancers in the final minutes. In addition to her acrobatic voice, the sound of the tambura (Colombian bass drum), snare drum, electronics and a four-piece horn section dominated the music. Her album La Papessa “has no guitar! I feel like there’s too much electric guitar in music, and it’s just so dude, so guy,” Pimienta said in a 2014 Musicworks interview.

At the concert’s end, last year’s Polaris Music Prize winner Kaytranada revealed this year’s winner, calling up an excited Pimienta, her mother and her 9-year-old son to the stage.

Lido Pimienta at the Polaris Music Prize gala in Toronto on Monday, September 18, 2017. Photo credit: Chris Donovan / The Canadian Press.Pimienta’s acceptance speech was peppered with references to themes she explored on her self-produced, independent, label-less album La Papessa (meaning The High Priestess, a card in the tarot), including racism, patriarchy, spousal abuse, resilience, independence and issues facing BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) communities. She made a point of acknowledging that we were guests on Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee land, and also the significance of winning Canadian music critics' top prize for an album sung mostly in Spanish, and not in English or French. She thanked “all the single mothers out there who inspire me.”

Pimienta’s 2017 Polaris win was a reminder of one powerful direction Canadian music is traveling today. Indigenous musical creators such as Tagaq, Pimienta, A Tribe Called Red and 2015’s Polaris Prize winner Buffy Sainte-Marie are being acknowledged by the mainstream not only for their artistic achievement, but also for their central contribution to the ever-evolving conversations about past, present and future Canadian identities. Like those forebears, Pimienta’s music is an act of political and cultural bravery, confronting mainstream white/settler status quos with fiery sounds and words.

The Carlu, in its previous incarnation as the Eaton Auditorium, was certainly an impressive and influential place – one that Glenn Gould described in the mid-20th century as one of the best acoustics in the world. But the 2017 Polaris Prize gala at the renovated and rebranded Carlu, unlike the Eurocentric music culture that the Eaton Auditorium once represented, points to a different reality. As Gord Downie framed it, the only viable way forward is to listen closely to one another, and to the many diverse voices among us – particularly those who were making music on this land thousands of years before countries like Canada were even imagined.

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer.

In our W5 series, we select one upcoming event, and get the musicians themselves to answer, in their own words, the basic (and sometimes not-so-basic) questions.

croppedRecitals are usually about showcasing a soloist’s musical expertise – but in some cases, they’re also about expanding it. For pianists Christina Petrowska Quilico and Hye Won Cecilia Lee, an upcoming recital at the Canadian Music Centre quickly turned into an opportunity to curate a recital with a less-than-typical common thread. In this case, the through line is jazz: piano works by classical composers delving into the jazz world, jazz works arranged for classical forces, and other genre-traversing music that isn’t quite as easy to classify.

We spoke with pianists Quilico and Lee to ask them the whos, whats, whens, wheres and whys of their upcoming show.

Christina Petrowska Quilico and Hye Won Cecilia Lee.The WholeNote: Who is involved with this project?
Christina Petrowska Quilico and Hye Won Cecilia Lee: Us, and the composers that we have worked/are working directly with: Bill Westcott, Michel-Georges Bregent, Phil Nimmons and Danny Oore.

WN: What’s the connection between all of the pieces on your program?
CPQ: I wanted my half to reflect many styles of piano music inspired by jazz. I wanted to include a Japanese composer – Masamitsu Takahashi – who wrote a very virtuosic, jazzy piece. Some pop influences are included in Metal Tiger and raucous rock and roll in Go Rocker Gangs Go (Both pieces are by Québécois composer Brégent, my first husband who wrote these pieces as a teenager, and who passed away too young).

Bill Westcott's pieces, Wannabe a Rag and All Boogies, are fun with lots of rhythm. The last two pieces I chose are Art Tatum stylings on songs by Duke Ellington and Gus Kahn. Very smooth and “cool.”

HWCL: I wanted to go the opposite direction and choose jazz musicians who wrote “classical” compositions. A couple of years ago, I was asked to take part in celebration concert for Phil Nimmons’ 90th birthday concert at the U of T Faculty of Music: I presented two shorties, the Toccata and the slow movement of the Sonata, and became quite interested in playing the whole sonata at some point. This summer, the “two camellias” (Red Camellia + White Camellia), which Phil wrote back in 1946, arrived in my inbox – and that a very tidy, succinct Nimmons set.

I wanted to complement the set with another piece that shared a certain something, so I went running to ask another friend – Danny Oore, a monster talent who I admire very much, and who also studies and works at the jazz department of the Faculty. He dug up a piece for me, The Mess, which includes many elements we often talk about: “Rests with fermatas are an invitation to tune and retune the music and the environments – its soundscape, people, and other things – and experience them as one...mess.”

So these selections come from the lives of people who I have interwoven with, for quite a while now. Life is varied and interesting and somehow, the pieces sorted themselves out into a nice, neat little collection.

WN: Where is your performance taking place? Why did you choose this space?
CPQ/HWCL: We were approached by Carol Gimbel, who has curated a set of concerts called CMC Presents. We will be at the Chalmers Performance Space, on the main floor of the Canadian Music Centre: 20 St. Joseph St., Toronto.

WN: When will the show be?
CPQ/HWCL: The show is on this coming Sunday, 24 September, at 3:30pm. Come on down, get a glass of ‘something,’ sit down with us, for a sweet Sunday afternoon.

WN: And why this particular idea, at this particular time?
HWCL: A person is made of many layers, interests and facets. However, it is too easy (or convenient) to be pigeon-holed into an identity. Christina is well-known for her contemporary solo piano performances, and I mainly work as a collaborative pianist/accompanist. However, we both have many interests beyond our “main” works – in music, and in life in general.

As result, in order to keep oneself supple, it is necessary to seek, experiment and present something beyond that “normal” thing that one does. So with Carol’s invitation, we brought things that stretch us, and hopefully our community – things that are non-standard, new, and highly personal. The day that one extends oneself outside of the boundaries – whether [those boundaries are] self-imposed, or outlined by the convenience of custom – is always a good day.

Pianists Christina Petrowska Quilico and Hye Won Cecilia Lee will present solo piano works by Masamitsu Takahashi, Michel-Georges Brégent, William Westcott, Art Tatum, Phil Nimmons and Danny Oore, as well as selections for piano four-hands by Nikolai Kapustin and Samuel Barber, at the Canadian Music Centre on Sunday, September 24 at 3:30pm. For more details, visit our listings or www.musiccentre.ca/node/148275.

Miigis.My earliest memories of Fort York are of spending Saturday mornings when I was about ten years old learning how to make musket balls and apple pie, how to fire cannons and plan fortifications. How magical then to see how, in last weekend’s new music theatre production Miigis by Red Sky Performancethe Fort was overtaken by Indigenous dancers and musicians reclaiming the space and adding to its history – and making it that much richer in the process.

Artistic director of Red Sky Performance, Sandra Laronde, spoke about this juxtaposition in her introduction to the evening: how disconcerting at first and then how ironic it was for the company to be rehearsing in Fort York's Blue Barracks to the frequent sound of cannon fire, and surrounded by young people in the uniform of British soldiers during the war of 1812, but how as they listened to an elder retell in this setting the epic story of the movement of the Anishinaabe peoples from the sea to freshwater – the mythic prophetic history known as the seven fires prophecy – it became an increasingly positive merging of energies, a reclamation of Haudenosaunee (Toronto) “where trees grow in the water,” and a strong message of hope.

When I talked with Sandra Laronde back in August she spoke passionately about wanting to immerse audiences in nature while sharing with them this story. I was attracted by her passion for the project and was curious to see how it would manifest in the physical production of Miigis. How much of this story would be tangibly conveyed by the choreography? How much would it be storytelling and how much a more abstract reflection of the story and prophecy and the emotions that arise from it?

For me it felt to be a fascinating combination of the tangible with the evocative, with some elements of literal storytelling but other, more abstract depictions of an epic journey.

The opening procession of Miigis, at Fort York on September 15 and 16.The opening movement, where male and female traditional dancers in full regalia made their way along the southern barrier wall of Fort York into the stage space (to recorded music), set the tone for Indigenous peoples’ reclamation of the land and acted as a cleansing of the palate (from urban Toronto) before the magic of the Indigenous-influenced contemporary dance and music of Miigis began.

Truly it did feel magical. In a natural historical oasis, against a stunning urban backdrop, six supremely fit contemporary dancers, dressed in flowing water-like silk costumes designed by Julia Tribe, led by choreographer and soloist Jera Wolfe, focused their condensed forces of energy and emotion to carry us on a journey of creation, travel, challenge and hope.

To a powerful, varied, original score played live from the side of the stage, the story began with hands and arms emerging sinuously from under the bare skeleton framework of a miigis (cowrie) shell – as if the people were being born, then flowing out of the shell onto the earth. Next the shell became a boat, a coracle shell to carry them from the sea to the first of the prophesied Promised Lands marked by miigis, the symbolism of shell, boat and prophecy intermingling.

The choreography then became more abstract. In solos, duos, trios, and movements for the full ensemble, the story of a journey unfolded – one that began with great hope but that was also filled with struggle, hard work and challenges. All of it was choreographed in a unique language combining Indigenous movement with non-Indigenous contemporary dance, creating a new vocabulary that felt specially invented for this work and subject matter.

I wish I could play back the full piece to capture again all the intricate detail. I am sure I missed some references more clear to the Indigenous members of the audience, and I couldn’t anchor all the movements to specific points in the epic story, but I did feel carried along on the journey.

Miigis, at Fort York on September 15 and 16.What was very clear toward the end was seeing the dance enter the territory of the eighth prophecy, where a choice is laid before mankind to choose either the path of working with the natural world or against it. Emerging from the hard work and harsh challenges of the earlier stages, the dancers’ movement grew more lyrical, with one female dancer, raised up by the others, reaching out to humanity to join her in hope for the future – and suddenly the accompanying song was in both Indigenous languages and English, opening up to let me more fully into the story, and all around me I could sense the audience feeling energized and inspired by the experience.

What would have made this experience even stronger would have been the opportunity to have access to that same moment the creative team had at the beginning of their rehearsal process, of hearing a community elder tell the stories before watching them come to life. Perhaps another time, at a future performance, this might happen. The eighth of the seven fire prophecies really speaks to all peoples as well as the First Nations of North America.

Sandra Laronde has been called “a force to be reckoned with.” She is a force we are lucky to have if she can keep creating works like this that bring people together.

Music theatre production Miigis, created by Red Sky Performance, was premiered in Toronto at Fort York, on September 15 and 16, 2017.

Toronto-based “lifelong theatre person” Jennifer (Jenny) Parr works as a director, fight director, stage manager and coach, and is equally crazy about movies and musicals.

Fin de Fiesta Flamenco, in performance at the Small World Music Centre.Fin de Fiesta Flamenco, in performance at the Small World Music Centre.On September 3, I had the pleasure of experiencing an absolutely breathtaking performance. Led by dancer Lia Grainger and comprising guitar, flute, vocals and cahon, Canadian/Spanish ensemble Fin de Fiesta Flamenco appeared at the Small World Music Centre that night, in the final Toronto date of a summer-long, international tour – bringing their powerful interpretations of Flamenco to an intimate, local stage.

Initially, the musicians entered the packed performance space with an aura of reverence and hyper-focus. The performance space itself is superbly designed for essentially acoustic artists – the lush drapery, excellent sound engineering, comfortable seating and intimacy of the room lend themselves to an authentic experience for both the audience members and the performers.

As the trio began the evening, the audience was reminded of the extreme antiquity of this musical form, as guitarist/composer Dennis Duffin introduced a “Palas” – a song of mourning, which is the earliest form of Flamenco – performed with voice and percussion only (guitar was a later addition). This heartrending vocal narrative seemed steeped in the mists of time and reminded me of other ancient musical forms that incorporate a similar scale and “recitative”-like phrasing – Celtic “Keening” (a chant of deep mourning), Christian liturgical chanting, the Muslim call-to-prayer and the chants of Jewish Cantors. Following that, a true musical highlight was the group’s rendition of Pedro Sierra’s Alegrias (Joy), which featured a lovely flute solo by Lara Wong. Acoustic guitarist Duffin is a facile and gifted musician. The tone of his instrument and his masterful playing were the spine of the performance, and vocalist Alejandro Mendia has a sinuous and powerful baritone voice – full of colours and dynamics, which perfectly captures the intensity of the form.

When Flamenco dancer Lia Grainger took the stage, things reached a supreme level. Not only was she technically thrilling, but her portable, wooden dance floor allowed the audience to hear every nuance of her complex footwork. While the rest of the ensemble shouted out words of support and enthusiasm, it was impossible to keep your eyes off of her – such control, stature, emotion. Although not Spanish by birth, I’m inclined to think that Grainger may have been a Flamenco dancer in a past life! After four mesmerizing dance numbers (including Bulerias and Guajiras), the first half of the program concluded, and Grainger left the stage dancing.

Fin de Fiesta Flamenco, in performance at the Small World Music Centre.The second half of the program was enhanced by the inclusion of Derek Gray – a soulful, skilled cahon player, who brought a sensual, percussive energy to the proceedings. Also a delight was the group’s take on the Chick Corea classic Tomatito, as was the intimate, acoustic moment with vocalist Mendia and guitarist Duffin. The two musicians pulled their chairs away from the microphones and performed a traditional song of love and longing. Mendia explained that the Spanish lyric translated as “I want to be like the Jesus figure on the Crucifix that hangs from the chain around your neck – so that I can be closer to you.” Needless to say, the wave of passion created by this musical moment was palpable.

The term “Fin de Fiesta,” from which the group takes its name, refers to a kind of open “jam” that occurs at the conclusion of every Flamenco festival in Andalusia. In a heartwarming and timeless display of openness, oneness and joyful inclusion, many audience members joined the group onstage and performed alongside the performers through dance and music. Duffin danced, vocalist Mendia danced and played guitar, and flutist Wong danced and sang while Grainger kept the rhythm of Mother Earth going throughout by leading the clapping, and joining in the dance. A fitting and uplifting end to a thoroughly marvelous evening.

Fin de Fiesta Flamenco performed at the Small World Music Centre in Toronto on September 3, 2017.

Lesley Mitchell-Clarke is a Media Consultant, Therapist and Music and Arts Writer based in Toronto and NYC.

come early
make sure you get a seat
they say

so i do
there’s no one else here

i sit
and wait
and drink

The Dakota Tavern.Two beer, two bourbon – I’m half drunk and the show hasn’t even started yet, but nothing sobers you up faster than Bach.

I’m in the Dakota Tavern, a subterranean bluegrass temple, icons of Willie Nelson and Jim Cuddy on the walls, lit dimly by hanging bulbs, their haze interrupted occasionally by blasts of light as the front door opens at the top of the stairwell. The bar is well-stocked, the stage empty except for a honky-tonk piano against the wall and a chair in the centre, in which our entertainer will sit momentarily.

It’s a small venue, seating 40 or so, but most of the seats are full and, although not a bluegrass crowd (more than half the people are baby boomers with their families), there’s an energy in the air. There are some young adults here, in their mid-twenties to early thirties from the looks of them.

There is no program to be found, no performer biography or souvenir shop, just a menu with three items on it: tacos, baked beans, and nachos. I like the minimalism and appreciate it as a conscious departure from our art music norms. Maybe it’s just cheaper, but I’m feeling decidedly anti-establishment this evening, drunk on beer and culture.

At 7:15 the show starts, and Toronto Symphony Orchestra cellist Roberta Janzen takes the stage. She’s nervous and slightly gauche, plucked from her usual gaggle of celli and put on solo display in this musical exposé. (Theatrical people talk about the fourth wall, but for solo musicians it’s a more cage-like experience, I think, like tigers at the zoo.)

She introduces the first piece, Bach’s Cello Suite No.5 in C minor. Maybe I’m imagining it, but there’s an increased sense of reverence within the audience once Bach’s name is mentioned, like the naming of a great religious figure or pagan deity.

Jesus Christ, Baal, Bach
you can take the composer away from the church
but you can’t take the church away from the composer.

Cellist Roberta Janzen.The suite is comprised of seven movements: Overture, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, two Gavottes, and a Gigue. Janzen plays on a modern cello, which suits the venue and fills the space with its rich, warm tone. Her overture is sharp, slow, and stately, the following fugue contoured and, although fast and demanding, always controlled. The allemande, courante, and gavottes are well played, too. Bach’s writing for cello is so rich and complex, it’s often a challenge to identify the intrinsic characteristics of each dance – I know they’re there, but I sometimes can’t find the forest through the trees. The gigue, however, is unmistakable, resplendent in its minor-key exuberance.

Everything changes with the Sarabande, described by Rostropovich as “the essence of Bach’s genius.” Here, Bach creates a beautiful, angular line that, although only one voice, cries out with the sound of many. I immediately think of the warworn works of Eastern composers, Schnittke and Ustvolskaya, even Shostakovich. Whether she knows it or not, Janzen has given us a taste of what is to follow in the savagely delightful, delightfully savage music of Zoltan Kodály.

Kodály’s Sonata is an undeniably Classical work in its form, three movements (fast - slow - fast) beautiful in their lyricism, yet feral and untamable in their vagrant tonality. Janzen plays from memory, ties her hair back between the first and second movements (oh, the wailing of the Adagio, yearning and lamenting and screeching from the depths of the instrument’s soul!), takes a deep gasp of air before the third, an incessantly vigorous folk dance.

i am sitting close enough that i can hear her breathe as she plays
her thoughts as she labours for the silent audience
feel the friction of horsehair and rosin on gut and steel.

The applause at the end feels restrained and insufficient, and I think we should be dancing a wild pagan dance, rioting in our excitement like that first Rite of Spring audience, but we are a civilized people – two curtain calls will suffice.

why are we not more moved by our art
where are the mosh pits of western art music?

Outside the bar is the bus stop, a dirty, crud-filled street corner where hipsters muddle about, oblivious to the magic that has taken place in the nearby basement. As I stagger home on the bus and subway, I know I’m not the same as I was an hour before – I look the same, feel the same – but a transaction has taken place.

All art is a transaction, if done properly, as people come together with their own thoughts and feelings (baggage, therapists call it) and wring themselves out, filtering themselves through the sieve of the composer’s and performer’s offerings, giving something up and taking away something new.

art won’t change the world
but it can change a person –
and maybe that’s enough.

Presented as part of ClassyAF’s September lineup, cellist Roberta Janzen performed at the Dakota Tavern in Toronto on September 13, 2017.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist. 

Darren CreechFor pianist Darren Creech, the classical recital is in need of an overhaul.

“The established concert format [has] a rather conservative approach,” he said in an interview last year with CBC Music. “[I’d] like to see greater diversity and meaning in how we communicate with the audience based on how we present onstage.”

In his upcoming tour, he’s doing just that. Over the coming two months, Creech will be presenting three performances of his solo show RESILIENCE—a piano program that explores themes of trauma and recovery through a queer lens.

RESILIENCE is, technically, a solo piano recital—but it’s also far more than that. Drawing on his multidisciplinary practice, Creech incorporates costumes, glitter, narration, lighting and stage design into his performance, with the aim of introducing elements of queerness and theatricality to the classical stage. Performing works by Sarah Kirkland Snider, Leoš Janáček, Alexander Scriabin, Sergei Prokofiev and Alberto Ginastera, Creech intends to confront audiences with the emotional and political relevance of these pieces, and challenge expectations of what classical music should look and sound like.

“I had been looking for classical repertoire that was political, and discovered Janáček’s piano sonata, which he wrote in memoriam of a protester killed in the streets in 1905,” explains Creech via email. “After discovering that work, I built a cohesive program around that experience of loss. I then developed the show around my own personal experiences of loss in addition to current events (including the Pulse shooting in Orlando). I wanted to feature 20th- and 21st-century music, from some familiar names, but also to perhaps introduce the audience to some music they hadn’t heard before.”

The show, which was first performed in Toronto at last year’s Nuit Rose exhibition (shortly following the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting), is heavily rooted in Creech’s own experience as a queer artist, and has already been presented in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Abbotsford, BC. He’ll be performing the show this Friday, September 15 at Gallery 345 as one half of a double-bill of contemporary music titled “All That Glitters”, followed by appearances at Laurier University (a workshop with student pianists on September 20, and a concert on September 21) and at Kitchener’s Registry Theatre (November 5).

For Creech, the crux of the show lies in how it challenges audiences’ assumptions about what classical music stands for, and opens the door for performers and audiences who otherwise might not see themselves represented onstage.

“I find the culture surrounding so much of how classical music is presented and performed to be quite reserved, adhering to many strict and unspoken rules,” he says. “There are clear ideas of what is deemed acceptable to be spoken about and worn onstage. It’s important for me to try to question and disrupt this kind of thinking, both for myself as well as for the audience. I want to be interrogating where these ideas come from and who upholds them.

“Classical music has a long way to go in terms of embracing and promoting diversity,” he adds. “It’s up to us onstage to be reimagining what the classical music stage can look like.”

And as for what Creech hopes audiences will take away from his own performances?

“I hope the audience will see a sliver of the resiliency that queer and other marginalized people demonstrate every day, despite adversity and loss,” he says. “That despite this loss, there is so much beauty and strength to be found in community and shared experiences. That sadness and searching are as important as humour and celebration as we navigate difficult times. And finally, [that] all that glitters isn’t gold, but that it can add so much depth and joy to our lives.”

Darren Creech will perform his solo piano program RESILIENCE at Gallery 345 in Toronto on Friday, September 15 in a double-bill alongside flutists Katherine Watson, Tristan Durie and Terry Lim, followed by appearances in Waterloo (September 20-21) and Kitchener (November 5). Visit www.darrencreech.com or our listings for details.

Sara Constant is a Toronto-based flutist and music writer, and is digital media editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at editorial@thewholenote.com.

DELIGHT, a sound art exhibit that will be present at Nuit Blanche 2017.

On September 30, from sunset to sunrise, Toronto’s art community will be staying up all night.

That night will mark the 11th annual edition of Nuit Blanche, an all-night, city-wide exhibition that reclaims Toronto’s streets and buildings as spaces for public art. This year’s themes, explored across almost 90 city-curated and independent exhibits, appear as a microcosm of the world’s most pressing global concerns, exploring ideas around revolution, political resistance, and the environmental and cultural implications of calling a place home.

While the nature of the event is deeply rooted in visual, performance and installation art, both sound art and music always find their way into the night’s offerings—and this year is no exception.

Here are six music and sound art projects worth checking out at this year’s Nuit Blanche.

  1. Monument to the Century of Revolutions

Curated by Nato Thompson, one of the most ambitious projects this year will be “Monument to the Century of Revolutions,” a series of exhibits and performances on themes of revolution and social justice taking place in large shipping containers stationed outside city hall. Several of these performances centre music in their work: The Rematriation of Revolution presents music and storytelling from Indigenous hip hop fusion collective Red Slam, Lukumi Dub Opera: 150 Years Before & After uses multidisciplinary performance to explore the legacy of Canada’s relationship to land and environment, and Toronto Through Sound presents local electronic duo LAL, who will generate soundscapes inspired by Toronto’s different neighbourhoods and the city’s position as a meeting place for Migrant and Indigenous histories. With over 21 projects hosted in Nathan Phillips Square, this large-scale exhibition is sure to contain elements that resonate powerfully with audiences, musical and otherwise.

Where: Nathan Phillips Square

Details: https://nbto.com/program/art-projects/curated-exhibitions/century-of-revolutions.html

  1. Listen to the Chorus

A statement on women’s voices in the public sphere, Listen to the Chorus is a video installation aiming to generate a women’s “chorus of resistance.” The choral music itself was written by Cecilia Livingston, a Toronto-based composer who has previously worked with groups like Tapestry Opera, Thin Edge New Music Collective and the Bicycle Opera Project. The outdoor installation will be presented in the Ontario Police Memorial, across from Queen’s Park.

Where: Ontario Police Memorial Park

Details: https://nbto.com/project.html?project_id=261

  1. Dream Variations

Created by Abbas Akhavan and Kristina Lee Podesva in collaboration with “Mes Amis Canada / Darzee”, Dream Variations offers U of T’s music faculty building as a place of rest for nighttime travellers. Featuring rows of cots to lie down on and groups of improvising vocalists, Dream Variations seeks to ask questions about home, rest and recuperation, in the context of Canada’s local migrant, refugee and newcomer communities.

Where: Edward Johnson Building

Details: https://nbto.com/project.html?project_id=259

  1. Transmissions

Designed by art and science collective SubZeroArts, Transmissions is a sound sculpture located at 401 Richmond, generated using broadcasted recordings of solar interference, deep-space transmissions, and other cosmic and radio anomalies. Intended to encourage audiences to discover new sounds and rethink their relationship with space, Transmissions aims to bring unusual soundscapes to the forefront of audiences' consciousnesses, and to create a bridge, via sound, between present and future.

Where: 401 Richmond

Details: https://nbto.com/project.html?project_id=451

  1. DELIGHT

[R]ed[U]x Lab is a collective of designers from Ryerson University, who focus on the use of digital and interactive technologies in their work. In DELIGHT, also located at 401 Richmond, [R]ed[U]x Lab has created an interactive installation that uses the ambient noise of the room to trigger movement from glowing orbs of light. Intended to react to the noises that audiences create in the space, DELIGHT uses kinetic sculpture to create a social and playful sound-making environment.

Where: 401 Richmond

Details: https://nbto.com/project.html?project_id=463

  1. Have You Seen My Sister?

Created by ad-hoc collective Artists of the Aurora, this outdoor project will travel along Grosvenor Street. In an interactive composition for voice, artists will sing in recognition of Canada’s missing women, and interrogate the cultural and political legacies that leave some communities of women routinely overrepresented in statistics around violence and disappearance.

Where: Grosvenor Street, between Bay Street and Surrey Place

Details: https://nbto.com/project.html?project_id=465

Planning in advance for Nuit Blanche has its limitations: with crowds of nighttime wanderers, several intermingling communities and philosophies of art-making, and many exhibits being shown for the very first time, the lived experience of the night often differs from what’s promised in the exhibition program. But at the same time, the secret to unlocking Nuit Blanche’s potential is in these opportunities for spontaneity: in the joy of reclaiming the city’s streets, in unexpected artistic discovery, and in seeing the city in a new and different light. Happy wandering!

Sara Constant is a Toronto-based flutist and music writer, and is digital media editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at editorial@thewholenote.com.

Composer Andrew Balfour.Three weeks ago, Winnipeg-based composer Andrew Balfour got an email from Highlands Opera Studio, with a commission for a 90-minute opera. The only catch: the workshop performance was less than a month away.

Highlands Opera Studio, which operates as a summer workshop, residency and festival season in Haliburton, originally had a different opera premiere in its 2017 programming: a work-in-progress titled Wiikondiwin, by Odawa First Nations composer Barbara Croall. However, extenuating circumstances forced Croall to withdraw from the project last month. When the studio contacted Balfour, the timing was tight.

According to Balfour when we spoke on the phone last week, this is the shortest notice he’s ever received, by far. “It was only a few weeks ago when I first got contacted by the studio,” he explained. “The email was marked URGENT, in capital letters.”

We frequently hear about performers who need to be replaced at the last minute because of injury, illness or personal circumstances – but for one composer to step in for another on a commissioning project is a different thing entirely. “At first it just seemed impossible, from a practical standpoint,” Balfour says. “But the original idea of doing an Indigenous opera, I’ve wanted to do for some time. So I listened to them and they sent me the outline, and I said, yeah, this is possible.”

The opera, titled Mishaabooz’s Realm, will tell the story of Mishaabooz or Nanabozho, a shapeshifting trickster spirit described in Anishinaabe storytelling. Parts of the opera will be presented in a workshop performance at the Highlands Opera Studio on August 19; after that, Balfour will write the remainder of the opera in Winnipeg, which will be premiered in full at L’Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal (and reprised in full in Haliburton) in the fall. In its final iteration, Mishaabooz’s Realm will be a 90-minute chamber opera incorporating both classical and Indigenous elements, featuring soprano Adanya Dunn, baritone Samuel Chan, pianist Louise-Andrée Baril, Aboriginal vocalist/drummer Corey Campbell, and Balfour himself as a vocalist and percussionist.

“I’ve had ideas in the last couple years about how I’d want to approach this,” says Balfour, who himself is of Cree descent. “I do know with Canada 150, there’s a lot of funding [for things like this] – and some of the projects that have happened already I feel haven’t really hit the mark. A lot of it is Eurocentric. Opera might be a Eurocentric form of artistic expression but for me, opera, especially opera like Wagner’s, is based on myths...and in the oral tradition of the First Nations, myths and legends are everything.”

He adds that for him, capturing the spirit of the project while creating something wholly his own has been an ongoing concern. “I had to be really careful – practically and to do it with integrity and research,” he says. “It wasn’t originally my project, so I had to make sure that the restructuring of this project and commission would be true to the original plan, but wouldn’t be taking someone else’s idea and just writing music for that. I use my instinct a lot for these things. This one felt right.”

Balfour is currently living in Haliburton and working with the singers at the studio, in preparation for their August 19 performance. “This is kind of in some ways a composer’s dream,” he says. “I’ve been here for four days, and I really feel that in this environment, they’ve given me a lot of flexibility and freedom. There have been plenty of opportunities for me to workshop with singers. I have a laptop so I’ve been wandering around writing snippets. I’m staying with wonderful billets who have given me a studio space. It’s unique.”

For Balfour, opera brings with it a lot of cultural baggage – but at the same time, an opportunity like this one also provides the chance to add new depth to the way our country frames its national storytelling. “I’ve always felt that opera, especially 19th-century opera, is kind of like showing off, writing-wise and also singer-wise,” he says. “But I have a bigger picture, at least in terms of the collective. It’s not an anti-Canada piece. It’s not an anti-European piece. But it’s still going to talk about some hard truths. Whether it’s a Truth and Reconciliation call to action, or the idea of important Indigenous issues right now, socially speaking, the direction I’ve been going in for the last 15 years has been to create things that bring awareness [to these issues] – whether good or bad, and whether people get it or not.

“I know what I can do, and I know what I’ve been doing for awhile,” he adds. “But I feel that there’s a bigger national picture [here].”

More than anything, the one thing Balfour wants to get across with this work is that true collaboration, especially when non-Indigenous organizations want to work with Indigenous artists and performers, has to come from a place of respect. And that when that happens – even when the task seems impossible – the result can be magic.

“Someone asked me if I was creating a stew,” he says. “I'm not. A stew, you just throw a bunch of stuff in and let it boil; here, you have to be a lot more careful. And I’m still in the early stages of this, but I want people to hopefully get a sense that this comes from a respectful place.”

“As a writer, it’s a challenge,” he continues. “I’ve never taken something at the last minute like this. But I know it’s possible, because this is a real collaboration. I’m using all of my resources out west, and I’m using what I’m learning, and meeting these people right now, with their resources and respect. And I think we’re going to have something special.”

Andrew Balfour’s opera Mishaabooz’s Realm will be performed in part, as a public workshop, at Highlands Opera Studio on August 19, in Haliburton; details at www.highlandsoperastudio.com.

Sara Constant is a Toronto-based flutist and music writer, and is digital media editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at editorial@thewholenote.com.

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