HOGTOWN's Laura Larson (Louise "Lulu Hearts"), Karen Slater (Maddy Foster) and Emma Wiechers (Anastasia). Photo Credit: Sam Gaetz.(HOGTOWN's Laura Larson (Louise "Lulu Hearts"), Karen Slater (Maddy Foster) and Emma Wiechers (Anastasia). Photo Credit: Sam Gaetz.)

Last Friday was the 21st of July, 2017, but for a couple of hours it was also a summer night in 1926 in prohibition-era Hogtown – aka Toronto the young and gritty. About 18 months ago I had made the exact same time travel trip, walking through the doors of Toronto’s historic Campbell House to see the very first dress rehearsal of Sam Rosenthal and Drew Carnwath’s HOGTOWN: The Immersive Experience, a new site-specific show designed to fit into the many rooms of Campbell House on one hand and, on the other, to bring to life as many aspects of life in 1926 Toronto as possible. It was fun but still at an early stage of figuring out how many characters to include and how to combine and interweave all the storylines. Last summer the show was developed further and revived, and now, this summer, a new version has just opened, streamlined and focused and with some great musical additions.

No more than sixty people can attend at once, and the night I was there, there were about forty of us. After a casual pre-show in the courtyard where various characters interacted with the audience, we were gathered into the house and split into three groups to experience the three foundation scenes of the main storylines. On the main floor in the dining room, we met the two rival mayoral candidates, ambitious social reformer Sam McBride and incumbent Thomas Foster; McBride’s wife; various Toronto movers and shakers; and the kingpin of the night, suave and conniving union boss Bob Delacourt. Partway downstairs was the gambling den, and a bit further down the speakeasy, home to hostess Carl-Mays, the White Hot Jazz Band, and dancers who captivated with a gloriously 1920s song-and-dance number. Up at the top of the house was the meeting for the women’s Temperance League, a fiercely led group of women fighting to maintain prohibition and make sure that the prohibition candidate is elected, and in between were bedrooms, parlours, staircases and hallways, where the action used every available space.

It was great fun being immersed in the Toronto of the twenties, with prohibition and illicit drinking raging, gangsters and politicians rubbing elbows, politicians' wives and daughters up to various shenanigans, a mild-mannered reporter – our MC for the start of the evening and in love with the daughter of one mayoral candidate – tracking down a story, the innocent and not so innocent famous ( including baseball star Tommy Burt) and unknown (including two young flappers skipping out on other responsibilities to join the speakeasy as dancers for the night), with everything tuned up to a high stakes pitch on the eve of the election.

The first incarnation of the show was very much a theatre piece that included music only in the speakeasy location. Now, music has percolated up and through the house: original compositions by music directors Douglas Price and Paul Humphrey added to period standards to flesh out characters and relationships and give new impetus to various plot points. When I spoke to director and co-writer Sam Rosenthal after the performance, he said that in the first year audiences had really responded to the musical scenes and he wanted to build on that to see how it might strengthen the experience as a whole.

Sam Rosenthal (HOGTOWN's co-creator/director) and Jorge Molina (Gil Shwartz). Photo credit: Sam Gaetz.(Sam Rosenthal (HOGTOWN's co-creator/director) and Jorge Molina (Gil Shwartz). Photo credit: Sam Gaetz.)

Since for the first three scenes of this show, you’re on your own to decide where to go and what to watch, I didn’t get to see all the songs – sadly missing a gangster number in the gambling den – but I did see some wonderful new pieces: a Gene Kelly-esque duet about family expectations for baseball player Tommy Burt (Eric McDace) and aspiring reporter Ronny McBride (Saphho Hansen Smythe), a fun solo by flapper Lulu (Laura Larson) about how to navigate society, the fabulous “Temperance Tantrum” led by powerhouse head of the temperance league Mary O’Grady Hunt (Tara Baxendale) with stylized character breakout solos for her outwardly demure daughter Eleanor (Jaymee Fuczek) and for wild radical board member Pauline Drabble (Andrea Irwin), and Eleanor’s period-flavoured “Got A Lot’ song in the speakeasy where she dares to bet on a horse race. The numbers were all fun, well sung, and brilliantly choreographed by Nicola Pantin. Not all the new numbers were true to the style of the 1920s, and sometimes felt composed in a later (1940s) or more contemporary musical theatre mode. Somehow this still worked, as the period was so strongly evoked at the beginning of the show, and by various numbers throughout, including “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate,” a knockout solo by Arinea Hermans as Toni Swift.

The last new character number I saw was the moving final song, sung by speakeasy hostess Carli-Mays Johnson after she has been told she has been traded to a Chicago crime boss as part of a big Bob Delacourt deal. Michelle Piller was both hard nailed and heart breaking,   evoking a magnetic combination of Bebe Neuwirth and Patti Lupone, a rich ending to that character trail. At that point we were all gathered up to the ballroom for the finish of the evening and a wrap of the story, capped by a full company number sung in the courtyard.

For a lover of musical theatre this new version of Hogtown is a delight. I wonder, though, if more traditional theatre lovers would feel the same way. Some of the grit and darkness of the earlier version is subsumed by the innocence of the musical numbers, so the creators/producers have an interesting dilemma on their hands; they are in a very interesting place of having experimented with going in a musical direction and needing to decide whether, in future editions, it will be more a play with music or more of a full-blown musical. ‘Finished’ or not, however, Hogtown is a great way to spend a couple of hours and a fun window to Toronto’s past. I know that I would like to go again to follow some of the other storylines and see some of the numbers I missed this time around.

HOGTOWN: The Immersive Experience plays at Campbell House until August 20. For more information and to buy tickets you can visit www.thehogtownexperience.com or http://www.campbellhousemuseum.ca

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.

Soloists (from left) James Ehnes, Andrew Wan and Jonathan Crow with the TSM Festival Orchestra. Photo credit: James Ireland.In the WholeNote podcast that editor/publisher David Perlman and I did earlier this year, Jonathan Crow, the Toronto Summer Music Festival’s artistic director, called James Ehnes “the greatest violinist Canada has ever produced.” Last week, Ehnes’ four-day sojourn with the Toronto Summer Music Festival provided ample opportunity for local audiences to experience his playing for themselves – and served as a shimmering showcase for a peerless Canadian performer.

The first of Ehnes’ appearances, a chamber music masterclass that he hosted on July 16 for fellows from the TSM Academy Chamber Music Institute, began with Fire, the first movement of Kelly-Marie Murphy’s wildly intense, rollicking piano trio, Give Me Phoenix Wings to Fly. Ehnes praised the Academy musicians for their enthusiasm, musicianship and commitment to a piece of music that he was hearing for the first time. “For something written so freely, it’s very precise in how to create that freedom,” he observed. “The more you’ll play it, the more you’ll be aware of the details.”

It was his own attention to detail that marked his solo recital the next evening at Koerner Hall. Opening with Bach’s Partita No.1 in B Minor, BWV 1002 and closing with Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004, Ehnes’ playing featured a smooth, singing tone and exquisite, relaxed openness. He scaled the heights of the second partita’s famous Chaconne in a moving performance that touched the power and the glory of the music, from its complex passagework and mesmerizing broken chords to moments of delicate beauty. In between was an astonishing performance of Ysaÿe’s Sonata No.3 in D Minor, Op.27 “Ballade.” Ehnes brought a soulful power and seemingly effortless technique to this complex and lyrical six-minute piece built around a three-note motif.

The morning of July 19, Ehnes played the Ysaÿe for an enthusiastic audience of children, many of them budding violinists, in the first-ever TSM Festival Kids Concert. The hour-long event was a sneak preview of the Bach Celebration concerto program that evening, with Ehnes, fellow violinists Jonathan Crow and Andrew Wan, harpsichordist Christopher Bagan and the TSM Festival Orchestra playing the first movement of the three-violin concerto and Ehnes and Crow the third movement of the Concerto for Two VIolins in D Minor, BWV 1043. Mooredale Concerts Music & Truffles engaging host Joanna Kellam kept the proceedings moving without talking down to her audience as she questioned each of the soloists. Ehnes, for example, after explaining that “all violinists are sort of obsessed with Bach,” compared his solo recital to taking a free throw in basketball, and playing a concerto to passing to the ball to a teammate. After Ehnes and Crow played the Allegro from the concerto, Kellam had them play it Lento (lugubrious), Presto (spectacular, but inappropriate) and Vivo (animated and hammed up) to illustrate the difference between the tempo markings.

James Ehnes with TSM Festival Orchestra cellist Jaesung Lim. Photo credit: James Ireland.Later in the day at TSM’s special “Bach Celebration” concert at the Church of the Redeemer, Ehnes and Crow were once again well-matched, as they exhibited impressive togetherness and all-round excellence. The evening opened with Ehnes performing Bach’s Violin Concerto in A Minor, BWV 1041. His singing tone and the ease and strength of his playing again stood out in the profound loveliness of the Andante and the playful, sunny Allegro Assai. His commanding technical prowess was evident in the jubilant Allegro of the Violin Concerto in D Minor, BWV 1952R.

The concert came to a thrilling conclusion, when Ehnes joined Crow and Wan in a performance of Bach’s Concerto for Three VIolins in D Major, BWV 1064R. The concerto’s third movement proved to be another life-affirming shout of joy, leading to the coup de grace: the first movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No.3, with Ehnes, Crow and Wan taking the violin parts. It was a fitting end to Ehnes’ TSM Festival activities, and an experience that all who were there will remember for a long time.

The Toronto Summer Music Festival opened on July 13, and runs until August 5.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

The St. Lawrence String Quartet at the 2017 TSM opening concert. Photo credit: James Ireland.Toronto Summer Music (TSM) began its second decade with an electrifying performance at Koerner Hall by the St. Lawrence String Quartet on July 13. It was the first time in its storied history that the quartet had performed in that fine acoustic space and they made the most of it, seemingly expanding their audience to many who had never heard them at their usual venue, the Jane Mallett Theatre. The appreciative whoops that accompanied the standing ovation that followed R. Murray Schafer's String Quartet No.3 just before intermission and the fervid applause that greeted the conclusion of Beethoven's String Quartet No.14 in C-sharp Minor, Op.131 were an appropriate response to the SLSQ's passionate music-making.

First violinist Geoff Nuttall refrained from introducing the evening's opening work – Haydn's String Quartet No.25 in C Major, Op.20, No.2 – in favour of saluting Schafer (who was in the house) as the great living composer he is. Nuttall encouraged the audience to sing along while leading the SLSQ in Happy Birthday in honour of Schafer's 84th birthday, which falls on July 18. The quartet is currently in the midst of recording the set of six Op.20 Haydn quartets for a free online release later this year. Their affection and familiarity with the opening work was evident from the clarity they brought to the humorous development of the first movement (almost cartoonish at times) in the context of an otherwise serious statement made by the wisp of a main theme. The sombre Adagio of the Capriccio was built on a strong foundation and featured a striking tuneful solo by Nuttall. The Minuet had a fine lightness and a fleeting hint of modernity while the concluding fugue was enlivened by the SLSQ's superb ensemble playing.

The SLSQ playing the second movement of R. Murray Schafer’s String Quartet No.3. Photo credit: James Ireland.The Schafer began with an impassioned cello solo, with cellist Christopher Costanza alone on stage. Soon he was joined by the offstage viola echo of Lesley Robertson. Nuttall appeared left rear followed by second violinist Owen Dalby on the right. The musical disconnection was finally resolved when Dalby was reunited with his fellow quartet members who had by then retaken their customary positions in readiness for the vocalisms that defined the Allegro energico second movement, sounds that wouldn't be out of place in David Lynch's Twin Peaks: The Return. The third movement, hinting of Bartók, with butterfly trills and meditative chants, ended with Nuttall’s sublime mystical solo violin exiting stage right.

Beethoven's Op.131‘s simple four-note opening phrase was soon transformed capriciously by overlapping tunes which are generously melodic. Fragments of lyricism constantly evolved, building on a series of temporal plinths as the breathtaking midpoint of the fourth movement was announced with understated ecstasy. From there the piece took a frenetic turn, before the brief warm respite of the sixth movement gave way to the finale, where, consumed by its own rhythmic force, it showcased its beauty unabashedly.

Nuttall announced the encore: “1771. Haydn Op.20, No.1. Affettuoso e sostenuto.” This glorious (and gloriously played) slow movement written during the first year of Beethoven's life brought the evening to a satisfying, and cyclic, conclusion.

The SLSQ's program harkened back to their 1992 win in the Banff International String Quartet Competition. In an inspired pairing, TSM will present the 2016 winners of the competition, the Rolston String Quartet, in their Toronto debut, on July 24 at Walter Hall. I look forward to hearing the music that brought them their victory.

The Toronto Summer Music Festival opened on July 13, and runs until August 5.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Part 2 of a 2-part series, where WholeNote writer Karen Ages attends Ottawa’s Music & Beyond – and gains new perspective on a familiar city.

The Diefenbunker entry tunnel. Photo by the author.July 8: It's Saturday late afternoon and I'm meeting a friend to drive out to the Diefenbunker in Carp, about a half-hour west of Ottawa. We arrive early for an event, hosted by Ottawa’s Music & Beyond festival, titled “Beyond the Bomb: Music of the Cold War.” There's a community brass band assembled on the helicopter landing pad nearby, providing a nice diversion while we await admittance.

It's my first time here and I'm not sure what to expect. A nondescript, shack-like structure juts out from the side of a grassy hill, making it anyone's guess what lies beyond. When we finally enter, I'm amazed by the extent and complexity of the whole thing. I'd heard of the Diefenbunker, and imagined it might consist of a couple of rooms below ground, providing food and shelter for the Prime Minister and his family in the event of nuclear war. I had no idea that it was in fact designed to house the federal government and certain military personnel in case of such an attack. Built between 1959-1961, the Diefenbunker is a multi-level complex of many rooms complete with everything needed to communicate with the outside world (it was in use for over 30 years, then decommissioned and cleared of its contents in the mid-90s – so the furnishings of today's museum had to be re-acquired).

We enter through a long tunnel and are greeted by the sounds of Victor Herbiet's saxophone. Beyond are various rooms, where musicians give mini-concerts as audience members wander in and out of their midst. Theremin virtuoso Thorwald Jørgensen and pianist Valerie Dueck occupy one room, playing Rachmaninoff's Vocalise when I enter. Percussionist Zac Pulak and his xylophone are set up in the Federal Warning Centre, a room complete with rows of old rotary phones labeled “civil defence” or “nuclear defence.” Guitarist Roddy Ellias plays works by Cuban composer Leo Brouwer, in the War Cabinet Room. A room simply called Requiem serves as a memorial to the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; here harpist Caroline Léonardelli and flutist Pascale Margely play traditional Japanese music. Bassoonist Ben Glossop occupies the CBC Emergency Broadcasting Studio playing excerpts of Shostakovich with the aid of a reverb machine. Pianist Christopher Kornienko is taking requests in the Morgue (not sure exactly what this room's intended use was, but that's what it's called), and has the audience spellbound by his rendition of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. And way underground (I'm now donning my sweater) in the cavernous Bank of Canada Vault which was built to shelter our gold reserves, cellist and festival artistic director Julian Armour, with pianist Frédéric Lacroix, play works by Robert Fleming and a Japanese folk song arranged by Gabor Finta. There's free food, drink and a jazz trio playing in the cafeteria. Obviously not all of the music is from the Cold War period, but it's a unique experience all the same. We are greeted by a full moon as we exit the bunker on this fine summer evening.

Quartetto Gelato's accordionist Alexander Sevastian.July 9: Quartetto Gelato, Canada's classical quartet whose repertoire spans opera to tango and beyond, draws a full house at St. Matthew's Anglican Church in the Glebe area of Ottawa. Founded 25 years ago by violinist and tenor Peter De Sotto, this ensemble blends virtuoso playing with its own brand of presentation and humour, and has been wowing audiences worldwide. There are too many works on the program to list, all arranged for the ensemble, highlighting the spectacular talents of each member. Four-time world champion Alexander Sevastian plays a “bayan” style accordion, and his fingers fly effortlessly across the 227 buttons. My favourite bit of the concert is a piece called Pipes, a traditional bagpipe tune arranged by the group's oboist, Colin Maier. The feat that we witness in this piece is Colin's ability to circular breathe. He plays the entire tune, which uncannily imitates the melismatic sounds of a bagpipe, in what seems to be one breath, without once taking the oboe reed out of his mouth! Everything on the program is played from memory (which is a feat in itself), and cellist Greg Gallagher, who is relatively new to the group, does a fine job too.

July 10: By contrast, on July 10, another quartet, Constantinople, gives an early evening concert in the beautiful sun-lit atrium of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, situated on Sussex Drive beside the Saudi Arabian embassy, across from the Ottawa River. The building serves as a de facto embassy for the Aga Khan. Opening remarks are delivered by Amirali Alibhai, head of performing arts at Toronto's Aga Khan Museum, whose mission is “to build bridges between cultures through the arts”. The concert, titled “Itinerant Gardens,” is described as “a poetic encounter between strings and voice, from the epics of the Mandingo Kingdom to the music of the Persian court.” The ensemble itself represents a meeting of cultures: there's a seven-stringed viola da gamba, a 21-stringed Kora (African harp) played by Ablaye Cissoko of Senegal, a four-stringed long-necked Persian setar played by Kiya Tabassian, and various gentle-sounding percussion instruments. The music in this concert is meditative, sublime, and beautiful in an understated way, all arranged by Tabassian and Cissoko, who also provide vocals.

There's time for a quick bite before I head over to First Baptist Church for the 7:30 concert. The aforementioned theremin virtuoso Thorwald Jørgensen is again joined by pianist Valerie Dueck, for a full-length program that also includes violinist Marc Djokic and percussionist Zac Pulak. The theremin has incredible range, at times sounding eerily similar to a double bass or cello, a violin or even a human voice. Jørgensen started out as a percussionist, but desiring to play an expressive instrument and inspired by the recordings of Clara Rockmore, switched to theremin. The five pieces on the first half were all written for theremin, and include Distant Shores, by Jørgensen himself; employing voice and a loop pedal that captures and repeats live sounds, the piece evokes the ebb of waves on a shoreline, complete with seagulls. Re-turning, by Daniel Mehdizadeh (who is in the audience), is an enchanting work for theremin, marimba and vibraphone. The second half of the concert features works not composed originally for theremin but that are well suited to it, such as Ravel's Pavane pour une infante défunte and Pièce en forme de Habanera, Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasilieras No.5 and of course, the Rachmaninoff Vocalise. The most impressive however is Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee -  Jørgensen's remarkable hand dexterity makes this the most convincing and bee-sounding version of this piece that I've heard!

July 11: It's noon and I'm again at First Baptist for part three of the “150 Years of Music in Canada” series. Elaine Keillor is back with four piano works by composers born in the 1800s; the first is by George W. Strath, who claims to have studied with Mendelssohn, and was the first to obtain a PhD in music from U of T's Trinity College. This is followed by a work by Charles A. E. Harris of Ottawa. Next are two pieces that evoke the marching band: Cave of the Winds by R. Nathaniel Dett, who was born in Ontario but spent most of his professional life in the US and was the first African American to earn an honorary doctorate from Oberlin College; and Imperial Native March by Job Nelson, an Indigenous composer of the Nisga'a Nation. Following are works for strings alone or with piano. The only living composer on the program is present – Jan Järvlepp explains that In Memoriam was composed in the palliative care unit of a Mississauga hospital where his brother lay dying. This moving string quintet is performed by Marc Djokic and Jasper Wood, two of Canada's best violinists, violist David Marks, cellist Julian Armour and bassist Paul Mach. Another moving work, performed by Wood and pianist Frédéric Lacroix, A Child's Cry from Izieu by Oskar Morawetz (1917-2007), was inspired by the transport of children from the French town of Izieu to Auschwitz (for more details see https://www.musiccentre.ca/node/26261). This is followed by lighter fare – Morawetz's arrangement of Dvořák’s Humoresque and works by Healey Willan and Sir Ernest MacMillan.

Thorwald Jørgensen plays theremin in the National Gallery. Photo by the author.In the evening, I attend the National Gallery Soirée. The National Gallery of Canada, one of our country's finest art galleries, becomes a literal playground for musicians of all sorts – as the audience wanders the gallery, we encounter not only the artwork on the walls but music that is contemporary or thematically related to it. A flutist is costumed identically to the one in a painting in front of which he performs. A harpist (one of three this evening) plays French music near paintings by Monet and others. Jørgensen and his theremin are stationed in a room of 20th-century art. There are also Baroque dancers, Inuit throat singers, two choirs, an Indigenous singer/drummer...and so on. The highlight for me is hearing the glorious Capital Chamber Choir perform in a large room with a high ceiling – the sound is truly astonishing. In the Great Hall, a jazz trio performs as festivalgoers sip wine.

July 12: It's my last day in Ottawa before heading back to Toronto and part of me feels I should attend to other business rather than hear more concerts, but I'm overcome by a sense of FOMS (Fear Of Missing Something), so hop on my bike and head downtown. Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal is at Church of St. Barnabas. This early music vocal ensemble consists of three women, two men and a lute player. They present a concert titled “Of Love, Drinking and Revelry”, madrigals and chansons of the Renaissance. Part One consists of love songs by Monteverdi, Banchieri and Luis de Narvaez. Part Two features drinking songs – there's one attributed to Henry VIII, another by Banchieri in which the singers imitate various animals, with cuckooing, meowing and barking – as well as songs by Lassus and Pierre Attaingnant. Part Three features contemplative songs by Arcadelt, Gibbons, Hassler and Dowland. Part Four is titled “Folies” and features a work by Gesualdo and Part Five presents songs of hope by Dowland and Sermisy. I am struck by the smooth velvety blend of the voices, the impeccable intonation and expressiveness of this wonderful ensemble. The church acoustics are a perfect fit too.

The Bennewitz Quartet. Photo credit: Kamil Ghais.Lunch, then I head over to Dominion Chalmers to hear the Bennewitz Quartet, a string quartet from the Czech Republic. “Lost in the Holocaust” is the first of three concerts they'll be giving at the festival and it's their first time ever performing in Canada – and hopefully not their last! My earlier sense of FOMS was warranted – these guys are magnificent players, both individually and as an ensemble. The program features works by three composers, all born in the Austro-Hungarian empire, who perished in Nazi death camps: Viktor Ullmann's String Quartet No.3 Op 46; Erwin Schulhoff's Five Pieces for String Quartet, described by the second violinist  as a Dadaist work; and the String Quartet No.2 Op 7 by Pavel Haas, a complex programmatic work with descriptive movement titles. The quartet is joined by percussionist Zac Pulak in the final movement. All of the works have profound beauty and are masterfully crafted. It's sad to think of what these composers might have achieved later – Ullmann and Haas were in their mid-forties when they died, Schulhoff in his fifties. The Bennewitz formed in 1998 and consist of Jakub Fišer and Štěpán Ježek, violins, Jiří Pinkas, viola, and Štěpán Doležal, cello.

For what will be my last concert of the festival, I head back to Church of St. Barnabas in the evening to hear a harpsichord recital by Mélisande McNabney. There's a small but very enthusiastic audience for this concert of 17th- and early-18th-century French repertoire, mostly inspired by other instruments and transcribed for harpsichord by the composers or McNabney herself. I'm blown away by not only the technical mastery of her playing, but by the remarkable expressivity with which she realizes the works – the harpsichord is limited in that there's no sustain pedal and no variation in volume, but this doesn't matter in the hands of this very accomplished and sensitive musician. The program consists of works by D'Anglebert, Rameau and Forqueray. After the concert, McNabney gives an informal “show and tell” of the instrument for the curious.

The festival continues until July 17, including a recital by mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta on July 14 and a not-to-miss performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor on July 16 . For more information on what's coming up, and other concerts I've missed, visit www.musicandbeyond.ca

Born in Ottawa, Karen Ages is an oboist and music writer based in Toronto. She can be reached at karen@thewholenote.com.


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