Rachel Poirier (right) and Alexander Leonhartsberger in Swan Lake. Photo credit: Foteini Christofilopoulou.Luminato’s Swan Lake/Loch na hEala is not Swan Lake as a ballet fan would expect. There are no kings, no queens, princes or princesses, and yet – there is enchantment, dancing and magic; there is beauty at the heart of darkness.

The setup is odd, almost disconcerting: on a bare stage with a metal platform stretching across the back, random step ladders around the edges, with abandoned sets of white wings scattered here and there, an older man wearing nothing but dingy underpants is tethered by a rope around his neck to a concrete block at the centre of the stage, bleating like a goat or sheep as he walks in his wide restricted circles. He is there as we enter to find our seats, and still there as the lights dim for the show proper to begin.

To the moody haunting music of Irish/Nordic trio Slowly Moving Clouds (onstage and playing throughout), three men in old fashioned black suits and hats (looking a bit like Mennonites) approach the man/sheep and proceed to ritually “slaughter” him through choreography using bright red towels to signal the spilling of blood. (By the end of the show we will have seen this man's journey, a descent from man to vicious beast, retroactively making more sense of this animalistic beginning). At the end of this ceremony the man is dressed in nondescript dark shirt and pants, set up on a stool with a microphone to speak into but refuses to say anything until given a cigarette and some food. Once he has these, he begins to tell a tale: Teaċ Daṁsa's version of Swan Lake, Loch na hEala (with echoes as well of the Irish legend The Children of Lir), which he soon begins to become part of and reenact for us, taking on the roles of three dark characters who together embody this story's version of von Rothbart, the dark sorcerer of the classic ballet who turned captive maidens into swans.

The first of these characters to whom we are introduced is the most crucial, as it is he who creates the swans – a false priest who threatens the handicapped girl he abuses and her sisters, promising that they will be turned into “brute beasts” if they dare to breathe a word of what they have seen. He and the other two ‘dark’ characters, a corrupt local politician and an easily corruptible policeman who help to take the story on a tragic downward spiral, have been described by Irish critics as Irish “mythic demons.” Indeed, there is a definite archetypal quality to these men, although they are also very definitely contemporary, as is the story and setting. Acclaimed Irish actor Mikel Murfi is extraordinary, as these three ‘demons’ and the narrator.

The only other speaking character is an ancient, poverty stricken, wheelchair-ridden widow, the mother of the 'prince' in this version of the story – her 36-year-old son Jimmy, clinically depressed at the recent loss of his father and the looming loss of his ancestral cottage which his mother is determined to have replaced by a cheap modern “council house.”

The ugliness of the modern setting and story is so striking that at first the universality is not apparent, and the visceral connection made by Irish and British audiences to the production is not the same for a Canadian audience distanced by an ocean and by a different cadence of speech.

What is magical and striking, however, is how the ugliness of the modern setting sets off the transcendent beauty of the two central pas de deux for Jimmy and Finola, the abused girl who becomes a swan whom he meets in a lake behind his house. This first meeting of the two misfit outsiders is breathtaking, and had me on the edge of my seat in wonder at the emotion and vulnerability expressed by the choreography (and through the exquisite dancing of Alex Leonhartsberger and Rachel Poirier). Director and choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan grew up in a place where the swans returned for winter and he seems to have absorbed their physicality and passed it on to his dancers, who echoed a real pair of swans in the tentative beginnings of their dance and the twining gentle beauty of their coming together.

The second “black swan” pas de deux – which in the classical ballet pairs the prince with the evil sorcerer's flashily beautiful daughter Odile who, disguised as the good (white) swan Odette, wins the prince for herself – is here a second meeting of Jimmy and Finola, each more damaged than before but still inescapably drawn to each other.

As in the ballet, both Jimmy and Finola die at the end, but in this case there is a “coda” of sorts which, while it felt the other night a bit detached from the story, seems to be intended as a recovery or rediscovery of joy as all the cast dance and move around the stage in an improvised tumble of real swan feathers – punctuated at the very end by the sad figure of Finola, sitting on top of the ladder downstage right looking out over the audience.

A wonderful beginning to the 2018 Luminato Festival.

Swan Lake/Loch na hEala ran from June 6 to 10 at the Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto.

The Luminato Festival runs in various locations throughout Toronto, from June 6 to 24.

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.

AllisonAu bannerAllison AuAllison Au – saxophonist, composer and bandleader – has been consistently busy since she graduated from Humber College in 2008.  Her debut album, The Sky Was Pale Blue, Then Grey, was nominated for a JUNO in 2013; her second album, Forest Grove, won the JUNO in the Jazz Album of The Year: Group category in 2016.

Au is preparing both to go on a cross-Canada tour (starting in Calgary on June 14 and ending in Montreal on July 5) and to record a new album of original music. I had the opportunity to sit down and speak to her recently about the new tour and the new album, as well as her compositional process, the history of her relationship to the saxophone, and a growing conversation about gender and privilege in the local jazz community.

The WholeNote: So tell me more about the music you’re writing for this new album.

Allison Au: It’s in the same vein as what we’ve done before, but I’m always trying to experiment more with keyboards. I kind of leave that up to Todd [Pentney, the pianist in Allison’s quartet], but I’ve been talking to him as I’m writing some new stuff, saying “this is the vibe, I’m going for this, here are some of the sounds you could work with.”

Maybe the bigger change is that I’ve started studying piano with Frank Falco. He’s kind of the shit. I have limited piano skills… and he’s great, because he really treats you just like a beginner, acknowledging that you have a musical background, of course: I understand the harmony and the theory, but technically I’m very slow to execute. So it’s really opened up my perspective. I was feeling, for a little bit last year, that I’d hit a wall with my writing. And because I use the piano so much for writing, I just don’t have the technique to figure out certain things.

WN: So what has that allowed you to do that you wouldn’t have been able to do before, in terms of writing and composing?

AA: From a technical perspective, [Falco] has literally given me some technique stuff to check out, so I feel [that I have] more command over the instrument. But I think, more importantly, every lesson has been an incredible theory lesson. He’s talked about the sounds of different chords, and ways to voice them that I never would have thought of. He’s a very open guy, and he talks in really simple terms, without being condescending.

He’s assuming that you don’t know, at the beginning of the lesson, where it’s going… and he takes you on a little journey. It’s really fun, and it’s awakened a sense of childlike exploration, which on a new instrument is awesome. Having played my instrument [the saxophone] there’s all of this stuff – this intellectual and psychological process happening in your brain – but with an instrument that’s relatively new to you, you feel as though you can get in touch with [a different] side of things, and things click in a different way.

WN: Has anything changed – or not – in your experience being a bandleader, being a woman, being a person of colour? People seem to be talking about this more openly now, in a way that they haven’t really before. I know that there’s been a conversation that’s been happening in the jazz community in Toronto.

AA: Well, you mentioned the New York Times article, which I read when it came out a few weeks ago. I am, of course, totally supportive of everything that’s happening, and I think that there are a lot of conversations that are overdue, but to speak to my own experience, I’ve been really lucky in my working environment and my school experience, in that I feel that I didn’t really experience anything really negative in that way. But I think that any woman in any situation does have to behave differently than men do; you can’t be too chummy with your male teachers, and there’s a lot of unspoken etiquette. And I did kind of lament that some of the male students could establish a friendly rapport with the male teachers, whereas with a lot of the women, [that close mentor/student dynamic] just wasn’t an option. That said, I absolutely support everything that’s been happening: certain things have now come to the spotlight and all of these voices are being heard, because people feel more comfortable with sharing.

WN: It’s interesting, because I think that some high school and post-secondary music institutions – from festivals such as MusicFest to undergraduate jazz programs – can enable women, and certain people of colour, to have access to a kind of training that they may not have had 50 years ago, when [jazz] was less institutionalized and more of an on-the-road/club culture. On the one hand, it opens it up to a lot of people – but at the same time, the very nature of institutional hierarchy means that there are mostly men who are represented in positions of power.

AA: Totally – and that representation matters. I know that for me, one of the big reasons I was initially attracted to playing the saxophone is because I saw a woman playing one.

WN: Who was it?

AA: Well, I went to an arts school from grades four to eight, and my band teacher was a woman who played the saxophone, and it was the biggest thing for me at the time. And, of course, Lisa Simpson [laughs]. Maybe even subliminally, that was a cool thing for me. I think at that age, you just see things and don’t even know why you like it, but you just think it’s cool. It’s as simple as that.

And the longer I do this, the nicer it is to see more and more women – who are both younger than me, and also older, who are inspirations to me – doing this.

It was really nice to read that Times article, because I agree with and support everything they’re saying, and I think it’s great that we’re having this conversation now. I know that there’s still a lot of work to be done, and there are conversations happening in every workplace, and it’s really important that we have it in music too, regardless of genre. In jazz there are still so few women, but more are coming every year – which is great.

Allison Au’s upcoming tour of Canadian jazz festivals runs until July 5, and includes stops in Calgary, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Winnipeg, Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal. For details, visit www.allisonau.com.

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

From the cover of The WholeNote vol. 6 no. 9 - June 2001WholeNote readers who remember with affection Jim Galloway’s 16 years as Jazz Notes columnist with The WholeNote will be interested to know that the James Cullingham/Tamarack Productions documentary, Jim Galloway: A Journey in Jazz, will receive its premiere (free) live screening at Church of the Redeemer (Bloor and Avenue Rd.) on Thursday, June 28 at 7pm. This will be its only live screening prior to its broadcast on TVO on Thursday July 5 at 10pm. The screening will be followed by a live performance by saxophonist Mike Murley and pianist Mark Eisenman.
Given Galloway’s 23-year relationship as founding artistic director of Toronto Downtown Jazz, it’s fitting that the June 28 screening is under the auspices of TD Toronto Jazz Festival – Church of the Redeemer being one of eight Yorkville area venues, indoor and out, that will be hosting performances during the festival.

The Ken Page Memorial Trust (one of Galloway’s passionate causes) and The WholeNote have been co-presenting twice- or thrice-yearly reunions of the Galloway Wee Big Band, with Martin Loomer at the helm, at the Garage here at 720 Bathurst St., Toronto (The WholeNote’s home base). The hundreds of Galloway fans and WholeNote followers will get a special kick out of the footage in the film from one of those events. But the film also traces a wide geographic arc (Dairy (Scotland), Glasgow, Kansas City, Vienna), as it depicts some of the things that made this remarkable jazz ambassador tick.

Anyone who attended the most recent of those 720 Bathurst events will be particularly pleased at the choice of Mike Murley for the live set that follows the film. Murley guested with the Wee Big Band for this year’s February 15 Garage reunion event, and laid down an evening of the kind of playful, punny, sweetly considerate lines that were a hallmark of Galloway’s own memorable melodic style.

Jim Galloway: A Journey in Jazz will receive its free premiere screening, featuring performances by saxophonist Mike Murley and pianist Mark Eisenman, at 7pm on Thursday, June 28, at Church of the Redeemer, Toronto.

David Perlman can be reached at publisher@thewholenote.com.

Mark Lee (violin) and Leana Rutt (cello), performing at Pocket Concerts' June 3 event. Photo credit: Rory McLeod.Over the course of five seasons and 71 concerts, Pocket Concerts continues to realize their goal of providing an intimate classical music experience. Co-director, violist Rory McLeod, says it’s the immediacy of the music that comes through in the venues they choose, most of which are hosted by local music lovers in their own homes. But there was a slight difference in the June 3 season finale: the hosts’ regular venue being unavailable, their enterprising search for a substitute led them to Only One Gallery, a large space with exposed brick walls in an alley off Brock Ave. just north of Queen, that comfortably seated 60 spread across four widely spaced rows.

The room’s acoustic was electric with a transparency that generated the immediacy McLeod mentioned to me. The choice of music and musicians undoubtedly contributed as well. The two pieces featured in the concert – Schulhoff’s Duo for Violin and Cello and Schoenberg’s string sextet, Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) – were works that McLeod had long wanted to program. Once he had worked out the logistics of bringing together string players from as far away as Halifax and Winnipeg, he was able to go ahead. The disparate nature of the participants made the Sunday afternoon recital into a kind of mini-festival, with Mark Lee, assistant concertmaster of Symphony Nova Scotia, violinist Elizabeth Skinner of McGill, Keith Hamm, principal violist of the COC, Leana Rutt, assistant principal cellist of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Julie Hereish, assistant principal cellist of Orchestre Symphonique de Québec, and McLeod himself on viola.

Schulhoff’s Duo for Violin and Cello opened the proceedings. Filled with Czech folk music, rhythms and dance, it was a showcase for the ardent playing of violinist Mark Lee and cellist Leana Rutt. Lee foregrounded the rich variety of sound from exposed and plaintive to jagged and rhythmic, from the earthy power of a Roma-flavoured peasant dance to the sensuality of the agitated finale. Rutt’s cello proved a compliant partner, from bittersweet accompaniment to melodic dialogue, all resoundingly live in the space.

Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night is an intense emotional journey inspired by a poem by Richard Dehmer, in which a woman confesses to her lover that she is pregnant by another man, but over the course of a moonlit walk through a bare, cold wood, the lover tells the woman that he will accept the stranger’s child as his own. The level of sensuality in the music rivals Wagner. The shift to D Major, which echoes the man’s acceptance of his lover’s confession, is a broad stroke of hyper-Romanticism, beginning the transfigurative process that occupies the last half of the work. The door to the gallery from the alleyway was open during the concert and, in a kind of pathetic fallacy, a burst of fresh air entered the space to herald the comforting harmonies that follow this key change. Moody, tense and filled with climactic waves in its first half, the piece settles into a lovely upward figure that rises from the strings to set the tone that all will be well in life and art. It was as if, in going on such a powerful, musically complex journey with this work, Schoenberg had reached the limits of conventional tonality.

All Pocket Concerts include wine and snacks following the music, an intimate impromptu cocktail party that encourages audience and music-makers to interact. So it was I learned that it took only a full day of rehearsal the previous Saturday to prepare for the concert we had just heard; a tribute to the professionalism and musicianship of the performers.

An ad hoc quartet of Hamm, Skinner, McLeod and Hereish performed two encores: arrangements of Nordic folk tunes by the Danish String Quartet. The first, a Danish fiddle tune, flourished in the string quartet format; the second, Peat Dance, had a distinct Scottish feel and an energy which the audience clearly appreciated.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Recipients of the 2018 Toronto Arts Foundation Awards. Photo courtesy of the Toronto Arts Foundation.We are proud and happy to say that yesterday (May 16, 2018) The WholeNote was among the award winners at the annual Toronto Arts Foundation Mayor’s Luncheon at the King Edward Hotel.

The WholeNote was awarded the Roy Thomson Hall Award of Recognition, in support of work within the local music community. Other TAF Award winners include RISE Edutainment (Arts for Youth Award), Ruth Howard of Jumblies Theatre (Celebration of Cultural Life Award), Jivesh Parasram (Emerging Artist Award), and Active Green + Ross and RBC (Toronto Arts and Business Award).

In accepting the RTH award on behalf of The WholeNote, publisher David Perlman spoke to the block by block city-building vision shared by TAF and The WholeNote, as follows:

“I want to acknowledge Allan Pulker, co-founder of TheWholeNote (or Pulse as it was originally known) 23 years ago. His unshakeable belief in the richness and variety of Toronto’s grass-roots music scene is the reason The  WholeNote exists. I also want to thank Sharna Searle who nominated us for this award. It took her three years to persuade us, mind you. We are more comfortable telling stories than being in them.

I can’t name everyone else -- our eight-member core team; 30 to 40 writers  every issue; a five-member listings team who come up with 400-500 live performance listings each month; the 20-25-person distribution team regularly carrying 30,000 free copies per issue to 800+ locations where a deeply loyal readership snatches them up.  

To the finalists and other artists in this room, flag-bearers for countless others for whom the arts are necessary to feel fully alive, thank you for being passionate contributors to all our city’s villages -- street by street , block by block. Thank you for giving us something to write about. And to the Toronto Arts Council and the TAF, the knowledge that you share our belief in a grass-roots music city makes this award very special.

Make no mistake, though: the grass-roots “music city” is at risk. Housing/land cost is displacing artists, along with the rest of the working poor, from our overheated downtown; small-scale live performance venues are disappearing one by one. Outside the downtown, the nurturing  of block-by-block cultural life across our metropolis is a mighty challenge -- painfully slow because it is a process of planting not paving.

It’s astonishing, thinking back, that the breakthrough technology that helped launch this magazine was … the fax machine! Now we must all adjust, almost daily, to the ongoing challenge of dizzying change with all its dangers and opportunities. What a story it promises to be.”

Violinist Edwin Huizinga (left) and violist Keith Hamm.Sometimes, to really capture an accurate snapshot of a city’s music-making, you need to look at what its professional musicians do on their days off.

Take Toronto violinist Edwin Huizinga, for example. Though perhaps most visible for his violin work for Tafelmusik baroque orchestra and Toronto folk band The Wooden Sky, Huizinga is a leader in what he calls Toronto’s “indie chamber music scene.” In other words, like many of the city’s professional music-makers, when Huizinga isn’t performing for other organizations, he self-presents his own concerts – smaller, community-grounded shows, the likes of which are vital to Toronto’s cultural life.

Huizinga, along with violist Keith Hamm (principal violist of the Canadian Opera Company orchestra), is co-artistic director of Stereo Live – a chamber music series based out of Toronto’s historic Campbell House that seeks to provide an alternative approach to rock, bluegrass, and classical chamber music, in an intimate and welcoming setting. Now in its fourth season, Stereo Live has earned a reputation for taking a fresh and innovative look at the programming of local chamber music.

On Monday, May 21, Huizinga and Hamm will present their final Stereo Live show of the 2017/18 season. Featuring violinist Mark Fewer and drinks from Grape Witches, the concert will pair classical music for strings with a selection of natural wines.

In a phone conversation this week, Huizinga talks about how he, Hamm and Grape Witches (wine importer Nicole Campbell and sommelier Krysta Oben) found resonances between indie chamber music and indie wine.

“Nicole and Krysta are friends of mine, and have been for some time,” he says. “A couple of years ago, they reached out to me to be a ‘classical DJ’ for one of their wine evenings, and we started talking about how music – really amazing-calibre classical music – could be paired with really high-quality wines.

“[For this Stereo Live concert,] I sent the Grape Witches the program, and I gave them specific links of recordings that I loved – and we had a lot of conversations about how the music felt to them, and how they reacted to it,” Huizinga explains. “We also talked a bit about the composers’ history and where they grew up, and what was happening at the time culturally. It was a really interesting way to discuss that whole world with another kind of artist. And since they focus on natural wine, there are so many stories that they have about the old ways of producing wine – just like the stories we have in classical music.”

The May 21 concert program features Mark Fewer in solo violin works by Ysaye, Schulhoff, and John Novacek/Atar Arad, as well as a performance by Fewer, Huizinga and Hamm of the Kodaly Serenade for two violins and viola.

“I can’t believe that Mark Fewer is going to headline the event,” says Huizinga. “He’s one of my old teachers, and we have a long history of working together – and now, we work together a lot professionally, which is really nice. And it’s kind of a celebration to have him here, because he doesn’t perform solo very often in Toronto.”

The concert will also feature two students from the Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School, in a performance of the second movement of Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello – a part of Huizinga’s own initiative to support the city’s emerging young performers.

“It’s kind of a full circle story,” says Huizinga. “I went to YAPA, when it was called that  – the Royal Conservatory’s Young Artists Performance Academy – and that’s where I studied with Mark Fewer for five years. Which definitely changed my life, and is probably the only reason I’m still playing violin – and why I’m pursuing jazz and folk music and improvising, and all of that stuff, because he was a person and a teacher who really explored those kinds of things as well, and I’ve always really looked up to him for that. And so my goal for Stereo Live is to always have a young artist opening each show.

“There are so many hurdles with classical music – and one of them is that young artists never perform,” he adds. “As a student, I performed maybe three times a year. And if you actually want to have a career in music – right now, I’m performing 160 concerts a year, or something like that. So now these kids are going to show up, and their parents are going to come too, possibly – and their parents might be inspired to help their kids continue to do what they want to do. And I haven’t met this particular violin student yet, but if he’s interested in continuing his studies in violin and looking for [direction or connections], a 5-minute conversation with Mark Fewer could change his life.”

Ultimately, for Huizinga, it all comes down to cultivating a lively “small-scale” classical music scene – one that is innovating and inviting, and that inspires audiences and performers to engage with chamber music in new ways. And in his mind, continuing to devote time and effort to the “indie” side of classical music is the way to do it.

“I want these events to grow and continue in Toronto,” he says. “I want these little pockets of organic, indie, community, whatever you want to call it, to grow – and to stay alive.”

“Stereo Live presents: Mark Fewer” takes place May 21, 8pm at Campbell House, Toronto. More information can be found at https://www.facebook.com/events/2046580315382339/.

citterio cropTafelmusik's music director Elisa Citterio. Photo credit: Monica Cordiviola.The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra closed its season Sunday afternoon with Beethoven on period instruments. It was the fourth iteration of this bill and nearly filled the 1,100-seat Koerner Hall. The program was guest-conducted by Bruno Weil, a distinguished German musician with a well-deserved reputation as a probing interpreter of Viennese classics.

Jeanne Lamon, music director from 1981 to 2014, ceded that title to Elisa Citterio from Italy, who joined the orchestra at the start of this season. On Sunday, Lamon was back as guest concertmaster, so that Citterio could play the Beethoven Violin Concerto: the Mount Everest of violin concertos, and not a work one usually associates with period instruments.

Every classical music lover knows the Beethoven Violin Concerto, but few know the work in a sound the composer himself would have recognized. Citterio and Weil applied themselves to the lofty rhetoric with spirit and without inhibition or apology. Citterio in particular added an indefinable element of soul and serenity that lifted her performance well above the realm of hidebound “authentic” recreation. From her first entry, she revealed a vital engagement with the music that was anything but dry, thanks to her temperament. In the lengthy opening movement (which never sounded long) she scanned the soaring phrases with sensitivity to harmonic underpinnings, and resisted lapsing into mechanical recitation.

The sound of the timpani (kettledrum) a crucial structural element, had a zesty “bite” to it. Cadenzas were not the customary ones by Fritz Kreisler, but composed by Carlo Citterio, Elisa's brother. The siblings collaborated to adapt the cadenzas to her own ideas. (The one for the Finale was just a bit long.)

Tempos were brisker than usual, as Weil cultivated heightened clarity and transparency of inner parts while faithfully tracing the drama. In Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony No. 6, which ended the program, the vernal score sounded freshly-minted, especially the outer movements. Weil conducted the opening stanza almost as a sequence of upbeats, the pungent woodwinds springing to life. The “Awakening of joyous feelings upon arrival in the countryside” was actually joyous, not too heavy.

Though the three middle movements didn't scale the same heights, the Finale again showed Weil as a fount of rhythmic and stylistic energy, a musician to his fingertips. Meanwhile, the Tafelmusik orchestra gave every indication that it likes (even loves) what it does. As it gets set to embark soon on a three-week tour to Australia, one can only wish that its spirit will persist – alongside the relationships with Elisa Citterio and distinguished guest conductors such as Bruno Weil.

Tafelmusik presented “Beethoven Pastoral Symphony,” featuring violin soloist Elisa Citterio and guest director Bruno Weil, on May 3 to 6 at Koerner Hall, Toronto.

Stephen Cera, a pianist, journalist and concert programmer, played recitals with Jacques Israelievitch not long before the untimely death of the late TSO concertmaster. He lectures widely about music, writes about international classical music events for MusicalAmerica.com, and maintains a blog at www.stephencera.com.

Gerald Finley - photo by Sim Cannetty-ClarkeGerald Finley has a baritone which casts a bass shadow. A voice dark and ripe and opulent that doesn’t lighten gladly, but the ear won’t mind two hours of it because Gerald Finley the dramatic interpreter and wizard of inflection comes with it.

Finley and one of the most in-demand accompanists today, Julius Drake, presented a German and Russian program at Koerner Hall this past Sunday, April 22. The first part assembled poems by Goethe set to music by Beethoven and Schubert, two almost exact contemporaries (the older man died 1827, the young one the year after) whose songs however belong to two different eras. Beethoven is not known for his vocal music and next to Schubert’s songs his come across as plainer, simpler melodies, playful or curious rather than stirring. In Finley’s hands the songs grew to become little scenes, delivered smoothly in his precise enunciation.

Schubert’s Goethe was a different Goethe. The set was capped with arguably the best known Schubert song, the infanticidal Erl King, but began with the long Prometheus lied, D 674. The Prometheus of this poem is defiant, not yet punished by Zeus, proudly creating humans after his own image. At the time of its creation the song could have signified political rebellion against the powers of the state, or personal rebellion of young creative men against their fathers, but the text has lost much of its resonance for audiences of our time and is potentially overlong and self-important. Not here: again, Finley worked his magic with the text and the song became a meaningful cri de coeur.

An den Mond (To the Moon) stood out from the set by its languid pace and silvery lyrics, while An Schwager Kronos (To Coachman Chronos) swept though in a gallop.

The secondhalf, all-Russian, was shared between Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. Tchaikovsky’s four songs came out as positively moderate next to the Rachmaninoff set. Rachmaninoff gives the pianist a lot to do, and is no stranger to a sweeping cinematic statement. An orchestra might have been present in the downers-with-high-dramatic-peaks O nyet, molyu, ne ukhodi! (Oh No, I Pray, Don’t Leave), O, dolgo budu ya (In the Silence of the Night), and Na smert chizhika (On the Death of a Linnet) but it was indeed just these two men onstage. A lot of chiaroscuro is required there, which Finley created through sensitivity to the text rather than vocal timbre (which stayed consistently as dark as plush velvet). Julius Drake from the keyboard supplied Romantic excess where Rachmaninoff calls for it.

One number in the Rachmaninoff set was actually fun: Sudba (Fate) – a song in which the singer voices more than one persona, in the vein of Schubert’s Erlkönig – had Finley (and us with him) delighting in the onomatopoeic sound of fate knocking on various people’s doors. The final song in the official program was the astonishing and astonishingly exaggerated Vesennye vody (Spring Streams), which starts by cranking up to 10 and stays there for its remaining two minutes. But Finley and Drake made it sound almost natural.

The encore was reserved for songs in the English language – Barber, Copland, Healey Willan, and a Britten arrangement of The Crocodile, a folk song recounting how a man ended up eaten up by the gigantic reptile and spent ten years inside it, “very well contented.”

As was the audience on this night.

Gerald Finley and Julius Drake presented a recital program on April 22, at Koerner Hall, Toronto. They continue to tour this program to Washington DC, Georgia and NYC. Finley will have an extra stop in Montreal, with pianist Michael McMahon (Info).

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

banner cropEvan Buliung and Hannah Levinson in Fun Home. Photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann.Tuesday April 17: a wonderful night of superb theatre with high expectations met by a brilliantly crafted musical, as the Musical Stage Company's excellent production of Fun Home opened under the umbrella of Mirvish productions at the CAA Theatre.

The Broadway production of Fun Home won numerous Tony Awards in 2015 and also marked a number of firsts, including having the first female team to win the Tony for best score, and being the first musical to centre on the story of a young lesbian. With book and lyrics by playwright Lisa Kron and score by Jeanine Tesori (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Caroline or Change), Fun Home captures the mind and heart right from the start, pulling us into a deeply personal but also universal story of family and figuring out one's true identity. Filled with an often surprising yet delighting combination of comedy and tragedy, unexpected vulnerability and goofiness, the story is told through a blend of dialogue and song that rings incredibly true, the songs themselves seeming to emerge necessarily from moments of heightened emotion in the text. The cast are all strong: the main character, Alison, is portrayed at three different times in her life, and the three Alisons, naturally enough, stand out from the rest in their almost uncanny ability to be the same character at different ages. This is the central structural concept of Fun Home – that the heroine of the story is played not by one but by three performers, letting us connect with her at three different ages, and not just one at a time, but often with two or even all three together.

(L-R) Sara Farb, Hannah Levinson and Lauran Condlln, as the three Alisons in Fun Home. Photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann.The musical begins in the present time with Alison Bechdel, 43-year-old cartoonist, sitting down at her desk to draw, but finding that she is “stuck” – turning to journals and memories of the past in order to figure out how to go forward into the future. The biggest or most central part of that journey is trying to figure out how much she and her father are alike. As she starts to draw and remember at the same time we hear her say:

“Caption: My dad and I were totally alike.”

Then she starts a new drawing:

“Caption: My dad and I were nothing alike.”

And this catapults her back to her childhood, as the oldest of three children in a house lovingly restored by her rather obsessive father who also runs the family Funeral Home – which all the family refer to as the “Fun Home,” hence the title of the show.

The first thing we see is the young Alison demanding her father help her to play “Airplane” – a wonderful image of togetherness and freedom, an image picked up again at the end of the show in a very satisfying way. Like all families, theirs isn't perfect, and we experience with Alison her early yearnings not to dress in frilly dresses and her father trying to keep her true to the model of the perfect little girl much as he himself has hidden the fact that he is gay behind the facade of a proper father and family man. What works wonderfully is that the adult Alison, our narrator and bridge into the past, is actually there in the living room with Small Alison, experiencing her memories again as if in the flesh, sometimes on the sidelines but sometimes walking through remembering.

We also meet Alison as she goes to college, where she first discovers she is a lesbian and eventually tells her family. Sara Farb is remarkable as this “Middle Alison”: powerfully present, but extraordinarily vulnerable and real. Her big song, Changing my Major, soars through the theatre like an anthem, funny and powerful at the same time in its capturing of discovery and joy.

Hannah Levinson as Small Alison is a wonderfully confident performer with a clear strong singing and speaking voice, and is immediately believable as Alison in embryo. Her anthem Ring of Keys was beautifully heartfelt. Laura Condlin as Alison at 43 – in her first musical – is a strong attractive centre, keeping us engaged and invested throughout in her investigations into the past.

The surrounding cast all have their moments to shine and all are strong in director Robert McQueen's subtly realized production. It is a musical, yes, and traditional in that it has scenes of dialogue with songs interspersed, but it is also the story of a real, quirky family, dealing with difficult emotions and issues. That this family feels so real whether speaking or singing is a tribute to the company as a whole, as well as to the creators of the piece.

One song that stood out for its goofy reality – highlighted by Stephanie Graham's brilliantly real choreography – was Come to the Fun Home, the “commercial” that the young Bechdel siblings have made up for the family funeral home and perform for themselves, complete with coffin. Liam MacDonald as little brother John is an energetically spontaneous presence here and in all his scenes.

Based on cartoonist Alison Bechdel's best-selling and acclaimed autobiographical graphic memoir, Fun Home is a chamber musical that explores big and difficult issues but is also a joyous affirmation of life.

The Musical Stage Company production of Fun Home, presented by Mirvish, runs until May 20, 2018, at the CAA Theatre, 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.

The JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band, in performance at JAZZ LIVES on April 11. Photo credit: Bill Beard, c/o JAZZ.FM91.On April 11, JAZZ.FM91 presented “JAZZ LIVES: A Century of Nat ‘King’ Cole” at Koerner Hall. JAZZ LIVES, for the uninitiated, is the moniker given to JAZZ.FM91’s “premier fundraising concert,” and the theme for this year’s iteration – which was the event’s 14th annual occurrence – was, as the title suggests, a celebration of the great pianist/vocalist Nat King Cole, born (nearly) a hundred years ago in 1919. Although past JAZZ LIVES concerts have featured notable international guest stars such as Gregory Porter, Terence Blanchard and Pat Metheny, the performers on April 11 were mostly local musicians, and provided an illuminating cross-section of artists who have found a place in the extended JAZZ.FM91 family. While the tribute format gave the evening a clear conceptual framework and enabled a variety-show structure, it was, ultimately, the individual artistic choices of the participating musicians that made the evening memorable and reaffirmed the central position that JAZZ.FM91 holds in the Toronto jazz scene.

The evening started with pianist Robi Botos, who played a beautiful solo rendition of “When I Fall In Love” before embarking upon a bouncy, medium-up, 7/8 version of “L-O-V-E” with drummer Mark Kelso and bassist Marc Rogers, which was capped off by brief quote of “It’s Only A Paper Moon.” Placing Botos’ performance at the beginning of the program was an intelligent choice: it effectively set the tone for the rest of the night, illustrating that, although the event was a celebration of Cole, it was also a celebration of the unique abilities of the performers in attendance.

Following Botos, Drew Jurecka and Mary Margaret O’Hara each performed (individually) with the house band, made up of Kelso, Rogers, guitarist Eric St-Laurent and pianist Lou Pomanti, after which Bill McBirnie took the stage for a version of Poinciana, eschewing the slower ballad version recorded by Cole in 1961 for the iconic Vernel Fournier groove from Ahmad Jamal’s 1958 “At The Pershing: But Not For Me” album. After a cool, understated version of “Straighten Up and Fly Right” from singer Danny B, Jackie Richardson took the stage to perform “Nature Boy” with Bill McBirnie and the house band. Richardson has a powerful, dynamic voice, with excellent control throughout her considerable range. She performed two additional songs – “Steal Away” and “Every Time I Feel The Spirit” – and was able to effectively ramp up the excitement during her time on stage, providing one of the night’s clear highlights, and resulting in a standing ovation from the audience as she closed the first half of the event.

Of particular note in the second half of the concert was the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band, led by musical director Jules Estrin, which performed “Orange Colored Sky” with Jurecka and “The Late Late Show” with Ori Dagan. The Youth Big Band, in its tenth year of operation, is a free educational program for qualifying middle- and high-school students, providing the opportunity to play in the big band and to participate in a variety of workshops and performances with top music educators and guest artists. The group displayed maturity far beyond its years, particularly in the rhythm section, which generated exciting, propulsive time, and in the saxophone section, led by lead alto saxophonist Jacob Chung, who took an impressive solo on “The Late Late Show.”

Other second-set performers included The Heavyweights Brass Band, who began the set by playing in the audience and gradually making their way to the stage, vocalists Alex Pangman, Lori Cullen, and surprise guest Marc Jordan, who, after remarking on the value that JAZZ.FM91 brings to the community, sang a compelling, stripped-down version of “The Nearness of You.” Pianist Thompson Egbo-Egbo also performed, playing a sweet, rhythmically strong version of “Let’s Fall In Love” that blended some of Cole’s more traditional stylings with a few modern touches. The evening culminated in a return of most of the performers to the stage for a version of “Route 66,” led by Richardson, with enthusiastic audience participation.  

JAZZ.FM91 presented “JAZZ LIVES: A Century of Nat ‘King’ Cole” on April 11, at Koerner Hall, Toronto.

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

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