Sean Catheroy (left) and Teresa Tucci, in SOLT’s 2016 production of the opera A Tale of Two Cities.Summertime in Ontario is notorious for being the operatic off-season—but these days that’s far from the truth. While it may be true that the region’s largest opera houses more-or-less adhere to a conventional September-to-May season, an increasing number of local opera companies are making adventurous summertime programming a part of what they do. And in the last few years, those companies have really come into their own.

Summer Opera Lyric Theatre is one example. While it’s been around as a summer opera workshop for emerging artists since the 1980s, it has increasingly been turning its focus towards creating productions that feel fresh and relevant for local audiences. This season, SOLT’s roster of emerging opera singers will present three productions, between July 29 and August 6: Bizet’s Carmen, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, and a Canadian double-bill—John Beckwith’s Night Blooming Cereus, paired with Michael Rose’s new one-act opera, Northern Lights Dream.

Part of what makes this year special is that all four operas—including the Bizet and the Mozart—will be sung in English. Also of note is Rose’s Northern Lights Dream, which, in addition to drawing inspiration from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, will explore queer themes.

“The Rose work—a one act piece—is a world premiere, [and] deals with the coming out of a mature gay man and the effect it has on his wife,” says Henry Ingram, who is on faculty at SOLT. He adds that coming-out stories that examine the experience of spouses are rarely told in the arts, especially in opera—but that operas that centre queer narratives have recently been gaining visibility. “Brokeback Mountain, Les Feluettes, Nico Muhly’s Two Boys at the Met and Rufus Wainwright’s commission for the COC on the Roman Emperor Hadrian are several examples that come immediately to mind,” he says. It all reflects how SOLT plans to use the summer—a time when it can be tempting for arts presenters to retreat to conservative, ‘back-to-basics’ programming—to experiment, and to create programming that reflects the language, concerns and interests of contemporary local audiences.

Of course, when it comes to the summertime reinvention of contemporary opera, one indie opera company is king. After a summer in eastern Canada last year to premiere the Alexander Graham Bell opera The Bells of Baddeck, Bicycle Opera is back, with one of its biggest projects to date. Starting July 15, the company will embark on a three-week bicycle tour with the premiere of Sweat, an a cappella, one-act opera by composer Juliet Palmer and librettist Anna Chatterton—an ambitious departure from the company’s usual practice of touring collections of very short single-scene operas and opera excerpts. Featuring four soloists (Stephanie Tritchew, Catherine Daniel, Larissa Koniuk and Keith Lam) as well as a five-member chorus, Sweat explores the ethical issues behind the global garment industry. The company’s tour begins in Hamilton and includes stops throughout southern Ontario, closing in Toronto from August 3 to 6.

With both these productions, it seems as though this is the year that the companies have hit their stride—creating ambitious, large-scale works that feel relevant and refreshing, in the way that all summer music should be.

For a full overview of local opera this summer, see Christopher Hoile’s June opera column, which serves as a helpful reference for productions taking place across the region from now until the fall.

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.

Toronto, meet TONE.

Percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani, who opens the first concert of TONE. Credit: Jonathan Sielaff.A new undertaking by Karen Ng, Tad Michalak, Ron Gaskin and Daniel Pencer, TONE is a newcomer to the local summer festival scene this month. But unlike other festivals this summer, this one focuses exclusively on experimental music—programming a breadth of artists known for their adventurous approach rather than zeroing in on specific genres or styles. And unlike most other first-time projects, TONE—which features no less than eight concerts between June 14 and 29—has a scope that echoes that fearlessness.

In a recent interview with NOW, organizer Tad Michalak talks about how TONE was conceived as a way of filling a void, in a city that often omits experimental music from its summer festival offerings. “Year after year, it got disheartening to see a scene we worked year-round to build and invigorate get ignored by many major festivals,” he explains to NOW’s Carla Gillis. “TONE came about essentially out of necessity.”

If their goal was to do something about the dearth of summertime avant-garde music in Toronto, then TONE is a promising start. The festival features several sets of improvised music from both local and international artists, and aligns itself with some of the most active local venues for experimental music in the city. Acclaimed Japanese percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani opens the festival tonight (Wednesday, June 14) at the Tranzac, with other concerts taking place there in the following weeks, as well as at the Burdock, Array Space, the Jam Factory, and Ratio—which, having just announced its closure as a music venue, will present a TONE show on Saturday, June 24 as its last-ever concert.

Apart from a mandate for supporting experimental music, the TONE team—each of whom has a wealth of experience running music collectives and curating experimental music of one kind or another during the regular Toronto concert season—has been intentionally indiscriminate about genre. It means, ultimately, that among fans of the avant-garde, there really is something for everybody. Beyond opening night and the Ratio show, other standouts in the festival lineup include a three-set show co-presented with the Music Gallery on Thursday, June 15, featuring groups DKV, Icepick, and Invisible Out; an appearance by Berlin-based pianist Achim Kaufmann’s trio Grünen at Array on Monday, June 19 (in a double-bill with local group The Cluttertones); and a co-presentation with Electric Eclectics on Wednesday, June 21 at the Jam Factory, which opens with a performance by Ethiopian jazz accordion virtuoso Hailu Mergia.

Tickets range between $10 and $22 per show, with a 4-show pass available for $45 and a full festival pass available for $85—all of which are available at the door or in advance at Circus Books & Music, Rotate This, and Soundscapes.

Congrats to TONE for being bold, for making a plan for re-invigorating the summer experimental music scene, and for making it happen.

TONE, curated by Karen Ng, Tad Michalak, Ron Gaskin and Daniel Pencer, runs from June 14 to 29 in multiple locations throughout Toronto. For details, visit www.tonetoronto.tumblr.com.

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

Erin Stone, from the cast of Whose Opera is it Anyway?!. Credit: Dahlia Katz Photography.Opera is no stranger to onstage ridiculousness—but it isn’t always as slyly self-aware as this.

Following its inaugural show of the same name in July 2015, Loose TEA Music Theatre is back with a new installment of opera improv series Whose Opera is it Anyway?!. Inspired by the popular improv comedy TV show Whose Line is it Anyway?, Loose TEA’s production strings together improv comedy games into an opera of sorts, where professionals from the local opera community are forced to put their vocal and theatrical talents to comedic, and unexpected, use.

The show, which is organized by Loose TEA’s artistic director Alaina Viau and coached by Carly Heffernen of Second City, takes place on Friday, June 16, at Bad Dog Theatre in Toronto. The cast itself is a promising cross-section of local opera singers, including Jeff Boyd, Amanda Cogan, Adanya Dunn, Gillian Grossman, Rachel Krehm, Jonathan MacArthur, Erin Stone and Lindsay Sutherland-Boal. Schmopera’s Greg Finney will host and Natasha Fransblow will accompany at the piano.

Loose TEA isn’t the only group experimenting with musical manifestations of improv comedy, either. Also in town this month from London’s West End is Showstopper!, an improvised musical comedy running at the Panasonic Theatre until June 25. The show features a troupe of musical comedians billed as ‘The Showstoppers’, who, similar to Whose Line, use audience suggestions to create an on-the-spot performance of musical theatre. While the show has toured extensively in the UK, this Mirvish-hosted run is the group’s North American debut.

Whether these shows represent a growing trend or simply coincidental offshoots into music theatre’s less serious side remains to be seen. And though it’s of course impossible to say exactly what these shows will offer, the mix of operatic and musical tropes with improv comedy is an interesting one, which pokes fun at the melodrama of music theatre while offering something more casual, spontaneous and light-spirited than your average Verdi or Wagner. A bit of a collision of worlds, perhaps, but one that makes sense—and one worth watching.

Loose TEA Music Theatre’s Whose Opera is it Anyway?! takes place at Bad Dog Theatre in Toronto on Friday, June 16 at 9:30pm, and is a 19+ show. Tickets are $12; for details visit http://baddogtheatre.com/whose-opera-is-it-anyway. Showstopper! runs until June 25 at the Panasonic Theatre; more info at https://www.mirvish.com/shows/showstopper.

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

2208 HT BannerAndrei Feher, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony’s Music Director Designate. Photo credit: Matthieu Gauchet.The end of a season is always a time for shifts of musical leadership—and this year in particular has seen more changes of conductors, concertmasters, and artistic directors than most. And while, between Toronto’s closing venues and school boards’ slimming down of performing arts programs, most news on local music has waxed apocalyptic, these changes offer something more familiar, and more hopeful: local stars leaving the spotlight, and fresh, promising faces taking their place.

One of those places is at the helm of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. After ten years with the orchestra, artistic director Edwin Outwater is stepping down, finishing his tenure at the end of the 2016/17 season. Known for his charisma on the podium and for his knack for inventive programming, Outwater’s absence is sure to be felt by the orchestra and its audience alike.

“Edwin came to us just in the nick of time,” writes K-W Symphony principal oboist Jim Mason, on the tribute page the orchestra has put up in Outwater’s honour. “We were floundering and going nowhere, still in a world of strife as an orchestra. He came and led us, both on the podium and off, showing us what we were capable of and making us believe in ourselves. He added life to the organization and the city. I wish him all the best and I will sorely miss him.”

The K-W Symphony’s upcoming concerts on May 26 and 27 will be Outwater’s final concert with the orchestra. Titled “Grand Finale: Edwin’s Farewell,” Outwater will lead the orchestra, the Grand Philharmonic Choir, and the Amadeus Choir of Greater Toronto in John Adams’ Harmonium, Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, and Richard Reed Parry’s Outwater Fanfare, composed in Outwater’s honour. Following the show, Outwater will assume the title of Music Director Laureate, and will hand over his role to 26-year-old Romanian-Canadian conductor Andrei Feher, who will serve as Music Director Designate in 2017/18 before officially taking over leadership of the orchestra in August of next year. For more information on the concerts, or on the orchestra, visit www.kwsymphony.ca.

Here’s a recap of other arrivals and departures in local classical music leadership.

St. Thomas’s Anglican Church

Departing: John Tuttle

Arriving: Matthew Larkin

John Tuttle, organist and choirmaster at St. Thomas’s Anglican Church since 1989, retired from his position there last July, and has just been replaced by incoming organist and music director Matthew Larkin (effective August 2017). Larkin, perhaps best known to WholeNote readers as conductor of the Larkin Singers, comes to Toronto from Ottawa’s Christ Church Cathedral, and is a former organ student of the University of Toronto—where he studied with none other than John Tuttle himself.

More info: http://stthomas.on.ca/.

 

Pax Christi Chorale

Departing: Stephanie Martin

Arriving: David Bowser

Stephanie Martin, artistic director of Pax Christi Chorale since 1996, will be departing at the end of this season. Taking her place will be David Bowser, who is already active as a local conductor with the Hart House Chorus and the Mozart Project and who will lead Pax Christi in a 3-concert season beginning in the fall. Details: http://www.paxchristichorale.org.

 

Tafelmusik

Arrived: Elisa Citterio

This new arrival is already well-known to many local Tafel fans, having just co-directed her first concert as the baroque orchestra’s Music Director Designate earlier this month. She’ll be officially joining the orchestra, taking over from longtime director Jeanne Lamon, in the 2017/18 season. More info: www.tafelmusik.org.

 

Luminato

Arrived: Josephine Ridge

Josephine Ridge joined the Luminato Festival team in summer 2016, moving to Canada from Australia, where she was artistic director of the Melbourne Festival, and taking over from outgoing Luminato artistic director Jörn Weisbrodt. This summer’s festival, taking place in various locations throughout the city June 14 to 25, will be the first edition under Ridge’s leadership. More about Ridge in the upcoming summer issue of The WholeNote; and more on this year’s festival at www.luminatofestival.com.

Young Voices Toronto

Departing: Zimfira Poloz

Arriving: TBA

Zimfira Poloz, who has been a conductor of the children’s choir Young Voices Toronto since 2002 and artistic director since 2004, will be leaving her position at the end of the season. Young Voices Toronto still hasn’t divulged who her replacement will be, but will do so in the coming weeks—look for an announcement in the June issue of Halftones! More info: http://youngvoicestoronto.com/.

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

2208 HT Banner2Flutist Leslie Newman.Once a year, Hamilton’s street-level music scene gets a welcome classical infusion as the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra hosts its annual What Next Festival—a celebration of up-and-coming music from Canadian-born composers. This year, the festival’s seventh, the theme is based on the specifics of Canadian regions such as its land, wildlife and folk music—and has composers writing about what Canada is to them.

Directed by Abigail Richardson-Schulte, the festival—for which all tickets are PWYC—takes place between May 23 and May 28, in various venues around Hamilton. Of particular note is a concert on May 27, where the HPO’s principal flutist Leslie Newman will be a featured performer in a chamber ensemble playing pieces by Hamilton composer William Peltier. Peltier's work (which appears alongside pieces by John Beckwith, Brian Current, Barbara Monk Feldman, Derek Charke and Liam Ritz) has Newman imitating loons, stomping on plywood and playing with throat singers on a recording, as well as playing a jig. Straying away from the traditional classical style of Mozart and Beethoven to introduce a more contemporary sound adds a level of intrigue that makes this music worth experiencing in person.

The What Next Festival will feature both prominent and emerging composers: Hamilton locals William Peltier and Liam Ritz, as well as renowned composers Marjan Mozetich, Sir Ernest MacMillan and Allan Gordon Bell. The music that will be played ranges from works for full string orchestra to solo and small chamber ensemble performances.

On May 28, HPO principal clarinetist Stephen Pierre will be playing a program of music that reflects nature in Canada through the eyes and compositions of its composers. When asked what piece Stephen is most excited to share, he pointed to La Nuit s’ouvre (The Night Opens), a solo work by Elma Miller. “The piece is for unaccompanied clarinet and represents the shimmers of light and life as day becomes night,” explained Pierre. “The freedom Miller has granted me in creating this atmosphere in sound is something that is seldom afforded a performer. Animal sounds, weather effects and changes of luminosity produced by the clarinet timbre are challenges that inspire creativity in a performer. The work is brilliant and Miller will be on hand to introduce it to the audience.” The magic of pieces like this is in how it encourages one to use their imagination, and create picturesque imagery inspired by the music that is being performed.

As a musician who doesn’t have a lot of money and loves classical music, it is exciting to be able to attend an affordable festival featuring renowned musicians and composers. The chamber music in smaller and more intimate settings is what first caught my eye and makes me excited to attend. I'm sure that this, plus the allure of a string orchestra with solo performances, will entice classical and new music lovers from across the greater Toronto and Hamilton areas to attend and enjoy this wonderful event.

For more information on the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra’s What Next Festival, visit http://hpo.org/whatnextfestival/.

Cole Gibson is a freelance woodwind player based in Hamilton.

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