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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Burdock Piano Fest runs from January 22 to 29.

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

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

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

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

- Paul Ennis, managing editor and classical columnist

More info: https://www.tso.ca/concert/mahler-symphony-9#performance-1630

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

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

- David Perlman, publisher and editor-in-chief

More info: https://www.rcmusic.com/performance/event/jazz-epistlesevent/jazz-epistles

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

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

- Jennifer Parr, music theatre columnist

More info: https://www.mirvish.com/shows/come-from-away

Works by Leoš Janáček
Various

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

- Matthew Whitfield, early music columnist

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

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

- Lydia Perović, art song columnist

More info: http://www.glyndebourne.com/

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

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

- Brian Chang, choral columnist

More info: https://www.tso.ca/concert/beethoven-symphony-9

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

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

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

- Sara Constant, digital media editor

More info: https://musicgallery.org/events/yoko-ono-the-riverbed-voice-pieces/

Labyrinth Music Workshop Ontario, NCGMO, Polyphonic Ground
Various

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

- Andrew Timar, world music columnist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then, out of hopelessness, hope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Perlman is publisher of The WholeNote, and can be reached at publisher@thewholenote.com.

SannacBannerMeludia co-founder Bastien Sannac using the Meludia web application, during a presentation last year in Malta. Photo credit: Alfredo D’Amato / Libération.With the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra’s latest outreach project, they’re giving away free online music lessons – to all Canadians, across the country.

In an announcement last Wednesday, the CPO revealed a new partnership with Paris-based music education platform Meludia. Available as a web and mobile application, Meludia uses the gamification of ear training to build a curriculum of over 600 musicianship games, ranging from beginner to expert skill levels. And in celebration of Canada 150, they’re allowing anyone with a Canadian IP address to sign up for a premium, 1-year-long Meludia account – free of charge.

For CPO music director Rune Bergmann, who officially started his tenure with the orchestra in fall 2017, widespread accessibility initiatives were an important part of the job. ‘When i first arrived in Calgary, I felt there were a lot of good things – but what was missing was that the things going on here were kind of a well-hidden secret,” he said at the press conference Wednesday. “The first thing I felt when I came here was that this should be an orchestra for the world.”

Like many other online learning resources, Meludia – which has previously supplied similar nationwide subscriptions in Malta and Estonia – claims to teach users by structuring lessons as short games and tests. In that sense, it’s not unlike a musical version of the popular language learning app Duolingo.

However, what sets Meludia apart from other programs – especially when it comes to classical music – is the philosophy behind these games. Unlike much conventional classical musical training, which tends to focus heavily on reading sheet music and musical terminology, Meludia is based on a body of research by French composer Vincent Chaintrier, which advocates a focus on developing sensory and emotional responses to sounds. There are four tiers of difficulty in the app: Discovery, Intermediate, Advanced, and Expert. While the Expert level is geared towards professional musicians, the first levels are meant to be highly intuitive, even for users with little to no knowledge of western classical music. And while technically, Meludia is in the business of music literacy, you don’t actually need to know how to read music at all to use it.

A game at the Discovery level in Meludia, where the user is asked to identify between “one note” and “many notes.”Here’s an example. In the Discovery level, there is a game called “Density.” There, the user is given a simple task: when they listen to the sound file, do they hear one note, or many notes? (The app also includes a description of how they would define the word ‘note’.) By the Intermediate level, you can play the same “Density” game, but are asked to be more specific: how many notes do you hear – one, two, three or four? By the Advanced and Expert levels, these same exercises have evolved into high-level classical music ear training: identifying complex chords and chord progressions. And it’s all done using highly intuitive visual graphics, with hardly any reference to conventional classical music notation.

The same game at a more advanced level: the user is now asked to identify the number of notes they hear.“When Rune first logged me into the Meludia platform, I was impressed at how intuitively interactive and fun it was,” explained Paul Dornian, president and CEO of the CPO, last week. “I am thrilled that we can make Meludia available to Canadians and visitors to Canada who want to boost their musical education or start from scratch.”

Another entry-level game on Meludia. The user is asked to identify between sounds that feel “tense and then stable” vs. sounds that feel “stable and then tense.” The game introduces the terminology of tension and resolution; eventually, these skills are used at more advanced levels to identify chord progressions and tonalities. It’s easy to feel skeptical about a program like this one. After all, the definition of music literacy – and the types of music implied by that term – mean that making music education universally accessible is hardly as simple as some may claim. However, by eliminating two of the major barriers that Canadians often face when pursuing musical education – the high cost and the emphasis on ‘insider’ classical music knowledge and jargon – this initiative is without a doubt a step in the right direction. And if you’re reading from Canada right now and have time to play a quick game or two, it’s absolutely worth a try.

As of last week, anyone with a Canadian IP address can log into meludia.com and use the program free of charge, until December 5, 2018.

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

The Other Side of Hope. Photo credit: Malla Hukkanen/Sputnik Oy.Twin stories of a Syrian refugee and a Finnish restaurateur dovetail nicely in The Other Side of Hope, the second film in a “ports trilogy” by director Aki Kaurismäki. Kaurismäki’s profound humanism dominates the screen as his poetic, intense portrait of a tragic life comes face to face with the director’s trademark comic deadpan style. The result is a sweet and droll story driven by optimism and fuelled by the generosity and concerns of its characters.

A little squeezebox music sets the dockside scene, as a man slowly emerges from a shipboard slag pile just before dawn. Meanwhile, a second man wordlessly leaves his wife, dropping his house keys and wedding band on the small table where she sits drinking, before driving off in his big black car accompanied by the sound of a Finnish blues song on a box guitar. As he passes the stowaway on the street, we see the source of the music: a street busker played by Tuomari Nurmio, often called the quintessential Finnish musician for his ability to perform a variety of genres.

The stowaway, Khaled (Sherwan Haji), cleans up in a hostel before reporting to police to officially seek asylum. The husband, Wikstrom (Sakari Kuosmanen), sells his entire carload of shirts and gives up his travelling salesman life to pursue his dream of opening a restaurant. He uses the proceeds of the shirt sale as a stake in a stud poker game and, with Kaurismäki’s deadpan style put to good use, wins a small fortune, enough to lease a restaurant well past its prime and the assortment of staff that comes with it.

Khaled, who has made the long and hazardous trek from Aleppo to Helsinki despite being separated from his sister, befriends an Iraqi refugee who helps him adjust to the local red tape. One night, he winds up sleeping in a dumpster behind Wikstrom’s restaurant. Wikstrom hires him on the spot, arranges for an identity card and the story evolves from there, with the aid of Kaurismäki’s amazing actors, like the marvellous Kati Outinen, from his older films.

The musical component is an intrinsic part of the whole. Virtually all the music we see and hear is within the action of the movie. From street performers like the left-handed guitar-playing, harmonica-blowing Ismo Haavisto (performing his song Midnight Man) to the sad old dancehall tune by Henry Theel; from the left-handed guitar players Harri Marstio and Marko Haavisto to Nurmio’s Skulaa Tai Delaa, the blues that subtly caresses the crowd in a club that includes Khaled and his friend; to the music of Toshitake Shinohara, who also contributed to the score of Kaurismäki’s 1992 film La Vie de Bohème; to a touching scene with his Iraqi friend, in which Khaled (Haji) plays the oud.

The world of The Other Side of Hope has a timeless feel; it seems to swing between the past and the future with its richly expressive cinematography and matter-of-fact dialogue. At its core is the tender humanism of Jean Renoir.

The Other Side of Hope plays until Thursday, December 14 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Evan Winther in Holly Small's Cheap Sunglasses. Photo credit: David Hou.On November 16, the highly-regarded DanceWorks celebrated (in a three night run) its 40th anniversary, on the main stage of Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre.

Having emerged out of the York University Dance Department in the late 1970s and subsequently merging with other urban and metropolitan Toronto influences, this innovative company helped stimulate, contemporize and change the face of dance – and music composed or re-imagined for dance – in Canada. This special production presented a combination of world premieres and re-stagings of past successes, featuring both past company members and dancers still in the first blush of their careers. The packed, sold-out house was rife with a veritable who’s who of the Canadian dance community.

For any creative enterprise to reach the age of 40 is not only a magnificent accomplishment, but a statement of incredible commitment and devotion from the artists and administrators involved. Johanna Householder is the co-founder of DanceWorks, as well as a performance artist and professor at OCAD University, and Mimi Beck serves as dance coordinator. “This selection of works is rooted in the past, celebrates the present and invites hope for the future,” said Beck of the event. “The five choreographers have premiered and performed pieces in DanceWorks seasons – dating back to 1981. Each has a strong artistic vision that supports a unique, creative practice. All are still active in their craft.”

All five pieces were presented with integrity, technical skill and imagination, along with integral music and soundscapes that stirred the soul, heart and mind. First to take the stage was an exceptional world premiere titled The Night Journey, featuring veteran Learie McNicolls as both choreographer and single performer. The ghostly ‘live’ projections, as well as the eerie design concept, came from the mind of Judith Sandiford, and the entire piece was inspired by an album of solo, six-string bass playing by Wilbert de Joode, a cutting-edge, a masterful musician based in Amsterdam. The free, luminous soundtrack fed the performance, which fearlessly explored the true nature of the soul, as well as the plastic and subjective nature of time and the ability to transcend space/time through shamanic focus on the multi-layered nature of the “now.”

Jennifer Dahl and Robert Glumbek in Learie McNicolls' Dancing With the Ghost. Photo credit: John Lauener.Dancing With the Ghost was a glorious pas de deux that initially appeared in 1995. This soulful and seamless piece was originally performed with a quartet of dancers, but was presented here as a compelling duet, featuring the lithe and beautiful Jennifer Dahl and the agile and sinuous Robert Glumbek. Learie McNicolls acted as a choreographer here, as well as the composer of the “soundscape,” which included funky, steamy elements of Dance Hall motifs – adding to the already viscous eroticism and ‘push me-pull you’ nature of the piece.

A joyous delight was the multi-sensory Cheap Sunglasses. First presented in 1981, choreographer Holly Small was thrilled to reunite with composer Robert W. Stevenson. This piece is quite simply as relevant now as it was at its inception. Created with a four-person “Greek Chorus” that uttered, shouted and whispered both guttural and sibilant vocal sounds (in English and Japanese), this number ruthlessly examined youthful egotism and the breakdown of communication exemplified by shallow encounters, tinged with artifice and transitory desire.

The world premiere of Amalgam was the brilliant reboot of a 20-year-old acclaimed presentation entitled “Firedance” that reunited the original kathak/flamenco duo of Joanna de Souza and Esmeralda Enrique. The stirring live music (by Ian de Souza, Caroline Plante, Santosh Naidu and Maryem Toller) featured an incredible cross-cultural quartet, which fueled this dynamic dance-trek into the deep cultural connections of the music and dance of ancient India, as well as the music and dance of the “Gaetanos” – marginalized Spanish Roma peoples who may have originated in India, or possibly Egypt. The performance and commitment of these beautiful and accomplished dancers and musical artists was simply breathtaking.

Denise Fujiwara's Moving Parts. Photo credit: John LauenerCompleting this thoroughly stunning evening was the world premiere of the complex production Moving Parts, featuring choreography and direction by Denise Fujiwara of Fujiwara Dance Inventions. The exquisite musical direction and arrangements were created by the talented Phil Strong and Laurel MacDonald. New perspectives on four “pop” tunes comprised the musical score of this extended piece, including the evocative 1983 hit, Mad World (Roland Orzabal); Michael Franti’s Hey World (2009); last year’s Quiet by MILCK and a choral-infused arrangement of Parachute Club’s 1983 smash hit, Rise Up.

DanceWorks’ ongoing beautiful message of love, oneness, joy and hope was illustrated with every dance move, and with every vocal nuance of the fine choir and soloists. The audience returned that joy with an extended – and well-deserved) – standing ovation.

DanceWorks’ 40th Anniversary Celebration took place at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre in Toronto from November 16 to 18, 2017.

Lesley Mitchell-Clarke is a media consultant, therapist and music and arts writer based in Toronto and NYC.

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