A performance of Jumblies’ Talking Treaties. Photo credit: Jumblies Theatre.The fact of Indigenous performers taking over such a site of British colonial culture as Toronto’s Fort York has a wonderful power to it. Last summer (2017), Red Sky Performance debuted their magical exploration of the Anishinaabe “seven fires” legends, Miigis, on the Fort York grounds, and the triple juxtaposition of nature, the colonial military buildings, and the 21st-century urban skyline gave the piece an extra resonance that pulsed through the audience.

Jumblies Theatre’s Talking Treaties Spectacle, the latest version of which played at Fort York from October 4 to 7, is a community-oriented theatrical project that uses the Fort York setting as a launching pad for a relaxed exploration of the so-called “Toronto Purchase” and related treaties, largely from the point of view of the first people to live in this area. In Jumblies' hands, the project is an engine for community engagement in our history – from the urban neighbourhood members who take part alongside the organizing professional artists, to the core company of young Indigenous performers who take on most of the roles, to the larger community represented by the audience who come to experience the spectacle. For this is not so much a “show” as an event; a mostly light-hearted way to engage with ideas and historical facts that should be much better known about the founding treaties of our city and country.

While not a musical, music does play a part in the bookending of the event, with songs sung by a volunteer community choir anchored by one professional singer and several musicians, and with the live music (backed up with recorded elements) that carries the audience from spot to spot around the Fort as the spectacle unfolds. As this project continues to grow, it would be nice to see the role of music being expanded or made a bigger, bolder element of the whole.

The young Indigenous performers who took on most of the roles, though all of varying levels of experience, were clearly engaged in their passion and enthusiasm for the project. Jill Carter and Jesse Wabegijig, in the roles of Mohawk powerhouse Molly Brant and her spouse Governor William Johnson, were the strongest actors, though not appearing substantially until about halfway through, when they gave us the most satisfying chunk of history in an extended scene  of Johnson and Brant’s preparations for the great gathering of 24 First Nations for the signing of the Treaty of Niagara in 1764.

Part of the fun of the event was being tossed between snippets of historical events and Indigenous reaction to those events, all of it with an irreverent symbolic simplicity – the “purchase price” for Toronto including brass kettles, mirrors, lace hats, and bottles of rum being tossed into a pile, for example, or later, the trade price in number of beavers for various settler products seen tangibly as large stuffed beavers merrily tossed onto the Fort York green.

Was this really a play or musical? No, but it was, as promised by Jumblies, a spectacle – and a fun way to literally walk through some of our local and national history. Rather than a professional “show”, this was a lighthearted community event that performed an important role in bringing history to life in our current consciousness, with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm.

Jumblies Theatre’s Talking Treaties Spectacle was presented from October 4 to 7 at Fort York, Toronto.

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.

bannefreyr2Cellist Elinor Frey. Photo credit: Elizabeth Delage. The Canadian Music Centre has served as a curator, presenter and preserver of Canadian musical culture for over 50 years. With a library containing thousands of works by hundreds of composers and an online streaming service with over 14,000 unique recordings, the CMC ensures that older material remains available to performers and audiences and that new works live beyond their premieres.

Besides being an archive for print and recorded music, the Ontario CMC office also presents their own concert series each year, held in their event space on St. Joseph St., Toronto. Curated in 2018/19 by Nick Storring in association with Riparian Acoustics, these concerts take place once a month and feature Canadian performers and composers, presented within the larger context of contemporary music. On Wednesday, October 3, the CMC presented cellist Elinor Frey in a concert of new music for the Baroque cello, each piece on the program commissioned for or by Frey herself. As a frequent performer on both the Baroque and modern cello, Frey brings a wide range of experience and expertise to her interpretations, whether the strings are made of gut or metal.

It is unfortunate that, within much of classical music, the idea of ‘new music’ is still heavily linked with the 20th-century avant-garde, often carrying connotations of being unappealing or intimidating for the inexperienced listener. Contrary to such misconceptions, Frey’s program was varied and exploratory without sounding overly noisy or abstract; in fact, each piece was a recognizable extrapolation of fundamental musical elements. Led by thoughtful and insightful program notes (each composer wrote a paragraph explaining the origin and concept of their work), we could see and hear that some pieces incorporated elements of minimalism, basing an entire movement on a small idea or theme, while others explored the Baroque cello’s warm tone and natural resonance, using both purely-tuned and microtonal intervals to create unique harmonic effects.

The pieces on the program often featured juxtapositions of harmonic and melodic fragments. Indeed, this focus on tunefulness and harmonic sonorities was reflected in the composers’ notes, with remarks such as “...a melody in search of its harmony” (Linda Catlin Smith’s Ricercar), “a continuo for some absent, slow melody” (Isaiah Ceccarelli’s With concord of sweet sounds), or “bell-like incantations of chords” (Ken Ueno’s Chimera) serving to illustrate each composer’s approach to reordering melody, harmony and rhythm. David Jaeger’s Constable’s Clouds, inspired by 19th-century painter John Constable’s strikingly modern cloud studies, was perhaps the most thrilling work of the evening, using rapid, virtuoso melodic passages and both bowed and pizzicato chords to reflect Constable’s kinetic paintings through sound.

Frey was also required to use extended playing techniques throughout the program, such as col legno tratto: bowing with the wood of the bow, producing a sound that is pitched but very soft, with an overlay of white noise. Both Scott Godin’s Guided by Voices and Lisa Streich’s Minerva, perhaps the most experimental work on the program, utilized a variety of such techniques; Minerva also had Frey softly singing at times, which highlighted certain notes within the harmonic series. Two works required the cello to be retuned (known as scordatura) in varied and, in the case of Ken Ueno’s Chimera, almost impossible ways. Frey described this particular retuning as something that, given the laws of physics and the tension of the string, should not be sustainable; it added an element of risk to the program, knowing that the tightly-wound gut could break at any moment.

Frey’s recital demonstrated that contemporary composers are using music’s essential components in original ways, reorganizing melodic, harmonic and rhythmic elements to create works that are both appealing and new. Whether exploiting the Baroque cello’s natural resonance, using scordatura to alter its acoustic properties, or simply allowing the performer’s virtuosity to shine through, this concert displayed a wide variety of approaches to a historical instrument that many consider suitable only for old music.

Frey proved that the Baroque cello can do so much more than we often require of it. In doing so, she also demonstrated that today’s composers are writing superb musical material, capable of confronting – and surpassing – our expectations.

The Canadian Music Centre presented “Elinor Frey – New Music for Baroque Cello” on Wednesday, October 3, at the CMC Ontario Region space on St. Joseph St., Toronto.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

PD 89bannerChristoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.Toronto Summer Music (TSM) is in full bloom, and will be past its midpoint by the time you read this. Here are some of the highlights of the festival so far, beginning with the world-class pairing of tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake, July 19 in Walter Hall.

Drake’s pianism is pointed, characterful and tells a story; he is an equal partner with the singer. Their well-chosen program of Mahler (before intermission) and Schubert (after) – especially Mahler’s Das Knaben Wunderhorn No.9 and Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, from Ruckert-Lieder – was the first of many transfixing moments in my personal journey through several TSM mainstage concerts. Indeed, the second moment came during Du bist die Ruh, D776 (from another Ruckert poem), the loveliest of ten Schubert songs (including two encores) with Pregardien bewitchingly conveying the ardour of the smitten narrator.

In his masterclass two days later on July 21, Prégardien encouraged the piano and tenor to be of equal voice in Schubert’s Liebesbotschaft from Schwanengesang, an intimate dialogue between a young man and nature. He suggested to tenor Joey Jong that he be more natural onstage, be more into the real situation of the song (just as Prégardien himself had done in his own recital). “Where your eyes go is very important,” he said. “Give the impression that you are really in a garden.” Masterclasses are a great window into performance practice – whether it be the importance of a beautiful legato line to Brahms’ phrasing, the connection between two notes being a little more elegant in a Hugo Wolf song, or the expressive, operatic, vocal lines (like recitative) in Schubert’s Der Doppelgänger.

And of course, a masterclass can provide insight into the mindset of the mentor himself. Prégardien told us that Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder No.3 is so powerful that he has to step back when he sings it. “The expression comes from the music as it goes higher,” he said.

Kinan Azmeh. Photo credit: James Ireland.Kinan Azmeh, the Syrian-born clarinetist (and member of the Silk Road Ensemble) who has been based in New York City for nearly two decades, brought an immediacy to TSM’s Memories of War theme when he performed as a member of the Kinan Azmeh City Band quartet July 18 in Walter Hall. Memories of his Syrian home (now engulfed in a horrific civil war) inspired several of the pieces the band played in a concert that turned out to be a life-enhancing shout of joy. Azmeh, whose round, sometimes sweet tone is capable of all sorts of dynamic expression, began with a haunting pianissimo note on his clarinet, then picked up a rhythmic figure in the guitar, drums and bass, and danced down the backstreets of a Middle-Eastern city seemingly across time, centuries collapsing from the past into the present. After intermission, the quartet was joined by the sublime pianist/composer Dinuk Wijeratne (who is writing a concerto for Azmeh) in the first piece Azmeh composed after moving to NYC – Love on 139th Street in D – a subtle confection that conveyed the sound of a big city. The evening ended with a dazzling evocation of weddings in a Syrian village public square, music that reinforced Azmeh’s stated belief that “simply falling in love is a right no authority can take away.”

Two concerts in Koerner Hall on July 19 fell directly within the Memories of Wartime theme, with each of the works having its own unique connection. Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring was written during WWII but looks inward to the American countryside for one of the Brooklyn-born composer’s most aspirational and exultant pieces of music. The TSO Chamber Soloists (led by TSM artistic director Jonathan Crow) teamed up with eight fellows of the TSM Academy to recreate the 13-piece chamber orchestra that accompanied the original ballet. The result was a lighter, more transparent rendition that avoided the moribundity that sometimes weighs down the orchestral version.

Suzanne Roberts Smith (the soldier) and Jonathan Crow.After intermission the TSO Chamber Soloists re-formed into a septet to accompany the full-length version of Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat, complete with narrator, actor and dancer. Written as WWI was winding down, this tale of a violin-playing soldier, whose instrument is sold to the devil for uncountable wealth, is a virtuoso showcase – especially for violinist Crow, Andrew McCandless (cornet) and percussionist Charles Settle – but Miles Jaques (whose clarinet playing was the centrepiece of the Copland), Kelly Zimba (flute), Michael Sweeney (bassoon) and Gordon Wolfe (trombone) all performed Stravinsky’s cross-rhythms splendidly.

(from left) Jonathan Crow (violin), Julie Albers (cello), Miles Jaques (clarinet) and Natasha Paremski (piano) perform Messiaen's 'Quartet for the End of Time.'Jaques and Crow were joined by cellist Julie Albers and pianist Natasha Paremski for a transfixing performance of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, written in a German prisoner-of-war camp in 1940 where Messiaen was being held after being captured. Ethereal, otherworldly, quietly mysterious, replete with birdsong and fervent religiosity, the work demands the highest performance standards from violinist and clarinetist in particular; Crow and Jaques were up to the task and the total effect seemed to pass through the time-space continuum.

Crow returned July 24 to Lula Lounge as a member of the New Orford String Quartet for an electrifying (pun intended) performance of Steve Reich’s late 20th-century masterpiece, Different Trains. Reich took a childhood memory of transcontinental train trips he made before WWII and contrasted that with an imagined trip to the Nazi concentration camps (based on interviews with Holocaust survivors) and a third trip just after the war in which Holocaust survivors came to America to rebuild their lives. The quartet has to tailor their playing to a pre-recorded soundtrack of train whistles and track noises, as well as to repeated vocalisms from interviewees, as the piece moves from childhood wonder to mass murder to a rekindled optimism, all brought to life by the New Orford’s magnificent evocation of the relentless power of Reich’s writing.

The evening was completed by George Crumb’s Black Angels, composed during the heyday of the War in Vietnam. The quartet unlocked the feral beauty in Crumb’s radical work, an austere experiment in sonic variety that the New Orford made instantly memorable, proving once again that the immediacy of live music cannot be overstated.

(from left) Jonathan Crow, Andrew Wan, Pedja Muzijevic, Eric Nowlin and Brian Manker. Photo credit: Catherine WIllshire.A few days later on July 27, the New Orford found themselves in Walter Hall performing Beethoven’s String Quartet No.11 in F Minor, Op.95 “Serioso.” They displayed vibrant ensemble playing in this work that is compressed both musically and chronologically, falling just before the famous Late Quartets. They saved the best for last with a ravishing rendering of Elgar’s Piano Quintet in A Minor, Op.84 (the accomplished Pedja Muzijevic was at the keyboard) which the composer began in 1918 as WWI was winding down. A Romantically rich work, with melodic wisps curdling into Brahmsian harmonic colouring in its intensely lyrical opening movement, the work’s heart is in the slow middle movement with the players giving rapt attention to the subtleties of Elgar’s writing that is pure English musical poetry.

 Jonathan Crow (left) and Phil Chiu CREDIT Catherine WillshireBack in Walter Hall on July 30 for “A Tribute To Yehudi Menuhin,” Crow devoted his recital with Phil Chiu, his dexterous regular pianistic collaborator, to works the celebrated violinist played for the Allied Forces during WWII and on a momentous tour of Germany with Benjamin Britten immediately after the war. Crow exhibited a sweetness and grace in the various versions he and Chiu cobbled together of Corelli’s Sonata in D Minor, Op.5, No.12 “La Folia.” The duo’s playing of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No.9 in A Major, Op.47, “Kreutzer” had the urgency and intensity the work demands, bringing an intimacy to the second movement’s theme and variations and a sparkle and drive to the third. Crow next served up three bonbons by Fritz Kreisler and we discovered that these musical embers from an older world still glowed. A bravura performance of Ravel’s Tzigane elicited a vigorous standing ovation; the sorrowful beauty of Ravel’s Kaddish made for an appropriate encore. Not only did it put a bow on the Menuhin tribute, but it harked back to Different Trains and looked forward to “War in the 20th Century,” the August 1 concert that includes two works by composers who died in the Holocaust. It’s just one of many connections that enrich this year’s edition of TSM and illustrate Crow’s skills as artistic director. We are fortunate to have him in our midst.

Toronto Summer Music continues with concerts in various venues throughout Toronto until August 4.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

The Escher Quartet. Photo credit: James Ireland.The seasonal musical oasis known as Toronto Summer Music (TSM) began its 13th edition on July 12 with a sumptuous performance by the Escher Quartet, warmly received by the Koerner Hall audience. The Eschers replaced the originally scheduled Borodin Quartet, forced by illness to cancel a few weeks ago. As a nod to the legendary quartet’s original program, the Eschers retained Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No.1 in D Major, Op.11 and switched out Shostakovich’s Eighth for his String Quartet No.9 in E-flat Major, Op.117.

The evening opened with Schumann’s String Quartet No.1 in A Minor, Op.41, its bittersweet introduction immediately displaying the group’s purity of sound. The Eschers’ musical clarity evinced a lovely transparency as the piece moved into post-Beethoven territory, its lyrical development balanced by short dynamic outbursts. Their ardent playing expressed the tenderness of the third movement Adagio as confidently as it did the effervescence of the concluding Presto.

Cellist Brook Speltz introduced the Shostakovich as “a piece we believe in very much ... each time we play it, we feel we go deeper into it,” adding: “It’s somewhat of a dream to be here replacing the Borodin Quartet.” The Eschers’ cohesion revealed intricacies of Shostakovich’s sound world in the opening movement, exposing the lush lyricism of the second and the sprightly bouncing tune of the third; the stark opening of the fourth and subsequent warm chords led into the exuberant tour de force they made of the finale.

The lustrous beginning of Tchaikovsky’s First Quartet immediately took us into a fresh new world of Schubert-like melodic filigrees. The Eschers brought out the dark Russian character underlying the lyrical voicing of the famous Andante cantabile (in which Tchaikovsky gave eternal life to a simple Russian folk tune) that featured first violinist Adam Barnett Hart’s elegant playing.

Inspired by Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher’s method of interplay between individual components working together to form a whole, the young American quartet (whose members also include violinist Danbi Um and violist Pierre Lapointe) took the artist’s name when they formed in 2005. The level of their ensemble playing is proof of the aptness of their choice.

Lukas Geniušas. This year’s edition of TSM – Reflections of Wartime – commemorates the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I by focusing on works written during, or inspired by, wartime. Two pieces in the July 13 Walter Hall concert headed by pianist Lukas Geniušas met those criteria: Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No.7 in B-flat Major, Op.83 “Stalingrad” – the middle of the composer’s three “war sonatas” – and Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G Minor, Op.57. Written in 1942 in Georgia, where Prokofiev had been evacuated during Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, the sonata was inspired by the outrage of WWII. The 28-year-old Geniušas, runner-up in the most recent Tchaikovsky Competition, showed off a quick and subtle rhythmic dexterity, playing stark chords and fiery chopped-up runs with alacrity in the opening movement while conveying the world-gone-awry nature of the finale’s jagged syncopations with a well-conveyed sense of the architecture of the piece. Geniušas opened the program with Rachmaninoff’s Preludes, Op.32 Nos.9-13, where he put his broad tone to good use, conveying the composer’s melodic gifts in spacious chords and Romantic flourishes.

After intermission, Geniušas was joined by the Escher Quartet’s Adam Barnett Hart (violin), Pierre Lapointe (viola) and Brook Speltz (cello) alongside TSM artistic director Jonathan Crow (on second violin) for a superb performance of Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet, written in 1940 under the lengthening shadow of the Second World War. Shostakovich wrote the piano part for himself; it’s well worth checking out his passionate recording with the Beethoven Quartet (with whom he premiered the piece in 1940).

Geniušas and company matched that historic recording’s passion from the emphatic piano introduction to the unison strings, from the exposed violin’s first utterance of the second movement’s fugue to its exquisite heartfelt ending, from the oafish buffoonery of the Scherzo to the touch of melancholia in the Intermezzo. The Finale, with its march-like militarism that devolves into a charming lilting tune before a jaunty recapitulation, brought the evening to a jubilant close, bringing most of the capacity crowd to their feet.

Toronto Summer Music (www.torontosummermusic.com) continues in various venues until August 4.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

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