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.

Composer Aftab Darvishi, featured on the latest episode of Listening to Ladies. Credit: Tahmineh Monzavi.We’ve come a long way from when podcasts were just one of Apple’s side projects for the niche and the tech-savvy. Halfway through 2017, talk radio – in podcast form – is officially back in vogue with the North American mainstream. We are living, according to some experts, in a “podcast golden age” – and with the popularity and diversity of these on-demand radio shows ever on the rise, there’s no shortage of listening options, no matter where your interests lie.

If anything, it seems as though podcasts are especially well-suited to classical music. After all, it’s not that large of a leap to make from music to talk radio, especially when audiences are already used to investing 20 to 30 minutes of their listening time into a single sonata or concerto. And like any of the arts, classical music is full of experts and artists eager to weigh in on how the music works, and why it matters.

Here are six classical music podcasts that we’ve been listening to this summer.

1. Meet the Composer
Produced by WQXR’s Q2 Music, Meet the Composer is a force to be reckoned with in the world of contemporary music. Hosted by violist Nadia Sirota, the show features intimate, artistically probing interviews with some of the biggest names in modern music. With high quality audio samples of each composer's work, as well as a “From the Vaults" miniseries that resurrects archived interviews from the original “Meet the Composer” 1980s radio show that gave the podcast its name, Meet the Composer demystifies new music and reveals its secrets, with a passion that is catching.

LISTEN TO: Anna Thorvaldsdottir: Composing is Second Nature
This episode of Meet the Composer features the music of Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, as she and Sirota talk about workflow, orchestral writing, and finding a sense of home.

2. NACOcast
NACOcast is one of several podcasts coming out of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Originally hosted by now-retired tubist Nicholas Atkinson, the show has recently been taken over by Sean Rice, who plays second clarinet in the NAC Orchestra.

While the show is heavily rooted in the programming that the NACO does in its concerts, there's plenty here that will interest even those outside of the Ottawa area. Episodes explore themes that tie together different classical masterworks, bring in musicians from the NACO to talk about the secrets behind orchestral playing (like on “The Oboe - Beyond the ‘A’”) and present interviews with guest artists about the nature of classical music today.

LISTEN TO: Sean Rice chats with Nadia Sirota before the Canadian premiere of Nico Muhly’s electrifying viola concertoNadia Sirota – incidentally, the host of Meet the Composer – comes to Ottawa to perform Nico Muhly’s viola concerto, and talks with Sean Rice about her friendship with Muhly and how performers today are reinventing classical music as we know it.

3. Listening to Ladies
Elisabeth Blair. Photo credit: Dan Diffendale.Listening to Ladies started out in 2015, as a response to the lack of gender equity in the classical music scene. Run almost entirely by composer and artist Elisabeth Blair (with website assistance from Krystee Wylder), it’s a small operation – and one that is doing relevant, high-quality work. “This area of the arts has missed out on much of what the 20th century had to offer vis-à-vis feminism and equity,” says Blair in a recent interview with I Care if You Listen’s Rebecca Lentjes. “The Victorianesque state of affairs in the classical music world stunned and appalled me when I discovered it...and frankly, it pissed me off.”

Each episode features a composer who is a woman, including interviews and musical samples of their work. The composers interviewed range from well-known names in contemporary music, to emerging and underrepresented artists whom, like us, you’ll probably never have heard of. Blair and her guests talk composer-to-composer about how they navigate the classical music industry, how they write music, and where their work has taken them.

LISTEN TO: Aftab Darvishi
In the latest episode of Listening to Ladies, Blair skypes with composer Aftab Darvishi about growing up in Iran, finding a second musical coming-of-age in the Netherlands, and having her work heard as ‘feminine.’

4. From the Top
NPR’s popular podcast From the Top, hosted by concert pianist Christopher O’Riley, features performances of classical music by kids and teens from across the United States. O’Riley and his team travel the country to interview and record young performers (with O’Riley serving as not only host but also itinerant piano accompanist).

The show features some incredible performances from young musicians, and O’Riley is an honest and earnest host, with a knack for picking out what makes each performer’s story relatable or unique. The future of classical performance is in very capable hands.

LISTEN TO: Honolulu, Hawaii / Show 331
A recent episode of From the Top found O’Riley and team in Honolulu, featuring performances by the Hawaii Youth Symphony Orchestra and a stunning Prokofiev interpretation by Yesong Sophie Lee, the 13-year-old junior winner of the 2016 Menuhin International Violin Competition.

5. Twenty Thousand Hertz
Twenty Thousand Hertz isn’t technically a classical music podcast, or even a music podcast at all – but if any radio show could honestly be described as Cageian, this would be it. Twenty Thousand Hertz is dedicated to finding out the stories behind sounds – both the strangest sounds in the world (like the mysterious phenomenon on the Canada-US border known locally as the ‘Windsor Hum’) and those so ubiquitous that we normally hardly notice them (like noise pollution). New and already promising, Twenty Thousand Hertz is addictive listening for anyone interested in audio, of any kind.

LISTEN TO: 20,000 dBs Under the Sea
Twenty Thousand Hertz brings in underwater acoustician Al Jones to talk about the ocean, which contains a ‘secret world’ of very loud sounds – some of the loudest and most unusual on the planet.

6. The SOUNDLAB
The SOUNDLAB, hosted by Edmonton-based composer Paul Steenhuisen, features interviews with composers, often with Toronto ties, as well as examples of their work. It’s clear from his interviews that Steenhuisen is a keen listener who does his research; his conversations with guest composers always seem to dig into the core of what their music tries to achieve. He often synchronizes his work with that of Toronto concert presenters, so for GTA listeners, the show also functions as a helpful pre-concert primer on music being performed in town.

LISTEN TO: Philippe Leroux
In this episode from 2015, Steenhuisen talks with Philippe Leroux, who was about to travel to Toronto from Montreal to collaborate with New Music Concerts on a show featuring his music. The two composers talk, often switching back and forth between English and French, about spectralism, aesthetics, and, interestingly, chickens.

We’ve refrained from *officially* recommending our own stuff here, but it’s worth briefly mentioning that The WholeNote also has a podcast – Conversations at The WholeNote – available on our website. Our own show is by no means fully formed: originally a YouTube channel of video interviews with local performers and composers, the episodes have recently been transferred to an audio-only format. They’re freeform interviews, uncut and largely unedited – but if you’ve ever had the feeling of hearing Sondra Radvanovsky, Jonathan Crow or Jan Lisiecki perform in Toronto and wanting to be a fly on the wall while they explain what makes them tick, here’s one way to do it.

All of the podcasts above can be streamed from the broadcasters’ websites, or via any podcast app on your device.

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.

A member of RAW in performance in Toronto.Their name kind of says it all.

Raging Asian Women – RAW – is a Taiko drumming collective of East and Southeast Asian women based in Toronto. Founded in 1998 and largely self-taught, RAW is part of a modern, North American reclamation of Japanese Taiko – where a big part of that reclamation has to do with countering stereotypes of who Asian women can be. RAW is a music ensemble, but they’re also an activist group, and a feminist collective – and this month in Toronto, they’re also organizing the second edition of the Toronto Taiko Festival, a three-day-long exploration of Taiko as an art form, educational tool, and vehicle for social justice.

“RAW really started with a simple idea of shattering the stereotype of the Asian woman as being meek and quiet and subservient,“ says RAW member Young Park, who serves as the festival director. “RAW traces its lineage through the North American Taiko movement’s unique history, one that is integrally linked to the Asian American Movement of the 1960s and 1970s when Asian Americans and Canadians mobilized en masse around issues of racial equality, social justice, and political empowerment. RAW, as a group, advances this movement by being the intentional embodiment of empowered Asian women on stage together. This is just a fancy way of saying that by playing big drums in a powerful way as Asian females, we are empowering others to find pride and strength in who they are.”

Park, who joined the ensemble ten years ago, came to Taiko through classical music and dance. “My background is in classical viola, and I was also the artistic director of my own dance company in Cleveland for 12 years,” she says. “Joining a Taiko drumming group (with both drum playing and movement) was a natural fit for me, as well as having the experience to lead and organize large projects like the festival.”

RAW organized the first edition of the Toronto Taiko Festival back in 2012, so this second edition, running from August 25 to 27 of this year, has been a long time coming. As part of the planning process, Park travelled to the 2015 North American Taiko Festival in Las Vegas, and also participated in a residency on Sado Island, Japan, where she lived with apprentices and studied with artists from the renowned Japanese Taiko ensemble, Kodo.

It’s clear that RAW’s mandate has always centred around community building and empowerment – much of which involves working with other marginalized artists within their local Asian Canadian, feminist and queer communities – and the festival reflects this focus. Guest artists who Park is bringing to this year’s festival include Mark H.Rooney, a Scottish-Japanese performer who was a leader in the creation of collegiate Taiko programs on the east coast of the United States; PJ Hirabayashi, a second-generation Japanese American who was a part of the Asian American movement in the 1970s, and who will be hosting a public forum on her activist initiative TaikoPeace; and LA-based Taiko artist and educator Joe Small.

“And of course, RAW could not organize a festival without an Asian queer woman representing!” adds Park. “That [will be] Kristy Oshiro, who is one of the fiercest Taiko players in North America.”

The artists, alongside local Taiko groups, will present workshops and classes throughout the three days, culminating in “Bang On!”, a final concert on the evening of Saturday, August 26.

“When I met with many of the Taiko groups in the region, almost a year ago, many of the practitioners wanted a space and time to be able to connect with each other, to share ideas, exchange skills,” explains Park. “By organizing the Toronto Taiko Festival, especially the workshop component, regional Taiko players have a chance to meet each other, learn from fabulous international artists, and learn new Taiko skills.”

And the final concert of the festival, she adds, will see local groups’ work with one another truly come to fruition. “The concert is an opportunity for the regional taiko groups to share the stage together – in true community fashion.”

The second edition of the Toronto Taiko Festival, organized by Raging Asian Women (RAW), runs from August 25 to 27, 2017, in Toronto. Details and ticket information can be found at www.torontotaikofestival.org.

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.

Update, Thurs Aug 17, 2017: A previous version of this article stated that Park lived and studied with Kodo; in fact, she lived with Kodo apprentices and studied with Kodo members.: 

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