Alison Mackay’s Safe Haven: Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra with guests Diely Mori Tounkara (kora) and Maryem Tollar (narrator, vocals). Photo credit: Jeff Higgins.Immigration and the status of refugees continues to be a global issue. Whether through the discourse and dissent on the fate of “Dreamers” on our own continent or the mass displacement of tens of thousands due to climate change, war and societal unrest around the globe, refugee-related concerns continue to receive increasing attention from media, politicians and the public as a whole.

A fundamental element of immigration debates, particularly in North America, centres on how our individual and massed views of outliers – our understanding of the foreigner – are often based on incorrect and stereotypical perceptions of how those different than ourselves will impact the social structures around us. We hear how immigrants will “steal jobs,” infiltrate our cities, poison the minds of our youths with “radical agendas,” and pose a threat to the very fabric of a democratic society which we have treasured since the Great Philosophers.

These arguments, presented everywhere from internationally-televised political speeches to private dinnertime conversations, are not new; many of these anti-immigration rationales have been used, in some form, for centuries. Running January 18 to 23, 2018 in Toronto, Safe Haven – Tafelmusik’s latest multimedia concert and the brainchild of bassist Alison Mackay – countered these age-old prejudices, exploring the overwhelmingly positive influence of refugee populations on their adopted cultures over the past four centuries. Working with guest performers Maryem Tollar (narration/vocals), Diely Mori Tounkara (kora) and Naghmeh Farahmand (percussion) to create a unified multimedia presentation incorporating music, words and projected images, Tafelmusik revealed how several significant developments in the Baroque era were the result of immigrant-based cultural collaborations.

Beginning with religious refugees from France fleeing Louis XIV’s revoking of the Edict of Nantes, Safe Haven first focused on the influence of the Huguenots, French Calvinist Protestants, on the rest of Europe. These refugees were welcomed by many, but others were concerned about the influx of these strange people, citing their religious beliefs, strange language and unusual headdresses as reasons why the entry of Huguenots should be prevented.

Weaving a thread through the music of Vivaldi, Lully, Goudimel and Purcell, we saw the influence of the French carried to Italy and England, intellectual exchanges resulting in the dissemination of Lully’s operas and suites, and the adaptation of these dance forms by Italian composers. By highlighting the influence of the French on German musicians, particularly through the introduction of the oboe (hautbois), we learned why J.S. Bach was so enamoured with the instrument and its rich, novel sound. Bach also utilized French suite forms in his compositions, writing works of astounding complexity and inventiveness and arguably stretching the style to its limit through works such as the Six Suites for solo cello.

Another significant Huguenot emigré featured in Safe Haven was the Amsterdam-based publisher Éstienne Roger. Beginning his trade by producing grammars and dictionaries, Roger started engraving music in 1696; by 1722 Roger had published over 500 editions of works by composers like Corelli, Albinoni and Vivaldi – a musical superconnector whose craft resulted in widespread distribution of these composers’ works.

Other notable religio-political conflicts which resulted in social diasporas and subsequent musical developments include the 17th-century expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal to the Netherlands and Poland, as well as the outlawing of Catholicism in England by Elizabeth I. Poland, with its Warsaw Federation Act guaranteeing freedom of worship to all, became a cultural melting pot, a contact hub for Jews, Catholics and Roma that influenced numerous composers – including Telemann, who transcribed a number of Roma melodies and later used them in his orchestral compositions.

From a musical perspective, the standard of Tafelmusik’s performance was particularly impressive, especially given the changing stylistic elements throughout. Placing concerti by Vivaldi and Corelli cheek-to-cheek with a Lully suite or Bach oboe obbligato cantata movement requires immediate yet subtle changes in approach, and the orchestra’s fluency and expertise in all styles was on full display. The blended use of smaller chamber works and larger concerti to highlight instruments and their combinations was very effective: Elisa Citterio’s Winter solos glittered; Charlotte Nediger’s Sweelinck was subtle and sublime; and Marco Cera’s oboe lines sung in Bach’s Sinfonia from Cantata 156.

Alison Mackay’s Safe Haven: Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra with guests Diely Mori Tounkara (kora), Maryem Tollar (narrator, vocals) and Naghmeh Farahmand (percussion). Photo credit: Jeff Higgins.One performer that cannot go unmentioned is kora player Diely Mori Tounkara, a native of Mali and resident of Montreal. Tounkara’s virtuosity and musicality added another dimension to this performance, most notably with his first solo, mesmerizing everyone in Jeanne Lamon Hall with his total immersion in the music and his instrument. The kora, a plucked instrument that resembles an upright lute (it’s actually a hide-covered calabash with a neck and 21 strings) flourished within the Mali bardic tradition, and its inclusion in Safe Haven presented a fascinating cross-cultural collaboration that was likely a new and novel sound experience for many in the audience.

A highly effective and tightly-woven tapestry of words, music and art, Safe Haven used all three forms of media in such a way that the entirety was far greater than the sum of the individual parts. Removing one component would have caused the whole to unravel, like the pulling of a thread: without the words, the musical selections would be decontextualized, disconnected, and discombobulating; without the music, we would have a dramatic lecture; without the images, another entire layer of contextualization and visual engagement would be lost. It is new and innovative presentations such as Safe Haven that help us appreciate what a wonderful culture and community we live in – one where creative, experimental and profound concepts and ideas can be realized onstage, to the benefit of all.

Tafelmusik presented Safe Haven January 18 to 23, 2018 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre and Toronto Centre for the Arts, Toronto.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

notredame2The interior of the Notre-Dame de Paris.From the earliest days of Western musical civilization to the present, Notre-Dame de Paris has played a prominent and pivotal role in many of music’s finest moments and housed some of its most brilliant minds. In the 13th century, Pérotin le Grand, one of the Medieval era’s most respected and influential composers, developed the organum, the first exploration of polyphony in European church music. Through his organa, Pérotin pioneered an entirely new style of music, expanding previously monophonic chants (single lines sung in unison, such as Gregorian chant) into two-, three-, and four-part compositions, thereby paving the way for choral music as we understand it today.

In 1900, more than six centuries after Pérotin le Grand, Louis Vierne was appointed principal organist at Notre-Dame de Paris. By this time the tradition of excellence in church music at Notre-Dame was firmly established, continuously developing and thriving, despite changing social conditions and political unrest. Nearly blind from birth due to congenital cataracts, Vierne studied with César Franck and was assistant to Charles-Marie Widor before obtaining the highly-regarded and equally highly sought-after organist post at Notre-Dame. (To this day, the position of titulaires des grandes orgues is considered one of the most prestigious in France.)

Vierne maintained this high standard, playing hundreds of organ recitals and inspiring generations of future composers and organists through his concert and service playing, powerful and skillful improvisations, and extraordinarily emotive compositions. Vierne was so closely connected to Notre-Dame that he passed away during what was to be his last recital, his 1750th, suffering either a stroke or heart attack on the bench of the great Cavaillé-Coll organ in his beloved church.

Organist David Briggs.Upon entering Notre-Dame de Paris and hearing the organ for the first time, the majesty and grandeur are overwhelming. The enormity of space and sound, working together in perfect synchronicity, produce an unparalleled and profound effect. On January 19 in Toronto, the Choir of St. James Cathedral, led by director of music Robert Busiakiewicz and organist David Briggs (former artist-in-residence at St. James), sought to recreate this powerful atmosphere with their concert The Splendour of Notre Dame, featuring music by composer-improvisers connected with Notre-Dame in the 20th and 21st centuries: Louis Vierne, Pierre Cochereau, Maurice Duruflé and Yves Castagnet.

The first work of the program, Vierne’s Messe Solennelle, Op. 16, is a personal favourite. Written the year before his appointment to Notre-Dame, this piece opened the concert in an extraordinarily powerful way: majestic, imposing, dissonant C-sharp minor played on full organ, answered antiphonally by the choir. Originally composed for two organs and played by two organists (the Grand-Orgue and the Orgue de Choeur), Briggs masterfully adapted the score for solo performance on St. James’s pipe organ, making the necessarily rapid adjustments seamless throughout. The Cathedral choir, although comprising only 18 voices, held their own against Vierne’s weighty writing, maintaining their presence, balance and impressive tuning, even with the Trompette en-chamade blaring from the West end of the building!

One of the finest performers on the international pipe organ scene today, David Briggs followed the Vierne Messe with his own transcription of Variations sur ‘Alouette, Gentille Alouette’ by famed organist and improviser Pierre Cochereau, organist of Notre-Dame from 1955-1984. Cochereau’s improvisations, renowned for their innovation, technical challenges and sheer complexity, are a nightmare for any transcriber – by his own estimation, Briggs spent “about six months, at an average pace of 4 hours to transcribe one minute of music” – and the Cochereau Variations were well over 10 minutes in duration! A piece of staggering complexity, the Variations were astounding in every way: the thought that Cochereau could compose, let alone improvise such a work – and that Briggs had the patience and determination to transcribe it – lent the performance an even higher degree of impressiveness.

Although never titulaire at Notre-Dame (he held an identical post at the nearby Saint-Étienne-du-Mont), Maurice Duruflé was an influential member of the Paris organ scene, an established composer, performer, and teacher whose pupils included Pierre Cocherau. A severely self-critical composer who continually edited his works (there are only 12 published with opus numbers), Duruflé’s Quatre Motets sur des thèmes grégoriens, op. 10 are miniature gems, and the St. James Cathedral Choir shone in their interpretations of these works. As with the Vierne Messe, the choir’s intonation, dynamic contrasts and phrasing were masterfully executed, and Busiakiewicz’s choices of slightly quicker tempi helped compensate for the Cathedral’s relatively dry acoustic; dry, at least, in comparison to the great churches of Paris!

The evening’s joyful exploration of Notre-Dame’s 20th-century choir and organ music came to a rousing conclusion with the performance of Yves Castagnet’s Messe Salve Regina, based on and including excerpts from the great 11th-century Gregorian chant. Castagnet is the current Organist of the Orgue de Choeur at Notre-Dame where, since his appointment in 1988, he accompanies daily masses and plays choral accompaniments; he is also a gifted composer, as his Messe demonstrated! Demanding a great variety of timbres, textures and sonorities from both organ and choir, Castagnet’s love of Notre-Dame, its instruments and its choirs shines through his music, as both organ and choir play equal roles in the declamation and interpretation of the traditional Latin Mass texts.

Clearly demanding and intricate but never superficial or indulgent, the Messe Salve Regina was a splendid way to conclude a concert that did exactly what it promised to do: bring the splendour of Notre-Dame and its inimitable traditions and musical pedigree to Toronto. For a little while, it felt as though we too could turn around and savour the stunning rose windows of that great gothic structure.

The Cathedral Church of St. James presented “The Splendour of Notre Dame” on January 19, 2018 in Toronto.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

Noah Reid as Hamlet, at the Tarragon Theatre. Photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann.I wasn’t sure what to expect after the interview I did with Richard Rose on the Tarragon Theatre’s production of Hamlet for the December/January issue of The WholeNote. How much music would there be and how many songs? Even the director wasn’t sure at that point as, although there had been a preliminary exploratory workshop of the idea, he didn't know how or in which direction the show would grow once in full rehearsal.

As it turns out, it is much closer to a traditional Shakespeare play than I expected. Rather than a rock musical, it is much more what the director described: “a radio play meets a rock concert,” yet it is staged, not on a traditional set but on a narrow strip of stage in front of the “band setup.” For furniture: simple chairs with some basic props, memorably the rapiers and daggers for the  excellent slow motion duel at the end.

The script is totally Shakespeare’s Hamlet, pared down nicely to the essential with particularly good cutting in the second half when Hamlet comes back from England and Laertes from France, including a cleverly succinct staged scene of Hamlet on shipboard switching the letter carried by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, speaking the words he writes to Horatio.  

The rock music underscoring mostly makes the story clearer, underpinning emotions, freeing the actors to surf and soar on and over the music and letting the words take flight. Microphones took away the need to project, so the words could be spoken in whispers when necessary in great intimacy – or shouted – all reaching the back of the theatre.

This was particularly true of the “Rogue and Peasant Slave” soliloquy, where Hamlet berates himself for his inability to revenge his father after watching the passionate performance of the First Player (the commanding Jack Nicholson) in the previous scene. The passion, anger and black humour of Hamlet’s soliloquy was fully realized by the excellent Noah Reid, with music building to a point where it felt like he almost might burst into song.

Unfortunately, the scoring doesn’t always work that well. After the magnificence and complete understanding of this sequence, the more famous soliloquy, “To Be or Not to Be,” falls flat, too quiet, too little music, and not enough urgency. The same can be said for the characters’ music themes, which sometimes worked well, but at other times – as in the church organ accompaniment created for Cliff Saunders' Polonius (to highlight his sententious sermonizing) – got in the way of the performance.

The ensemble watching the "play within a play," in the Tarragon's production of Hamlet. Photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann.Even though not always perfect, what was effective was the constant presence of the music throughout the show – music all composed, arranged and played live by the incredibly versatile ensemble. Other highlights included a wonderfully eerie atmospheric soundscape for the ghost, and an effective mini rock-opera for the “play within the play,” Beau Dixon standing out as both demure Player Queen and Judas-style rock and roll murderer.

Part of the fun of the production is watching the performers’ smooth transitions from character to musician and back again, almost as if a rock band had decided to put on Hamlet. Even Hamlet plays the keyboard in his first appearance. Laertes is glued to his guitar until he returns to Denmark to find his sister has gone mad, and Rachel Cairns as Rosencrantz is a great find, easily switching from playing various instruments to embodying Hamlet’s old school friend, with her mobile speaking face and great physicality. At the same time, more could have been done with the idea of Ophelia’s songs beginning as sweet love tunes at the beginning. I had expected them to appear much more strange and haunting in the mad scenes, given Tiffany Ayalik’s experience as a throat singer and vocoder player. It was also a pity that Gertrude and Claudius were not involved in the music-making at all, although Claudius (Nigel Shawn Williams) did effectively command the band to play and stop during the court scenes.

Opening night was an exciting high energy performance and the younger people in the audience were particularly thrilled (though some of the older were not). The original concept of director Richard Rose and music director Thomas Ryder Payne of Hamlet’s rage finding a voice through rock music is fulfilled to a great extent. In many ways this production made me think of Neil Munroe’s controversial Hamlet’s Room back in the 1990s at Theatre Plus: radical experimenting with a well-known classic, bringing it into our times to make a Hamlet for today.

Hamlet, music directed by Thomas Ryder Payne, runs January 2 to February 11 in the Tarragon Main Space at 30 Bridgman Ave., Toronto.

Toronto-based “lifelong theatre person” Jennifer (Jenny) Parr works as a director, fight director, stage manager and coach, and is equally crazy about movies and musicals.

Tim Baker, known for his work with Newfoundland band, Hey Rosetta!, is a headliner at this year’s Piano Fest.The Burdock is one of those special Toronto places that feels like it can be anything you want it to be. It’s a bar and restaurant, it’s a brewery – and notably, it’s a music venue. In a room separate from the bar area in the northwest corner of the Bloor Street space, booking manager Charlotte Cornfield and the Burdock team have created an intimate atmosphere that works surprisingly well for a vast array of music: quiet enough for a wind quintet, cosy enough for a folk set, but still spacious enough for something bigger, more adventurous, or experimental. And, for one week every year, they have a piano.

According to Cornfield, at first the Burdock Piano Festival grew out of a kind of team problem-solving exercise. “The original Burdock team are all big music lovers and big piano fans,” she says. “We talked about having a piano in the space, but we wanted the space to be malleable and able to morph into a different kind of stage environment depending on the type of show that we do...and also, January ends up being a quieter gig month because it’s post-holidays and it’s cold. So we were like: what could we do to both embrace the piano and liven up January?

“We often just throw goofy ideas around, and it started as what seemed to be a goofy idea that formed into ‘actually, this is a great idea’,” she continues. “Why don’t we bring in a really nice piano for a week, and just program a week of piano shows, and get people excited about that?”

Charlotte Cornfield.Cornfield and the team came up with suggestions of artists; Robert Lowrey Pianos donated the baby grand. That was for January 2016; three years later, the Burdock Piano Fest is still gathering momentum.

This year’s festival is the biggest yet – 16 shows over 8 days – and the team is trying to expand their scope to match. “This year was the first year that I actually did a call for submissions, because I really wanted to reach out beyond our immediate community,” says Cornfield. “I wanted to reach out beyond the walls of what we already know. And it was great: we got a ton of eclectic submissions. There were a lot of people who I wasn’t familiar with before who reached out, and I’m super excited about the lineup.”

That lineup includes an impressive array of artists: headliner vocalist/pianists Tim Baker (of Hey Rosetta! fame) and Jeremy Dutcher, along with sets spanning classical, jazz, experimental and pop. In particular, Cornfield points out the January 29 shows – emerging baroque pop singer/songwriter/pianist Ryland Dinneen paired in a double bill with Kritty Uranowski, followed by a late-night solo set by singer-songwriter Emma Frank – and a jazz- and soul-influenced show featuring Joanna Majoko and Chelsea Bennett, on January 26.

As usual for the festival, double bills make up the bulk of the programming. For Cornfield – who, as a songwriter, pianist/guitarist and jazz drummer, is herself a musician with several different facets – it’s a part of her strategy to bridge the gap between genres and create new musical connections. “I started doing the double bill thing in the first year, just because I thought it would be interesting to bring people together who might not already know one another but whose music might line up in some way,” she says. “And then that was really cool because it brought in two different crowds to one show.

“It was really fun this year to be like, ‘oh, who would this artist work well with?’ and ‘oh, this is kind of left-field to put this classical guy with a cabaret singer, but I think it would work really well!’ Things like that,” Cornfield adds. “I like to mix it up; I’m a big fan of double bills that wouldn’t be the obvious choice, but that have things about each set that complement one another.”

More than anything, it’s about celebrating the piano in the Burdock space, and making it special.

“What I’ve been looking for are acts and ideas that are unique to having an opportunity to have a piano like that in an intimate space,” says Cornfield. “While we have a lot of different ideas [at the festival], what brings them together is that it’s a special occasion to do something cool with a piano in this space. So genre-wise this year, we’re definitely casting a wider net than we have in previous years. We definitely wanted the programming to be diverse – as diverse as possible.”

The Burdock Piano Fest runs from January 22 to 29.

IbrahimBannerPianist Abdullah Ibrahim, who will perform in Toronto on April 21, 2018.Now that it’s officially 2018, it’s time to start looking forward – and thankfully, there’s a lot to look forward to. The year is full of compelling music, both locally and abroad, and as clichéd as it sounds, there actually is something for everyone. To take stock of the year ahead, we asked our writers: if you had to choose one concert that you’re already planning on attending in 2018, what would it be?

Here are some of WholeNote staff and contributors’ picks for their must-see concerts of 2018.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra - Mahler Symphony 9
June 20 and 23, 2018, Toronto

TSO music director Peter Oundjian's 14-year run comes to a joyous conclusion in June with a series of powerhouse concerts. The one that I'm particularly looking forward to is the June 20 and 23 program, which finds Oundjian leading the orchestra in Mahler's emotionally transformative Symphony No.9, a work its first conductor, Bruno Walter, said was filled with “a sanctified feeling of departure.” Of all the ninth symphonies that followed Beethoven's unsurpassable example, Mahler's stands tallest. As a significant bonus, the program opens with longtime friend of Oundjian's TSO, the always engaging Emanuel Ax, bringing his musical ease and humility to Mozart's Piano Concerto No.15 K451, its celebratory mood perfectly appropriate for the occasion.

- Paul Ennis, managing editor and classical columnist

More info:

The Royal Conservatory - Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya and special guest Freddie Hendrix in tribute to The Jazz Epistles
April 21, 2018, Toronto

For me it's a commemorative confluence April 21 at Koerner Hall: Abdullah Ibrahim on piano with his band Ekaya, and with Freddie Hendrix on trumpet, in an evening featuring Jazz Epistles original compositions. Drawing on the music of Monk, Parker and 'Trane, the Epistles were at the roots of a distinctively South African jazz sound, which filtered into my childhood consciousness from the King Kong kitchen yards of my Johannesburg childhood. And newly arrived in Canada (who knew it would be for good?) 40 years ago, I heard Abdullah Ibrahim, still in exile, spin two hours of solo piano magic at what would become the Jane Mallett Theatre, as part of the “Plus” in Polish refugee writer/director Marion Andre's groundbreaking Theatre Plus series.

- David Perlman, publisher and editor-in-chief

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Mirvish - Come From Away
February 13 to September 2, 2018, Toronto

A show I am looking forward to with great anticipation this season is the return of David Hein and Irene Sankoff’s Come From Away. A truly Canadian musical based on a true – and recent – Canadian story that has triumphed on Broadway after quickly selling out its original Toronto run, Come From Away returns to Toronto’s Royal Alex Theatre on February 13 for a long run. Having missed the first run when it sold out so quickly, I am eager to catch up with a show that everyone who has seen it says is not only brilliantly written and composed but enormously heartwarming and inspiring as well.

- Jennifer Parr, music theatre columnist

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Works by Leoš Janáček

This year I’m excited to hear a variety of music from the Czech composer Leoš Janáček, especially (hopefully) his spectacularly epic Glagolitic Mass. December 8, 2018 is the 90th anniversary of Janáček’s death, which will hopefully serve as an impetus for deeper exploration
of Janáček and his works, and more performances of his music here in Toronto.

- Matthew Whitfield, early music columnist

Glyndebourne Opera Festival - Giulio Cesare
June 10 to July 28, 2018, Glyndebourne, UK

This June will be my first ever visit to Glyndebourne Opera Festival (provided there's no global nuclear war etc. before then). The festival is reviving Handel's Giulio Cesare, which I'd argue is the best production that David McVicar ever created, though my main draw is Sarah Connolly in the title role. Squeaky countertenors have all but taken over this pants role from the powerful mezzos and this could well be the last time Cesare is sung by a woman on a major operatic stage. A few of us are coming from around the world, including a fellow mezzo-sexual opera lover from Australia. Given the Glyndebourne evening-wear dress code, my usual casual getups won't do. What to wear in Sussex in June where a clear sky can quickly turn to rain? To dress feminine or masculine of centre? All those Glyndebourne Cesare clips on Youtube will come in handy for inspiration.

- Lydia Perović, art song columnist

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Toronto Symphony Orchestra - Beethoven Symphony 9
June 28 to 30, 2018, Toronto

Freude! There are reasons that works like Beethoven's 9th bring tears to performers and listeners alike: the sheer power of a full orchestra and choir belting out a beloved tune; the dancing strings and powerful timpani hits as the choir soars with “Freude, schöner Götterfunken”; the dangerously fast ending that always erupts into applause. As a performer there are few works with the great dynamism of the 9th. This year, 2018, we have an auspicious event to celebrate – Peter Oundjian's final stand on the podium after 14 years as artistic director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Sure, he'll be back, hopefully often, but what better work to commemorate his time at the TSO and to set a glorious tone for the future of classical music in Toronto? I'll be singing in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. Also, although details are still being hashed out, some interesting surprises will be in store for the final performances. Virtual choir? Simulcasts? Public performance? Choir of hundreds? We'll have to see!

- Brian Chang, choral columnist

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Music Gallery - Yoko Ono - The Riverbed: Voice Pieces
February 23, 2018, Toronto

In a 2010 interview with Artinfo’s Sarah Douglas, Yoko Ono describes her 1964 conceptual artwork Voice Piece for Soprano – a set of instructions where the reader is told to scream “1) against the wind, 2) against the wall, and 3) against the sky” – as a protest song, and a form of resistance. “The inspiration was that I was feeling very rebellious as a woman,” she says. “The wind, the wall, and the sky didn’t represent men, but they were situations in life that you have to scream against.”

This February, a co-pro between the Music Gallery and the Gardiner Museum will present three performances inspired by these instructions. Experimental improvisers The Element Choir, dub poet Lillian Allen and vocalist Mamalia will each perform an homage to this work, in light of the Gardiner’s February 22-June 3 exhibition of Ono’s art. I have no idea what to expect, or whether the concept of screaming will be interpreted literally or loosely. Either way – like much of Ono’s work – it will likely be bold, and impossible to ignore.

- Sara Constant, digital media editor

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Labyrinth Music Workshop Ontario, NCGMO, Polyphonic Ground

My pick is not one concert/music event, but rather tracing in 2018 the development of a few breaking 2017 stories featured in my WholeNote column. I’d include Labyrinth Music Workshop Ontario, New Canadian Global Music Orchestra and Polyphonic Ground. Why? Collectively, they address core issues in world music education, creation, performance, presentation and legacy relevant in the GTA.

- Andrew Timar, world music columnist

Drummer Anthony Fung, of JabFung.JabFung, a project helmed by bassist Julian Anderson-Bowes and Richmond Hill-born, LA-based drummer Anthony Fung, has emerged in recent years as one of Toronto’s leading presenters of collaborative jazz residencies. Anchored by the core rhythm section of Anderson-Bowes and Fung, the group’s past performances have featured excellent local and international guest musicians, including saxophonist Kelly Jefferson, pianist James Hill, guitarist Andrew Marzotto, French vibraphonist Simon Mouiller, and, for two nights at The Rex this past July, the eminent American saxophonist George Garzone.

The group’s latest residency, which took place at the Rex on December 18 and 19, continued the local/international trend, as Anderson-Bowes and Fung were joined by the LA-based pianist Isaac Wilson, who was a classmate of Fung’s at Berklee, and Cuban-born alto saxophonist Luis Deniz, a Humber College faculty member and mainstay of the Toronto jazz scene. In its current iteration, JabFung proves itself to be a rarity: a special project with the chemistry of a working band, capable of putting on an exuberant, thoughtful performance, and of displaying both virtuosity and sensitivity in equal measure.

On the second night of their two-night engagement, the group’s playing was convincing and assured from the opening bars of the first set, which began with an arrangement of Duke Pearson’s “Is That So?” that featured tight, focused solos from all band members, including a winning turn by Fung over a 7/8 vamp in the song’s penultimate section. The set continued with Wilson’s “Prized Possessions,” a medium-tempo, straight-eighths piece that showcased the strong relationship between Wilson and Fung, whose intuitive comping was both supportive and propulsive. “Opus Something,” a slow 3/4 composition of Anderson-Bowes’, morphed organically into a pulsing, triplet-heavy feel during Deniz’ confident, searching solo. Deniz’ work was also exemplary on Fung’s “A Call For Peace,” in which the saxophone solo began as an exploratory, communicative duet with Wilson, satisfying both in its harmonic and rhythmic sophistication.

The second set, like the first, featured mostly original material, including Deniz’ elegant “Marta,” Wilson’s bubbling, odd-metre “Bring it Back,” and “Tarnished,” another Wilson tune, on which Anderson-Bowes took an outstanding solo, displaying a well-developed sense of phrasing and a strong command of the bass’s upper register. It is a credit to the band’s maturity that such a relatively quiet moment was given the same attention as anything else on the program, and that the resulting solo – articulate, melodic, and displaying a clear sense of direction – was just as engaging as the more bombastic solos of the saxophone and piano.    

What emerged, during the performance, is that one of JabFung’s great strengths is its attention to detail, and many of the evening’s most compelling moments were the result of airtight shifts in texture, time signature and dynamic level. There is always a risk, at the performances of the young and the technically gifted, that excitement can lead to high-volume monotony; happily, this was far from the case during the quartet’s show, which recalled, at certain points, the telepathy of Ari Hoenig’s small ensembles, and the joyful reciprocity of Danilo Pérez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade’s trio playing.

Nowhere was this attention to detail more evident than during the evening’s final number, an arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s “Boo Boo’s Birthday,” which toggled back and forth from energetic up-tempo to medium swing, and which, in the wrong hands, could have easily become a repetitive, predictable blowing vehicle. Instead, the time-feel changes allowed the group to showcase its superb dynamic command, and for Deniz and Wilson to execute some of the most interesting (and fun) solos of the night. It should come as no surprise, perhaps, that a group co-led by a bassist and a drummer might prioritize group interactivity over individual heroism, but the result – an absorbing performance, equal parts serious and ebullient – seems well worth the effort.

JabFung performed at The Rex in Toronto on December 18 and 19, 2017.

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer, and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached through his website, on Instagram and on Twitter.

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir performing Handel's Messiah on Wednesday, December 13, 2017, directed by Ivars Taurins. Photo credit: Jeff Higgins.Every year in mid-December, audiences gather at churches and concert halls throughout North America to hear performances of Handel’s Messiah, the 1741 masterpiece that, although written for Lent, has become synonymous with the Christmas season. First performed in Toronto in December 1857, it was also the first work performed in Massey Hall when it opened in 1894, with hundreds of singers and players and thousands of attendees.

Given the tremendous number of performances offered to modern audiences, it is not uncommon to find truncated and modified interpretations of Handel’s oratorio, often billed as the “Christmas portion” or the “Easter portion,” with the occasional hodgepodge medley of movements thrown in (hello, “Hallelujah” chorus!). As you may have noticed in The WholeNote’s 2017 Messiah preview, there are also a number of ‘outside the box’ interpretations taking place this year, from arias-only concerts to electronic mashups, ensuring that every type of listener has access to Handel’s music, even if only in part.

Despite the temptation to go window shopping through these myriad options, there is something profoundly satisfying about hearing Messiah in its entirety, performed in its unabridged, three-hour original form. Tafelmusik does this every year in what is now an annual tradition, culminating in their sing-along Messiah led by Herr Handel (a costumed and in-character Ivars Taurins) himself, a massive (and massively fun) concert that gives choral aficionados from across Toronto the opportunity to be a part of the action.

An old adage says that “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and Tafelmusik’s Wednesday performance of Messiah, led by Ivars Taurins, proved that to be true. A number of years have passed since I went to a live concert of Handel’s oratorio, in which time I had the privilege to study Historically Informed Performance and work with a number of renowned experts in the field. My early music brain, much like the Grinch’s heart, has grown three sizes since my first Messiah concert, and this return to the work as a concert piece was one of the highlights of my musical year.

From the opening orchestral chords to the closing Amen, Taurins’ interpretation, much like his style of leadership, was light, agile and energetic. The Sinfonia, a relatively brief French overture, was delightfully precise, and the relatively quick tempi taken throughout the entire oratorio ensured that there was dramatic continuity and musical flow from beginning to end. The dance-inspired forms which dominate Baroque music shone through, the essential gestures so well-articulated that I could see every slur, bow mark, and over-dotted note in my mind’s eye, a remarkable feat of focus and endurance on the part of the performers that brought every note to life. Pauses between movements were kept to a minimum: the opening chord of a recitative and aria immediately followed the conclusion of a chorus, the next chorus following closely behind, which not only maintained the narrative flow of Messiah but prevented the concert from extending into its fourth hour.

If Taurins’ conception of Messiah, with its obsessively worked-out details and sheer velocity, increased the demands on performers, it was not noticeable that evening. Soloists, chorus and orchestra met the challenge head-on, not once sounding insecure or uncertain. Indeed, the majority of those onstage have played and sung Messiah many times before, their expertise adding a level of surety and confidence that was not lost on this listener. Melismatic passages flew through the air with fleetness, fugal textures were clearly audible, and every musical aspect implied in the score was manifested in marvelous sound.

Within this overall standard of excellence, a few moments deserve special mention, the first being the on-the-spot adaptations made by the singers to accommodate ailing countertenor soloist James Laing who, being ill, was ‘replaced’ in multiple places. Soprano soloist Joanne Lunn sung the entirety of “He shall feed His flock,” thereby turning the soprano/alto duet into a range-testing solo, and choral countertenor Simon Honeyman saved the day by taking over for the magnificent alto/tenor duet “O death, where is thy sting?” Despite these impromptu adaptations (one of the perils of live performance!) the level of musicality was uncompromisingly high. The other (less nail-biting) highlights included what might be the best “Rejoice greatly” I’ve heard, a roof-raising “The trumpet shall sound” sung by baritone Brett Polegato, and an “And He shall purify” that showcased the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir at its finest, the challenging melismatic passages dashed off with apparent ease. (Of course, the “Hallelujah” chorus was expertly done as well, the audience standing at attention, some smiling at their immediate recognition of this famed moment in the context of its much larger whole.)

Regardless of whether you prefer your Messiah in whole or in part, performed in historical style, arranged in electronic modernity, or sung as in the “good old days” by a massive choir and orchestra, I encourage you to take time this year to explore this grand oratorio. Handel’s score is uncompromisingly delightful from beginning to end and we are fortunate to have ensembles such as Tafelmusik here in Toronto, consistently delivering delightful and excellent interpretations. It is rare to hear a live performance that is virtually flawless from beginning to end, much less when it involves three hours of constantly-changing music, but that is what we were treated to on Wednesday night – a marvelously nuanced overview of a quintessential Baroque masterpiece.

Tafelmusik presented Handel’s Messiah from December 13 to 16 at Toronto’s Koerner Hall, followed by a December 17 sing-along Messiah at Toronto’s Massey Hall. For information on upcoming performances of Handel’s Messiah, please visit our listings.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

(L-R) Amira Casar as Annella, Michael Stulhbarg as Mr. Perlman, Armie Hammer as Oliver and Timothée Chalamet as Elio. Photo credit: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, c/o Sony Pictures Classics.The third film in director Luca Guadagnino’s trilogy about desire, Call Me By Your Name wears its sensuousness on its sleeve without going over the edge into sensory overload. The visceral attraction of 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) to 24-year-old graduate student Oliver (Armie Hammer) is an organic outgrowth of the younger man’s sensitivity to all things sensorial. Set in Northern Italy during the hot summer of 1983 and based on the novel of the same name by André Aciman, Call Me By Your Name places Elio’s first same-sex affair in the context of an idyllic family villa with a pair of intellectually committed, compassionate, understanding parents.

Elio’s art historian/archaeologist father (the quietly hedonistic Michael Stuhlbarg) and translator mother (the elegant Amira Casar) welcome Oliver into their home for a six-week internship, a home that also serves as an axis for neighbours and friends. Elio’s sexual energy, already occupied with his girlfriend (the winsome Esther Garrel, whose director father Philippe and actor brother Louis are major talents in the French film world), begins to be focused sporadically and haltingly on Oliver. Guadagnino captures these moments with great sensitivity, aided by James Ivory’s insightful script and Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s sun-dappled cinematography. Ivory, known for his directorial chops in such films as A Room with a View and Howards End, has adapted Aciman’s novel with great care; Mukdeeprom, fondly remembered for his camerawork on the award-winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, brings that same evocative eye to Guadagnino’s film. Chalamet and Hammer are superb, realizing their characters’ relationship of nuanced anticipation and shaded desire.

Music is intrinsic to Call Me By Your Name, both as a key plot/character point and in its varied use on the soundtrack. Right from the moment when John Adams’ Hallelujah Junction jolts the opening credits with an infectious burst of pianistic energy, we have a sense that Guadagnino’s ear will be almost as crucial to the action as his eye. Not only will Hallelujah Junction return to enliven the proceedings later on, Adams’ Phrygian Gates makes a quizzical point and his China Gates contributes a sunny mood. The wispy romanticism of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s piano adds atmosphere; so does Frank Glazer’s austere take on Satie’s Sonatine bureaucratique and Valéria Szervánszky and Ronald Cavaye’s excerpt from Ravel’s Ma mère l'Oye. The beauty and warmth of André Laplante’s playing of Ravel’s Barque sur l’ocean from Miroirs deepen Elio and Oliver’s bicycle ride through the countryside.

Timothée Chalamet as Elio. Photo credit: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, c/o Sony Pictures Classics.Elio is an amateur pianist and music copyist who also dabbles on the guitar; he performs Bach’s Capriccio on the Departure of a Beloved Brother on both. In another scene, for a transfixed Oliver, Elio plays the familiar “Zion hört die Wächter singen,” from Bach’s Cantata BWV140 Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme as if he were Busoni channelling Liszt’s version of the piece. (Alessio Bax covers it on the soundtrack.)

Popular music also figures in Guadagnino’s vision. When Oliver dances with a girl in a club to Giorgio Moroder and Joe Esposito’s Lady, Lady, Lady it evokes jealousy in Elio; the Psychedelic Furs’ Love My Way is a favourite of Oliver’s; Loredana Bertè’s J’adore Venise is of the times. Three songs by Sufjan Stevens, including two that Guadagnino commissioned for the film, comment directly on it. As the director said (via when Call Me By Your Name played at the New York Film Festival in October 2017: “I like in cinema when you have an ominous narrator. It’s something that fascinates me a lot, and in fact, I wanted that here. In a way the narrator became Sufjan Stevens with his new songs, made contemporary, about our story…I felt Sufjan’s lyricism, both in the voice and the lyrics itself, had some beautiful elusiveness on one hand, on the other hand poignancy that [was] really [resonant].”

Call Me By Your Name is currently playing at Cineplex Varsity & VIP.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Adi Braun. Photo credit: Tony R. Wagstaff.Watching vocalist Adi Braun take the stage at the Jazz Bistro on the evening of December 10 – beneath the bejewelled chandeliers, vaulting mezzanine and crushed velvet curtains – it was difficult to think of a more appropriate setting for the club launch of Moderne Frau, Braun’s new release on Blue Rider Records. Moderne Frau is a project that seeks to both honour and recontextualize the experiences of the women of Weimar Germany – “the original pantsuit nation,” as Braun joked to a responsive (and full) house. Like the Bistro itself, Braun’s performance of Moderne Frau evokes the charms of a bygone era, but its true success lies in her ability to move the music forward into the twenty-first century.

The concert proceeded according to the album order, beginning with the title track (a Braun original), which featured Braun ably trading scat lines with her excellent band. “Surabaya Johnny,” one of a number of songs on the program written by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, was given a medium-slow, straight-eighths treatment that allowed for nuanced interplay between Braun and pianist Tom King. Braun has excellent vocal control and a wide dynamic range, and has a particularly expressive upper register, which was on full display during the haunting, quiet ending of the song. “Buddy on the Night Shift” – another Weill piece, written with Oscar Hammerstein – is introduced with reference to the large influx of women into the workforce after World War I. As the song’s “buddies” are not gendered, Braun makes the fair point that we can just as easily imagine that they are women, rather than men, aligning the song’s lyrical content with the overarching themes of the evening.

One of the evening’s most compelling musical moments came in the introduction to “Und was bekam des Soldaten Weib?” (“And What Did the Soldier’s Wife Get?”). Another Weill/Brecht composition, the song’s lyrics detail the successive gifts that a soldier’s wife receives from her husband during his military service; the final gift is a widow’s veil. The introduction – an open, intimate voice/piano duet between Braun and King that suggested more of American jazz in the 1960s than of European cabaret in the 1920s – created a space in which the two musicians persuasively limned the simultaneous intensity and aimlessness of grief, pulling the music apart before putting it back together at the beginning of the form.

Braun’s original composition “Josephine” was a crowd favourite, eliciting much applause and no small amount of laughter (it was performed twice, the second time as an encore). Written about the American expat singer Josephine Baker, who gained fame and notoriety in the 1920s as a star cabaret performer in Paris’s Folies Bergère, “Josephine” was a swinging, up-tempo piece of musical biography, featuring Braun at peak theatricality (a slide whistle plays a key role). Though the song’s amusing flourishes may seem, at first listen, to be standard bits of cabaret fun, they are girded by the seriousness of its subject: a young woman of colour who left an oppressive America to find a measure of financial and political freedom on the stages of Europe. As such, the song’s exuberance takes on a kind of moral imperative that exemplifies the ethos of Moderne Frau: that the performative nature of cabaret could, and can, illuminate a path towards self-actualization for women living in inequitable social circumstances, and that joyful performance can be a serious and important political act.

Adi Braun’s Club Launch of Moderne Frau took place on December 10 at The Jazz Bistro in Toronto, featuring Braun (vocals, slide whistle, squeeze horn) alongside Tom King (piano), Tony Quarrington (guitar, banjo), Pat Collins (bass), Daniel Barnes (drums), Joe Macerollo (accordion), Max Forster (trumpet), Conrad Gluch (saxophone, clarinet) and Zach Smith (trombone).

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer, and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached through his website, on Instagram and on Twitter.

FallisBannerDavid Fallis, of the Toronto Consort. Photo credit: Paul Orenstein, digital work by Ross Duffin, background by Gerrit Dou (17th century, Dutch).Start a title with the word Escape and end it with the word Egypt and depending on the preposition you link them with (from or into), you will find yourself either entering an Old Testament story hinged in time on the vernal equinox, or else a New Testament tale revolving around the winter solstice.

La Huida (The Escape) is the title of one work among the 19 in the Toronto Consort’s recently completed program Navidad: A Spanish Christmas, December 8 to 10 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. It was the last song before the intermission; the silence that followed its final drumbeat was a moment of dark stillness at the centre of a swirling panoply of festive musical light. A masterfully curated moment of disquiet, of hopelessness and hope, with “escape from” and “escape to” balancing, literally and figuratively, on a knife edge.

The song’s twelve lines of text are, in the context of this concert, squarely based in the gospel of Matthew, in the story, as Matthew tells it, of the flight of Joseph and Mary and the infant Jesus into Egypt to escape Herod’s edict to quash talk of the birth of a potential future charismatic leader of a Palestinian uprising by killing off all the (male) babies born at the time.

La Huida a Egipto (Escape Into Egypt), in an illustration by Juan Luis Gallardo.“Escape from” is the urgent priority of the first of the song’s two stanzas:

¡Vamos! ¡Vamos! ¡Burrito apura! it begins.
(Come on! Come on! Hurry up little donkey!
If you don’t hurry up they will catch them
Along the path, along the salitral [salt flats].
They are already slitting throats,
The dagger is already wet with blood.
If you don’t hurry up they will catch them.
¡Vamos! ¡Vamos! ¡Burrito apura!)

And then, out of hopelessness, hope.

Niňo bonito, no lloris mi amor.
Ya llegaremos a tierra mejor.
(Beautiful child, don’t cry my darling.
Soon we will arrive at a better land.
Go to sleep now, don’t cry.
I will cradle you in my arms,
Bass drums beating in my heart.
¡Vamos! ¡Vamos! ¡Burrito apura!)

One mother and father exhorting one child not to cry, on the road from hell to hope. And at the same time, a compelling evocation of the plight of the tens of millions of such people in our world today. And all this in a Christmas concert by a 45-year old ensemble ostensibly focussed on the discovery and re-creation of music 300 to 500 years old. Several very interesting things are happening here in terms of engaged artistic practice, and it’s worth taking a closer look.

Unlike the bulk of 19th and early to mid-20th century classical repertoire where every note (and most of the composer’s desired creative nuances) is captured on paper, the further back in musical time one drills down, the more complex and multifaceted the work of the musician becomes. Paradoxically, the older the music, the greater the chance that one will be playing or hearing it for the first time. Throughout its 45 years, the Toronto Consort has been driven by this spirit of inquiry, but particularly so since 1993, under David Fallis’ artistic directorship. Rather than historically informed performance, one might say that their programs are historically enlightened – not just going back in time, but revealing the timeless.

Take the subtitle of this particular show: “A Spanish Christmas.” Given the Consort’s primary interests one might safely have expected to be treated to an evening of the music of Spain of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. But right from the start the word “Spanish” has perhaps unanticipated resonances: During the historical period being explored, it is the primary language not just of Spain but of the conquistadors of a significant portion of the Americas. Almost all the evening’s works, as described in the program, were what is known as villancicos, “a distinctively Spanish song form that has enjoyed a long history of popularity across Spain and Latin America continuously from the late 15th century.”

But the concert widened the lens even beyond that fact: it became geography, history, religion and politics all rolled into one, starting with the first two villancicos on the program, sung in Nahuatl and Quechua (both Indigenous languages, and the latter still the mother tongue of more than 10 million people in Latin America.) Right from the start there was a tension (for those who chose to hear it) between the language and the substance of the songs, between the challenges facing a single biblical family and those that confront countless displaced or disrespected people today – with the inescapable reality of proselytizing intent, and all its historical consequences, roiling just below the surface.

At the end of the first half of the concert, La Huida, as already mentioned, stripped all the tinsel from the Christmas tree. Written by Argentinian composer Ariel Ramirez (1921-2010), it carried the truth of its message into the present without the kind of didacticism that sometimes allows an audience to distance themselves from the urgent currency of a necessary message.

Rodrigo ChavezAs important to the Consort’s artistic practice as the integrity of their research is the extent to which they have the hunger (and the musicianship to go with it) to truly learn from their guests. In this case the catalyst was Rodrigo Chavez, who joined the Consort onstage on charango and percussion. Director of Cassava Latin Rhythms band, the Argentinian born and trained Chavez is a prominent exponent of contemporary Latino-Canadian music, with a deep interest in connecting his own creative vision with the deep roots of Native and Afro-Latin percussion, playing a prominent role in Ontario’s burgeoning global music scene.

The joy of musical exploration and shared discovery was everywhere to be seen on the Trinity-St. Paul’s stage in this concert. And the program’s effortless linking of past and present bodes well for a future in which committed musicians do not leave their consciences at the door in the pursuit of the arcane, no matter how tempting, in troubled times, escapism can be.

David Perlman is publisher of The WholeNote, and can be reached at

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