Tapestry moves its new instrument into its Distillery District studio space.This month, Toronto’s Tapestry Opera received its largest-ever donation—in the form of a piano.

When Ottawa-based couple Clarence Byrd and Ida Chen started thinking about downsizing earlier this fall, they decided to give up one of their pianos—a 9.5-foot, $225,000 Imperial Bösendorfer concert grand, one of the most highly-regarded concert piano models in the world. They approached Robert Lowrey (of Robert Lowrey Piano Experts), from whom they originally purchased the instrument, for advice.

“They floated the idea that it might be a beautiful thing to donate the piano to a worthy cause or organization,” says Michael Mori, Tapestry Opera’s artistic director. “Robert thought of Tapestry Opera and our Ernest Balmer Studio as a place where the performing arts community could access this wonderful instrument, and where its legacy would be ensured. As Tapestry regularly commissions and develops new works and composers, this would become the instrument upon which many of our composers would be composing new Canadian operas.”

The piano was transported this month from Byrd and Chen’s Ottawa-area home to Tapestry’s studio space in the Distillery District—no small feat. “Once it arrived in Toronto, a crane truck drove into the Distillery, just around the corner from Balzac’s Coffee and extended an impressive extending crane arm into the air, picked up the enormous piano, and then lifted it 40 feet horizontally and three stories vertically to bring it through a window that the Distillery had removed for this express purpose,” says Mori. “The process was slow but efficient—and thank God there was no wind!”

The Bösendorfer piano.Tapestry’s first gig with the Bösendorfer will take place this October 25, in an impromptu benefit concert designed to honour Byrd and Chen’s generosity.

Billed as a “Disaster Relief” concert, the October 25 show will feature the Bösendorfer piano in two sets. The first, at 7pm, features several singers connected to the Tapestry community, performing selections of arias and opera and music theatre scenes, including soprano Simone Osborne, mezzo Erica Iris Huang, tenors Asitha Tennekoon and Keith Klassen, and baritone Alexander Hajek. The second, presented at 10pm by Yamaha Canada, features local piano virtuosos Robi Botos (jazz) and Younggun Kim (classical). Tickets are $30 per set, and all proceeds will be donated to Medecins sans Frontieres and Global Medic, to assist with disaster relief from recent extreme weather events in Puerto Rico, Dominica, Mexico and India.

The artists for the evening were all sourced through Facebook, explains Mori. “We were overwhelmed when our single Facebook post to solicit participation generated such an incredible response from artists willing to donate their time and talent,” he says. “It’s...a fitting way to introduce our wonderful new instrument to the community.”

After the event, the Bösendorfer will continue to be put to use in the studio, both for rehearsal purposes and for other small performances in the space. According to Mori, the new instrument—in addition to allowing for the use of the Tapestry studio as a small music venue—will be an invaluable resource for the company’s composers and artists in the years to come. “It is an instrument that will continue to inspire composers writing new opera and experimental chamber music for Canada, and in turn the audiences who come to attend exciting new works in the studio,” he says. “I can hardly wait.”

Tapestry Opera’s Disaster Relief Benefit Concert takes place at the company’s Ernest Balmer Studio in Toronto’s Distillery District, on October 25, 2017. For details, visit https://tapestryopera.com/disaster-relief-benefit-concert/

Lord Byron, in a portrait by Richard Westall.George Gordon Byron—best known simply as ‘Lord Byron’—is often considered one of the Romantic Era’s greatest poets. But a number of Byron’s most famous works, among them his celebrated short poem She Walks in Beauty, have a lesser-known musical and spiritual connection. In a rare concert this month at the Kiever Shul in Toronto, a group of local musicians will shed light on the origins and legacy of some of Byron’s best-loved works.

Several of what now are among Byron’s most famous short poems were originally published in 1815 as a collection of music and lyrics titled Hebrew Melodies. The lyrics were meant to be sung to traditional synagogue melodies, supplied for the book by Byron’s friend, cantor Isaac Nathan. The book was an instant hit—but while Byron’s lyrics remained famous for years to come, Nathan’s musical settings did not.

In a concert on October 29 at the Kiever Shul, violist Barry Shiffman, soprano Stacie Carmona, clarinetist Ori Carmona, and musicians from the Royal Conservatory will come together to perform a selection of traditional and new Jewish music. The centrepiece of the concert will be brand-new settings of Byron's Hebrew Melodies, inspired by the tunes Isaac Nathan wrote for them over 200 years ago.

Toronto composer Charles Heller is the person behind the project. Heller, who has been involved in synagogue music for over 50 years, has composed new setting of Byron’s collection that use Nathan’s music as a starting point. “The project will be of great interest to lovers of Jewish Music and Byron,” he says. “Byron’s poems are remarkable for their sympathy with Jewish suffering and longing for a restoration of Jewish national independence.”

Heller isn’t new to the task, either. In 2015, Heller composed, performed and recorded a song cycle titled Tramvay Lider (Streetcar Songs)—a setting of Yiddish poems by acclaimed Toronto poet Shimen Nepom, who worked as a College St. streetcar conductor until his death in 1939, and who wrote the poems as a description of life on the streetcar. This earlier cycle was also featured in a concert at the Kiever, a venue Heller describes as “having a reputation for a charming and restful atmosphere, as well as good acoustics and an intimate feel, very conducive to concerts.”

For Heller, though the two projects present totally different musical and poetic worlds, it’s easy to hear the cantorial influence in both—as is the case with much classical music. “Always at the back of my mind, cantorial chant is a form of melismatic chant very influenced by the meaning of the words,” he says. “Ernest Newman heard it in Bloch, and Schoenberg heard it in Mahler, in the Abschied from Das Lied von der Erde.

Heller himself intends to traverse musical styles and centuries in the same way—and while he’s committed to honouring the work of Byron and Nathan, he’s also bringing to this performance something local and new. “I used a few of the traditional synagogue melodies as arranged by Nathan in 1815, but also there is much completely original music,” he says. “So my piece is a collaboration: between me, Byron, traditional synagogue melodies and Isaac Nathan’s 19th-century cantorial style.”

“Hebrew Melodies” takes place at the Kiever Shul at 25 Bellevue Ave., Toronto, on October 29 at 2pm; visit our listings for details.

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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