Fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout in performance at the savannah Music Festival in 2011. Photo ℅ Frank Stewart, the Savannah Music Festival, via npr.org.Fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout in performance at the savannah Music Festival in 2011. Photo ℅ Frank Stewart, the Savannah Music Festival, via npr.org.“Dearest Mozart,

Warm greetings from across the globe! I am wrapping up my time-travels here in Canada and find myself in a city called Toronto, in the province of Ontario – it’s quite cold for November, but the town is delightful, and my stay has been nothing if not pleasant. This place is altogether incredible; there are enormous buildings, all of them new, great and majestic churches, and millions of people living in this one municipality!

Do you remember our old colleague who built you that piano a while back? (Not Schantz, I know you didn’t like his instruments very much, even though Herr Haydn thought otherwise!) I mean Herr Gabriel Anton Walter, of course. Well, you won’t believe what I discovered this week – a virtual replica of one of his own instruments here, 7,000 millaires away from our beloved Austria! Apparently, the Canadians copied his design almost exactly with this particular piano, which is housed by the University here. [Ed: the fortepiano used for this performance was built by Virginia-based builders Thomas and Barbara Wolf in 1997 and maintained by Barbara Wolf for the duration of these concerts.]

I found and heard this piano in a beautiful old church, named after the Holy Trinity and St. Paul, and it was played in the most remarkable way by Herr Kristian Bezuidenhout, a fellow European (by way of the Dutch colonies, but that is another story) from London, England. The instrument was mellow and warm, beautiful in appearance and tone, a little auditory snapshot of our homeland here in this wondrously wintry metropolis. [Ed: The ‘Mozart’s Piano’ concerts, presented by Tafelmusik, took place at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre in Jeanne Lamon Hall, from November 9 to 12, 2017.]

You will be delighted to know, dear Mozart, that Herr Bezuidenhout was accompanied by Toronto’s own Tafelmusik orchestra and together they played an entire concert of our Austrian and German music. They included one of your ‘Viennese’ symphonies, a piano concerto (from those Lenten concerts you gave in Vienna a while back) and your rondo – the one in A minor – as well as two symphonies written by our old colleagues Johann Christian Bach (also from London!) and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. It was terrific to hear their music again; apparently Tafelmusik obtained their performing parts for Carl Philipp Emanuel’s little work from across the continent – on loan from a library in California – part of the United States, the country immediately south of Canada. How wonderful it is that our little tunes are now being discovered and played across the world!

Herr Bezuidenhout is a striking figure, immensely poised and possessing quite the aura onstage, and he led the group with a vigour that rivals our young Beethoven. (His hair is considerably more restrained, though, and his wardrobe much nicer!) He played with love and passion, and I would be hard-pressed to find a single flaw with his leadership, technique, or performance. His interpretation of your Rondo would bring you particular joy, for he imbued it with freedom and sensuality (but always tastefully) – and your concerto was played the fastest I’ve ever heard it! Even the Emperor himself would have risen from his seat in excitement at the end of it.

The hall was packed to the rafters (I was in the balcony and almost didn’t get a seat – they sell tickets to their concerts here!) and people were most approving of your music – it received three rounds of applause at the end of the evening. All in all, the concert was performed in a way that expressed both the simple joys of your music and the complexity of your ideas, always balanced, nuanced, and, I dare say, virtuosic enough that one might think the players were fellow Austrians! On the whole, my dear Mozart, they did a fine job of bringing our music to life and I think you would be immensely pleased with the results.

I return to Austria soon, with some regret, but I must get back and resume my work at the publishing house where we will soon print Herr Haydn’s last collection of string quartets.

Give my warmest regards to your sister, your lovely wife and child, and all those whom I have sorely missed while on my journeys. I look forward to reuniting with you all upon my return. Until then I remain

Your faithful and true friend,

Carlo Artaria* ”

*Artaria & Co. was founded as a publishing house for art and maps by Carlo Artaria (1747–1808) in 1770 in Vienna, then the capital of the Habsburg Monarchy. The company expanded its business to include music in 1778. Its most important early collaboration was with the Austrian composer Joseph Haydn, who published more than 300 works through Artaria, including many of the composer's string quartets (such as the Opus 33), which were a popular seller. The value of Haydn's works helped push Artaria to the top of the music publishing world in the late 18th century. This important relationship helped Artaria secure the rights to the works of other important classical composers such as Luigi Boccherini and, most notably, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. -Wikipedia

Tafelmusik presented the concert “Mozart’s Piano,” featuring fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout, November 9 to 12, 2017 in Toronto.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

The Semer Ensemble in performance in Toronto, on November 8, 2017. Photo credit: Avital Zemer.The Semer Ensemble in performance in Toronto, on November 8, 2017. Photo credit: Avital Zemer.The nature of music is inherently temporary. Play a note and it’s gone – a disruption of air, a few sine waves released into the beyond. Fire, flood, an ill-tempered or poorly-worded review, changing tastes – all these can render music obsolete, stricken from history and never to be heard again. Whether Bach’s lost church cantatas, untranscribed folk tunes within an atrophying culture, or the deliberate destruction of musical scores, the abstract nature of our artistic medium presents unique challenges for preservation and performance – challenges to which, at one concert last week presented by the Ashkenaz festival, the Germany-based Semer Ensemble rose with ease.

By the year 1933, the Nazi party controlled Germany, appointed to power at the end of that January. That April, the Nazis began redefining the status of persons they considered socially undesirable, including homosexuals, those with disabilities, and Germany’s Jewish population. The Nuremberg Laws, passed in 1935, stripped Jews of even their most basic rights and culminated in ‘Kristallnacht’, the Night of Broken Glass, in November 1938.

By 1939, almost 250,000 of Germany’s 437,000 Jews had fled the country.

One of the businesses destroyed during Kristallnacht was the Hebräische Buchhandlung, a Hebrew Bookstore run by Hirsch Lewin, which sold a variety of books, religious items and gramophone records. In 1932, Lewin had founded Semer Records, an in-house label, which had become increasingly popular as the Nazis increased their restrictions on Jewish cultural involvement, ultimately forbidding Jewish musicians from performing in or around non-Jewish settings and people. Lewin had produced a tremendous number of records between 1932 and 1938 as artists rushed to create a lasting memento of their culture.

With the destruction of Levin’s Buchhandlung, the entire catalogue of the Semer label – 4,500 recordings – was wiped out, evidence of its existence instantly erased from history.

Fast-forward to Toronto, in 2017. Nearly every seat in the George Weston Recital Hall is full, a few fresh faces peppering the predominantly middle-aged and older crowd. This audience is buzzing with excitement, chattering like schoolchildren in energetic and enthusiastic tones all around, close connections and family ties being discussed as if at a reunion.

The stage of the hall is shrouded in indigo-hued light, illuminating a mélange of instruments including a Steinway grand piano, accordion, trumpet, violin, upright bass, electric guitar, and six or seven microphones. It looks like the prelude to a strange fusion performance – part retro, part modern. According to the program, the evening’s performers are equally eclectic, coming from Russia, Latvia, Japan, Germany and the United States.

Why the all the excitement for what seems to be a distinctly eccentric performance? We gather to hear the lost music of Levin’s Semer record label, rescued from obscurity by the German musicologist Dr. Rainer E. Lotz in the 1990s. Through his exhaustive and persistent search across Europe, Lotz was able to recover and restore almost the entire Semer collection, reissued as an 11-CD set in 2002. In 2012, Berlin-based musician Alan Bern was commissioned to transcribe and arrange the collection and assembled the Semer Ensemble, a group of Jewish music specialists, to perform these pieces in live venues.

It is Bern who leads tonight’s performance by the Semer Ensemble, and his powerful stage presence and leadership captivates us even before the first notes are played. The music is extraordinary, both in scope and quality, a mix of art song, folk music, traditional prayers and genre-bending compositions for varied combinations of voices and instruments. Czárdas, a magnificent fantasy for violin solo and piano, combines classical and folk music in a seamlessly delightful composition, while The Little Bell uses a beautiful vocal line over sumptuous choral textures to form a touching piece. Smiles are everywhere throughout the three-hour concert – on stage and in the crowd. We can feel the joy in the air and can’t help but clap and tap along to the infectious rhythms.

Throughout the concert, Bern and his band pause to share stories of individual songs and works, providing us with invaluable context. Especially powerful are the unexpected parallels Bern draws between much of this decades-old music and contemporary global issues. Take, for example, the striking ballad The World Has Become Small; although written in the 1920s, Fred Endrikat’s text could pass as a modern protest of what the ensemble’s singer Sasha Lurje calls the ‘Smartphone Era’:

“The world’s become cramped,
It’s become a struggle
For the smallest bit of trash.
We roar along with a thousand horsepower
And can’t ever let it go again.
We’re sitting in the Tower of Babel
And we can only hate each other.”

Other highlights feature traditional music, including the ebullient Klezmer-style Rejoice in Jerusalem and the chant-like As for our brothers, the whole house of Israel. A personal favourite is A tender hand, based on an Arabic melody and magnificently realized by the ensemble. These surprisingly multi-dimensional musical works, all recorded on the Semer label within a few years of one another, show an incredible snapshot of the vibrancy of Jewish musical life in the 1920s, before the Nazi oppression attempted to eliminate all record of it.

In his introductory note, Askenaz Foundation director Eric Stein referred to ‘living culture’ and the phenomenon whereby art that, lost in obscurity only decades prior, can be revived, reinvigorated, and restored to a place of cultural prominence. As we face a future in which eyewitnesses to the Holocaust and life in pre-World War II Europe can no longer share first-hand accounts and recollections, stunning performances and presentations by groups such as the Semer Ensemble provide opportunities to discover and celebrate those living histories which inspire, educate, and enrich anyone who takes the time to listen.

The Ashkenaz Festival presented the Semer Ensemble in performance on November 8, 2017, at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

JaegerConcertBannerEnsemble contemporain de Montreal (ECM+), performing at ISCM 2017 on November 6, 2017. Photo credit: Jan Gates.The World New Music Days festival has been held in a different country each year, since 1922. Organized by the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM), its stated purpose is “to present music from each of our members, showcasing the incredible diversity of musical practice in our time.” The 2017 edition of the festival, marketed as ISCM2017, took place in Vancouver, B.C., November 2 to 8. In the 95-year history of the festival, this was only its second time in Canada.

The Canadian Section of the ISCM partnered with the Vancouver organization Music on Main to host the 2017 festival, staging some 30 concerts in a wide range of Vancouver venues. Local ensembles, as well as visiting artists and groups, were presented. Two of the visiting groups, Ensemble contemporain de Montreal (ECM+), and Land's End Ensemble from Calgary, made notably strong impressions, especially with Canadian works.

For ECM+, conducted by artistic director Véronique Lacroix on November 6 at Vancouver’s Roundhouse Community Centre, it was the world premiere of a stunning new concerto for violin and chamber ensemble by Montreal composer Ana Sokolović, EVTA, written for the brilliant young violin soloist Andréa Tyniec. Sokolović’s concerto is structured in seven contiguous movements, each inspired by colours of the chakras. The title, EVTA, means “seven” in the language of the Serbian Roma, and accordingly, the work is strongly influenced by the style of gypsy violin playing in the Balkans. Tyniec's solo violin was an astounding traveller through the seven movements, flashing virtuosity in so many ways, one lost count. The thread of this exciting composition never lost clarity as it swept through its intricate and surprising courses.

Lacroix also led her superb ECM+ in contrasting pieces by Grzegorz Pieniek (Poland), Martin Rane Bauck (Norway) and Iñaki Estrada Torío (Spain). ECM+ shared the concert with Vancouver's Turning Point Ensemble, conducted by Owen Underhill, who performed music from Chile, Croatia, Serbia and Tajikistan. The decision to present these two virtuoso ensembles in the same concert was an inspired one – and the display of contemporary performance techniques was impressive throughout.

Land's End Ensemble from Calgary is essentially a piano trio (John Lowry, violin; Beth Root Sandvoss, cello; and Susanne Ruberg-Gordon, piano) who, together with artistic director Vincent Ho, follow a mission to introduce audiences to contemporary music by Canadian and international composers. Their concert was also staged at the Roundhouse in Vancouver’s Yaletown, earlier in the week on November 5, and included works from Austria, Brazil, Canada, Finland and Ukraine. The highlight was Toronto composer Omar Daniel's Trio No. 2, commissioned by Land's End in 2015. Daniel describes the trio as a polystylistic discourse through levels of nostalgia. The enormous range of expressive nuances in this piece left the listener satiated – and convinced by the music’s maturity.

The 2017 edition of the ISCM festival took place in Vancouver from November 2 to 8. This report is part of a series of articles on thewholenote.com on ISCM 2017 and related music in the Vancouver area this month.

David Jaeger is a composer, producer and broadcaster based in Toronto.

Pianist Benjamin Grosvenor. Photo credit: Patrick Allen, operaomnia.co.uk.On Tuesday, November 7, the remarkable British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor made his third appearance on Music Toronto’s Jane Mallett Theatre stage since February 2014, to the delight of a large and appreciative audience.

Grosvenor’s exceptional talent was revealed at the age of 11, when he won the keyboard section of the BBC Young Musician of the Year. At 19, he became the first British pianist in more than six decades to be signed to a recording contract by Decca. Shortly thereafter, he was the youngest soloist to perform at the First Night of the Proms in London. Gramophone magazine named him its Young Artist of the Year in 2012. Today, at 25, Grosvenor is in the vanguard of the new generation of pianists, in the company of the likes of Daniil Trifonov, Yuja Wang and Jan Lisiecki.

Grosvenor is a unique creator of sound worlds, attentive and nuanced – a riveting performer with keen musical insights which his effortless and prodigious technique affords.

From the opening notes of Mozart’s Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, K333, the mood was set as Grosvenor invited us into a self-contained world of tone colour and dynamic balance, of sparkling and well-shaped phrases that conveyed the composer’s musical structure. The middle movement was marked by the pianist’s singing tone and a delicacy built on strength, typified by a hush in the development section. The Allegretto grazioso exuded Mozartean joy and playfulness, leading to a cadenza that showcased Grosvenor’s brilliant technique. It would not be the last time that technique – and not just for its own sake – would be evident.

Grosvenor’s program then jumped ahead to four – “seminal works” he called them in a recent email exchange with me – written within two decades spanning the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Brahms’ Four Pieces for Piano, Op.119, his final compositions (comprising three intermezzos and a rhapsody), alternated with Brett Dean’s three-part Hommage à Brahms, managing at times to look forward, at times back. Grosvenor played the first Brahms Intermezzo very slowly, its nostalgic, dreamy beginning emphasizing the harmonic progression, occasionally drawing out the chords by breaking them. Dean’s Engelsflügel 1, which followed, began impressionistically before entering into a conversation with our memory of the Brahms. Grosvenor brought a fine sense of control to the second Intermezzo, allowing its lovely lyrical melody to grow organically, followed by the boisterous energy of Dean’s second piece, Hafenkneipenmusik. The third Brahms Intermezzo picked up some of the bits of whimsy present in Dean’s writing, before Grosvenor’s unerring sense of grace balanced Brahms’ strong chord progressions. Grosvenor’s light touch brought out the spellbinding modernism of Dean’s final Engelsflügel 2, before the grand climax of Brahms’ Rhapsody brought the section to a triumphal close.

Grosvenor widened his tonal palette in Leonard Borwick’s arrangement of Debussy’s pivotal Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune – a piece Pierre Boulez called the beginning of modern music – a colouristic tour de force. Berg’s Piano Sonata, Op.1 came next, given an astounding interpretation, a forceful, romantic, totally engaged, propulsive, yearning, tender, ardent chordal jamboree. Ravel’s atmospheric three-part Gaspard de la nuit followed, with Ondine and its rigorous dynamism, massive wave-upon-wave impressionism, tender glissando and double arpeggios displayed with unalloyed fluency. The colourist in Grosvenor came to the fore
in the mysterious, inscrutable Le Gibet before expanding in the demonic Scarbo to every hue in a dark rainbow, shaped with a raison d’être that was far more than a blurred handful of whirling notes.

His next visit cannot come soon enough.

Pianist Benjamin Grosvenor was presented in recital by Music Toronto on November 7, at Toronto’s Jane Mallett Theatre.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

The Cast of Missing. Photo Credit: Michelle Doherty, Diamond’s Edge Photography.It’s not many operas where the audience, at the end of a performance, remains on its feet following a standing ovation to chant along to a surprise denouement, in this case the Women’s Warrior Song, led by an Indigenous woman beating a round, animal-hide hand drum. Many audience members took up the mesmerizing chant, until the song and drumming ceased.

A dirge of pain, rage and healing, the Women’s Warrior Song is heard at marches commemorating Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women. The spirit of the song has been reimagined as the one-act chamber opera Missing, a City Opera Vancouver creation, overseen by artistic director Charles Barber, which premiered November 3 at the York Theatre in Vancouver and continues until November 11. It then moves to Victoria’s Baumann Centre for Opera, for six shows starting November 17.

Missing breaks with much classical opera not only in its bold subject matter – racism against native peoples as well as the ongoing tragedy of Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women – but also its sparse, eloquent storytelling, complemented by a minimalist set design, that delves into magic realism and metaphor as a means to express pain and, possibly, redemption. It is also unique in that four of the seven opera singers are Indigenous, while the libretto is written partly in Gitxsan, an Indigenous language spoken in northwestern British Columbia. In the hands of librettist Marie Clements of Vancouver, an award-winning Métis writer, director, producer and playwright, words become as powerful as arrows, each one piercing deep-seated emotions, from guilt, sorrow and enlightenment among white viewers to – for Indigenous members of the audience – grief and a sense of vindication from having the suffering of one’s community acknowledged and honoured in a public setting.

The power of Missing’s libretto is magnified by the equally spare music of Toronto-based JUNO Award-winning composer Brian Current, whose sublime score – conducted here by Timothy Long – soars and plummets in unison with the fierce complexity of emotions that are brought to bear through the telling of this tragic tale.

To underscore the immensity of the tragedy, Missing reveals early in the libretto that 1,200 Indigenous women have been murdered or disappeared in Canada. Such a grim but abstract figure is made accessible by telling two linked, but very different, tales. One is the suffering of an Indigenous family whose daughter, a high school student, goes missing while hitchhiking along BC’s Highway 16, known as the Highway of Tears, a lonely northern forest roadway where possibly dozens of native women have vanished. The other story arc is a masterful rendering of the chasm that divides Canada’s European and Indigenous cultures, and exposes white culture’s blasé attitude towards the missing and murdered. This thread is expressed through the near-death experience of Ava, a law student from Vancouver, whose car goes off the road during a nighttime drive along Highway 16.

Caitlin Wood as Ava (left) and Rose-Ellen Nichols as Native Mother (right) in Missing. Photo credit: Michelle Doherty, Diamond’s Edge Photography.Sustaining horrific injuries in the crash, Ava’s car lands near the place where the native high school teen has been murdered and her corpse abandoned. The dead teenager, played with ethereal grace by coloratura soprano Melody Courage, has seemingly left an imprint that haunts the dark forest. In that moment, with her body broken, Ava somehow absorbs both the horror of the slaying and with it, the spirit of the murdered girl.

Ava is performed by soprano Caitlin Wood with exquisite vulnerability as the young law student who is struggling to heal, beset by nightmares and flashbacks to inexplicable events. When she resumes law school in Vancouver a year after the accident, it becomes evident she has been transformed; she is inscrutable to best friend and fellow law student Jess, whose sense of white entitlement and opaque racism is played with artful subtlety by mezzo-soprano Heather Malloy.

Ava doesn’t support Jess’s bigoted challenge to Indigenous guest lecturer Dr. Wilson, played with dignity and power by mezzo-soprano Marion Newman, whose discussion of entrenched racism highlights the inherent injustice of Canada’s legal system. This leads to a rift between Jess and Ava, expressed in a soaring, bitter duet that is both heartbreaking and magnificent to watch.

Much later, when Ava gives birth to a baby and finds her mental equilibrium uprooted by the child’s chronic crying, the native teen once again permeates her consciousness. The murdered girl gives Ava the horrifying details of her final moments and laments what she will never experience: love, a family and unfulfilled ambitions to become a lawyer.

Missing is an extraordinarily moving and thought-provoking work, and a milestone for the opera world. It has taken a painful and horrifying topic and rendered it into accessible art. Ultimately, its message is a universal one: open our eyes and hearts to each other’s pain. By doing so, humanity has a chance for healing and redemption. Missing begins this healing journey in a magnificent mélange of singing, acting and music that, one hopes, will be seen by audiences across Canada and the world.

Missing premiered at City Opera Vancouver on November 3 and runs until November 11, 2017, followed by a run at Pacific Opera Victoria from November 17 to 26, 2017. This report on Missing is part of a series of articles on thewholenote.com on music in the Vancouver area, in light of the Vancouver-based ISCM 2017 festival this month.

Roberta Staley is a Vancouver-based independent magazine writer and editor and documentary filmmaker.

DidoAeneasBannerAeneas and Dido, in an oil painting by Rutilio Manetti c. 1630.It is rarely surprising when the works of different composers who lived in the same time period share social and political themes. Although the individual notes might sound significantly different, events such as the two World Wars or the Soviet regime affected composers across the globe and, whether Britten or Bax, Schnittke or Shostakovich, the similarities between their experiences in the world are contained in their works. It is, however, a much more surprising and unexpected experience when two unrelated organizations present two separate events that, although created centuries apart, complement one another in their relevance. Such was the case this week, as the release of a film by the incredible Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and the Toronto Masque Theatre’s double-bill performance of Dido and Aeneas thematically converged in an unexpected way.  

Earlier this week the Toronto International Film Festival released renowned artist Ai Weiwei’s Human Flow at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, a film that addresses the issue of human displacement, currently at its highest level since World War II. With 65 million people forced from their homes to escape famine, climate change and war – many of them in the world’s poorest regions – Ai explores the courage, fortitude and insurmountable hardships of the displaced. A powerful and heartrending exploration of the modern refugee and our political attitudes towards them, Ai’s film is as much a product of the 21st century as the people it documents.

Further north, at Jeanne Lamon Hall on Bloor St. W., a large and enthusiastic audience packed the house to watch the Toronto Masque Theatre tackle two independent yet interwoven works, as Henry Purcell and Nahum Tate’s Dido and Aeneas was paired with James Rolfe and André Alexis’ Aeneas and Dido. About 335 years before Ai picked up a camera to film Human Flow, the ink was drying on Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, a work which, in that strange way that old things can become suddenly relevant once again, focuses on the role of the refugee. For what is Aeneas other than a vengeful asylum seeker? His beloved Troy has been destroyed, burned to the ground, its people slaughtered, and it is from this extreme dual-edged desire to restore his nation and exact revenge (egged on by a persuasive visit from a sinister spirit or two) that Aeneas flees Carthage and his beloved queen Dido, ultimately leading to her dramatically tuneful demise.

In 2006 the Toronto Masque Theatre, in its quest for the perfect complement to Purcell’s masterpiece, commissioned two Canadians, librettist André Alexis and composer James Rolfe, to write Aeneas and Dido. Aeneas is largely parenthetical, taking place in those gaps in Tate’s libretto where the audience typically must assume what happens between scenes. According to Alexis, more than hanky-panky takes place in the grotto during the rainstorm (Aeneas receives his calling and mission, biblical in its prophetic nature) and we witness a more thorough, comprehensible and private argument between Aeneas and Dido, rather than their brief public ‘Away, away!’ row in Purcell’s original work.

Where Nahum Tate’s libretto focuses primarily on Dido and her entourage (we don’t actually see Aeneas until midway through Purcell’s opera), Alexis’s libretto attempts to explore Aeneas’s actions and their underlying psychology, determining what it is that makes him leave Dido in favour of a monumental and seemingly hopeless task, that of single-handedly restoring his fallen nation. The text is explicit in its portrayal of Aeneas as a war refugee, the main character lamenting the destruction of his motherland:

“I am a man with no home…My city is a dark memory.” (Scene Two)

“I must go, for the sake of my people…We have suffered a holocaust. Our parents, children, grandchildren have been slaughtered and left to rot.” (Scene Five)

It is in these passages that we see Aeneas as a dual figure, part alien and part messianic prophet, called by the gods to strike out into the wilderness and begin a new nation – a Greco John the Baptist. Aeneas’ impassioned longing for his homeland serves as his motivation for departing Dido, providing a suitably modern and convincingly severe rationale for an act that can seem sudden and rash in Tate’s libretto.

From a musical perspective, both works were exceedingly well done on Friday night: a beautiful blend of music and drama. Purcell’s score is continuo-based, a band led by a team of cello, harpsichord/organ and theorbo, with a small group of treble parts (violins, flute, oboe and viola) rounding out the ensemble. If a performance of Dido is too musical with not enough action, it can seem dull; if a performance is extremely dramatic but not musical enough, the singing can border on sprechstimme, speech-singing, something we associate with the folk tunes in John Blow’s Beggar’s Opera or Schönberg’s Pierrot Lunaire more than Purcell’s Dido. This interpretation was a marvelous mix, with incredible singing throughout and enough visual dramatic action to engage the spectator.

Rolfe’s score, rather than maintaining the Baroque convention of the bass-upwards continuo group, writes for his instruments as a chamber ensemble. Using contrasting styles that range from expansive, sustained accompaniments (mainly in conjunction with choral passages) to sparse, almost pointillistic moments that are rhythmically ambiguous and used to great effect, each instrument provides bursts of colour throughout the opera and creates a diverse sonic palette for the listener. There were many moments in the score which sounded ‘Baroque-ish’: Baroque-style structures and forms shrouded in modern harmonies, chordal extensions, and even the occasional quoting of Dido’s famous ‘Lament’, which helped Rolfe’s Aeneas tie into the original Purcell score like a distant cousin following the labyrinthine connections of a family tree.

Now in their last season, the Toronto Masque Theatre will be greatly missed when they disband at the end of the year. Their musical interpretations and performers are well-informed, their stagings well-executed and, whether they intend this or not, immediately poignant and relevant to contemporary global issues. By pairing the Tate/Purcell Dido with the Alexis/Rolfe Aeneas, Virgil’s story of the political alien-cum-prophet Aeneas and doomed, lovelorn Dido is brought squarely into the 21st century – a profound and thought-provoking tale of love for queen and country in a world decimated by conflict.

The Toronto Masque Theatre presented the double-bill ‘Dido and Aeneas/Aeneas and Dido’ on October 20 and 21, at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre in Toronto.

Ai Weiwei’s film Human Flow opened at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox on October 20, and plays until October 26.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

James TenneyJames TenneyOn the evening of October 15, I attended the last event of the Music Gallery’s X Avant Festival 2017, a concert titled James Tenney: Resistance. Preceding the concert was a panel discussion on the topic of socially conscious music and a lively conversation related to the evening’s repertoire. The concert was entirely dedicated to Tenney’s music, which was presented as one continuous stream of sound, punctuated with commentary before each piece from the Music Gallery’s artistic director David Dacks.

Jim, as we all called him, lived and taught in Toronto from 1976 to 2000, and was very active in creating community among both practitioners and lovers of contemporary music in the city. His own compositional focus was dedicated to understanding how we perceive music and sound, and he was committed to creating sensory-based listening experiences. One might think that these interests might be a contradiction with composing “socially conscious music.” However, the pieces we heard demonstrated how brilliantly Jim wove his theoretical concerns with a strong message on culturally relevant issues. Even though I had heard many of Jim’s pieces in the past, the combining of these five pieces into a coherent whole powerfully shone a light on this aspect of his work.

The concert began with Viet Flakes, a film by Carolee Schneemann for which Tenney composed a tape collage. The piece was originally created for a New York City arts festival in 1965 designed to bring awareness of the American involvement in the Vietnam war. Tenney used pop song recordings to create his tape collage, highlighting the contrast between carefree American lives and the horrors being inflicted thousands of miles away. Tenney’s tape piece Fabric for Che from 1967 followed, a dense and continuous stream of sound composed as a “scream of frustration” in response to the way the liberation movements of Central and South America were being portrayed by the US government.

Timbre Ring, composed in 1971, received its world premiere at this concert, and is a perfect example of Tenney’s intention to bring awareness to listening and perception. The eight performers from diverse musical and cultural backgrounds surrounded the audience and passed between them one single pitch, using fluctuations in timbre, dynamics and rhythmic pulsations. Behind the choice to program this work is another important story.

Tenney’s work Ain’t I A Woman (1992), based on an 1851 speech by Sojourner Truth that combines anti-slavery resistance and women’s suffrage – what we would now call an intersectional feminist text – was considered for performance. However, after a lengthy consultation process with the community, the decision was made not to program the piece. Since no black women were involved in the original creation process, one concern was that if nothing was changed for this performance then it would be problematic. In addition, some in the community felt it inappropriate to program a work of white art based on black pain.

Interestingly, during the panel discussion earlier that day, all three of the panelists expressed their disappointment with this decision. Sci-fi turntablist SlowPitchSound, himself a member of the black community, felt that in this case, it’s really about the “message being made and trying to get more ears to hear things. Sometimes it gets stuck at race, and goes no further. With art you’re supposed to be free to come up with things, but yet you can’t.” Performer and scholar Parmela Attariwala expressed her desire to have had the conversation and then heard the piece. “I wish we could do that with more pieces. There are a myriad of western classical pieces that are controversial and we haven’t thought about it.” Lauren Pratt, who was married to Tenney from 1988 until his passing in 2006 and currently manages his archives, pointed out a potential contradiction between the ‘no’ decision regarding this work and the programming of Pika-Don, which uses texts of Asian women and children who survived the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki spoken by white women. Dacks acknowledged this in his program remarks, but felt that since this work used texts recounting several sides of the story, including texts by American scientists, this was an example of “reportage turned into artistic expression” and “was illustrative rather than exploitative and doesn’t speak to a larger history of exploitation as had been pointed out about Ain’t I A Woman.” Many more important points were made in this conversation, which can be viewed in full at https://www.facebook.com/events/1474084846013659/permalink/1532822040139939/

Listening to Pika-Don, composed for four percussionists and pre-recorded spoken text, was challenging – simultaneously hearing familiar voices amidst reminders of the utter devastation caused from the dropping of the atomic bomb. The first half is based on quotations from the scientists involved in the creation and testing of the bomb, with the texts for the second half as noted above. The horrors of this event were profoundly captured in the percussion part while the texts, densely layered at times, also added to the cacophony. Tenney wrote the piece in 1991 and invited members of the Toronto community to record the texts, myself included. It was uncanny listening to the very intimate sound of people’s voices that one knew, juxtaposed with the catastrophic realities of nuclear war.

The evening concluded with Listen…! composed in 1981/84 and performed at the concert by three female singers with piano accompaniment. The text for the piece was written by Tenney and reminds us that it’s really up to us in how we respond to the injustices of the world. Despite the seriousness of the words, the music was set in a light-hearted manner, as a sendup of popular music.

The final events of the Music Gallery’s X Avant XII Festival, titled “James Tenney: Resistance,” took place at the 918 Bathurst Centre in Toronto on October 15, 2017.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. sounddreaming@gmail.com.

The Tallis Choir’s Bach buffetJohann Sebastian Bach was the premier Masterchef of his time. By using the musical ingredients of his era in extraordinary ways, Bach was able to concoct an infinite number of deep and complex masterpieces, usually under a significant time crunch. His cantata cycles are legendary, his passions profound, and his motets magical. It was these motets that were on display in the Tallis Choir’s Bach: The Six Motets performance on Saturday, October 14 in Toronto: a smorgasbord of Bach’s smaller liturgical choral works, composed outside the regular cantata cycles.

Appetizer

Nothing produces an immediate feeling of penitence like a wooden Catholic Church pew, and the seats at St. Patrick’s Church are no different – within minutes of sitting, one’s back end starts to ache. The venue is nonetheless a striking one, ϋber-Catholic in its setup but beautifully decorated: each wall covered in a kaleidoscope of icons, murals and statues, the walls painted a luminescent white, a rather paradoxical spot to hear the pinnacle of Lutheran musical theology. The acoustic at St. Patrick’s, with its immense ceilings, is incredible – lively, robust and perhaps, at first listen, better suited to the homophonic chromaticism of Bortniansky or the expansiveness of Tallis and the Renaissance masters than repertoire featuring rapidly-paced contrapuntal intricacy.

Each of Bach’s six motets are works unto themselves, and the program (featuring excellent notes by the musicologist Doug Cowling, who passed away at the beginning of this year) was well-structured, providing contrasts in character and affect that provided aural relief without changing composers or styles. With only a basso continuo line (played by cello and organ) as accompaniment, the chorus is unleashed in its full expressive and technical capacities, the motets serving as micro dramas, mini multi-sectional cantatas with their own dramatic arcs. There is a certain danger with Bach, in that a Bach-only concert can (continuing our buffet allegory) be too rich and overwhelming for the palate, especially when presenting a collection of related works. There was no such problem this evening, the thoughtful order of the motets making the concert conceptually straightforward and aesthetically appealing.

Entrée

There are a number of approaches one can take when interpreting Bach, but a standard characteristic of the modern approach to baroque music is an idea known as ‘conjunct/disjunct motion’: the concept that notes which are close together, stepwise passages for instance, are sung more smoothly than notes that are separated by larger intervals. ‘Legato’ as we understand it today is to be used sparingly and as an expressive item, a sauce that finishes the dish rather than the broth it sits in.

The choir’s first offering, the tripartite Lobet den Herrn BWV 230, has an opening which is described in the program notes as shooting upwards “like a rocket.” The choir’s smooth phrasing of this rising theme, coupled with the venue’s cavernous acoustic, made this interpretation rather muddied and texturally ambiguous – we knew it was a fugue from the written notes, but many of the characteristic features of the fugue were obscured.

This was a pervasive conflict within the first half of the concert, the choir and their smooth articulations battling the voluminous void of the space. In the multi-movement motet Jesu meine Freude, in which Bach combines and contrasts affects and styles to great effect, a number of the more energetic passages, particularly those with repeated notes (‘die nicht nach dem Fleisch wande’, for example) likewise lacked clarity.

Peter Mahon, the Tallis Choir’s conductor, effectively resolved the issue in the second half of the program, which came off splendidly. Throughout the concert, the choir seemed to grow stronger as they went on; when the final motet, the fearsome Singet dem Herrn, was sung, one wondered how the choir was still standing! By this time the ensemble and its venue had melded, and even the fleet-footed ‘Halleluja!’ was clear and energetic.

Dessert

An example of a five-string piccolo cello. Image via stringking.net.Interspersed between motets were movements from Bach’s Cello Suite No.6, a brilliant programming move that evoked a similar-yet-different soundscape from the German Baroque master. Bach’s sixth cello suite is unique in that it was written for five-string piccolo cello, a smaller and higher-pitched cousin of the standard four-stringed cello.

Cellist Kerri McGonigle, playing a piccolo cello on loan from Tafelmusik cellist Christina Mahler, executed the suite with panache, although the programming that worked so well for the audience made her evening into an athletic performance! In addition to switching back and forth between five- and four-stringed cellos multiple times, there was the additional issue of temperamental gut strings which, left unchecked and untuned for extended periods of time, made her forays into solo repertoire fraught with tenuous tuning. Even one brief tuning break in each half would have helped the issue, which was made most apparent when open strings were played. This was, however, a logistical issue, not a musical one, and did little to hamper the beauty of the suite, particularly the sensuous Sarabande.

Final Thoughts

In this remarkable Olympiad of a concert, the primary issue was ultimately one beyond anyone’s control: that of a venue mismatched to the music performed therein, an acoustic too wet for the contrapuntal commotion that Bach composed. The weather, which was also too wet that evening, undoubtedly contributed to the occasional cello tuning issues.

A performance of a Bach work is a project, an entire concert of Bach works nothing less than a monumental undertaking. Despite the countless hours of rehearsal and labour involved in this concert, part of a season celebrating the Tallis Choir’s 40th anniversary, the music came across as effortless, enthusiastic and organic. Bravo to all involved!

The Tallis Choir performed “Six Bach Motets” on Saturday, October 14 at 7:30pm, at St. Patrick’s Church in Toronto.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

UntitleBannerAgainst the Grain artists in performance on Friday, October 13, 2017.Who knew that an album launch could become a unique theatrical experience? Yes, all right, the stars of pop music with mega-budgets and production companies do, but experimental mixed genre pop singers and small opera production companies don’t usually seek each other out for projects. Singer Kyrie Kristmanson invited the team of Against the Grain Theatre to create a theatrical component to the Canadian launch of her songs from Modern Ruin, and Friday night’s delightful do “Une rêverie musicale,” at the small theatre space at the Alliance Française, was the result.

Amanda Smith directed the first act. The little fantasy with a dancer (Mary-Dora Bloch-Hansen, in her own choreography) and a baritone (Adam Harris) had few props – some chairs covered with shiny metallic paper and some balloons. Music was a combination of purely instrumental and vocal, mostly French except for a bit near the end from Philip Glass’ Glassworks. It all sounded like one atmospheric piece thanks to the instrument that carried it all, marimba (Nathan Petitpas). Satie’s Gymnopedie 1 started the proceedings, and we got to meet the androgynous dancer (with glorious face make-up) first. The baritone entered as a late audience member and joined her onstage. Their interaction had, refreshingly, nothing to do with a potential seduction or couple formation. They were, more imaginatively, like two creatures from different planets trying to communicate through play.

Petitpas also played Satie’s Gnossiennes 2, 3 and 5, and accompanied Harris in Poulenc’s Hôtel and the final Après un rêve by Fauré, which I’ve never before heard in baritone register. A lot of sopranos perform this song, but it’s obvious to me now that it’s more appealing in a lower voice. Marimba added a dream-like quality.

It’s how opera as an art form began, really – as an intermedio between something else, between the acts of a theatre play for example. “Une rêverie” reminded us that it can still work perfectly fine like that – in this case, as an album launch with an operatic interlude of its own.

Kyrie nikon f801 89 JPGThe second half of the show was Kyrie Kristmanson’s set. Kyrie Kristmanson is a new artist to me, but I’m glad I discovered her. The labels “folk” or “pop” or “baroque” don’t quite do her justice. Friday night she performed a set with the amplified Warhol Dervish string quartet. Among her singer-songwriter interests are recomposing and arranging what’s left of the songs of the trobairitz, the Occitan female version of the troubadours, and some of the songs in the program did have a distant medieval musical ring to them. Mostly the numbers they performed were musically more complex than medieval music, and more complex than any of the stuff performed by folk or pop or cabaret musicians. Few songs had a predictable danceable beat prevalent in pop concoctions. At first I thought I had finally found a Canadian version of what Rosemary Standley does in her baroque/folk work, but the music that Kyrie and the Warhol Dervish quartet play is more contemporary instrumental, with none of the simple and immediate appeal of pop songs. Kudos to them for smuggling in quite a bit of demanding listening into the popular song form and taking the road less travelled but more adventurous.

Kyrie Kristmanson, the Warhol Dervish quartet and artists from Against the Grain Theatre presented “Une rêverie musicale” on Friday, October 13 at Alliance Française, Toronto. Kristmanson’s next concert is at the NAC in Ottawa (October 19), after which she is off to Regina, Montreal and to a festival in France.

Lydia Perović is an arts journalist in Toronto. Send her your art-of-song news to artofsong@thewholenote.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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