Earlier this spring, Canadian Opera Company audiences were treated to the spectacle of two queens battling for supremacy on the stage of the Four Season Centre, in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda.

Now, we learn, the COC has two more queens – this time on the roof. These are queen bees, in a pair of beehives recently installed atop the Four Seasons Centre. Let's hope these queens get along a little better than Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots did: both ladies clearly had bees in their bonnets.

This is the latest idea that the COC has imported from Europe, where bees have been living on the roof of the Paris Opera for some years. However, the COC's bees are more technologically advanced than their French cousins: they have their own blog, on the COC's website. (The COC's blog can be read here.)

It would be a fine thing if the COC could make some money selling the honey the bees produce – and timely too, as the company was stung by a nasty deficit last season. But beyond that, it's not yet clear what role the bees will play within Canada's largest opera company. Will the "Humming Chorus" in Madama Butterfly be replaced with a droning chorus? Will worker bees be substituted for the slaves in the company's upcoming production of Aida? Or will the clever insects become season subscribers, occupying a block of seats in Row B?

Despite all the unanswered questions swarming around this initiative, it has all the markings of a trend that might catch on in Toronto. What will be next? A pond of frogs, kept by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and called upon whenever Israel in Egypt is programmed? An orchestra of cats, herded together for performances in the TSO's annual New Creations Festival? Bats in the belfry at Tafelmusik concerts?

Whatever happens, The WholeNote will keep readers up to date on the latest buzz.

Colin Eatock
6_colin eatock



One of this country’s choral legends, conductor, mentor and master teacher, Deral Johnson, passed away recently, on March 24, in a hospice in Arkansas.

Deral, or “DJ,” as he was known by so many, was truly a legend, and a mentor to many of Canada’s finest conductors, including Bob Cooper, Ken Fleet, Brenda Zadorsky, Victoria Meredith (the list is a long one), as well as several noted composers (including Nancy Telfer) and performers (including Darryl Edwards, head of voice studies at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music). I feel so fortunate to have studied conducting and advanced choral conducting with DJ when I was an undergrad, back in the late 70s, in the Music Education programme at the University of Western Ontario.

Read more: Deral Johnson


It’s a nice problem to have when renowned international musicians are clamouring to play in your concert venue – and according to Mervon Mehta, the Royal Conservatory’s Executive Director of Performing Arts, no less than Yo-Yo Ma was one of the clamourers. As announced today, Ma will be opening Koerner’s second season on October 14 accompanied by Katherine Scott.

Read more: Yo-Yo Ma to open Koerner Hall’s 2010-11 season

Old MillThere’s a new jazz room in town, and it's a very welcome addition to what has become a meagre choice of jazz venues, given Toronto's size and sophistication. When I say “new” I hasten to add that there have been jazz concerts going on at The Old Mill Inn for some time now via the Home Smith Bar. As well, Jazz.FM91 has been running its Sound of Jazz concert series there for the last couple of years. But the Old Mill has also recently added regular jazz concerts in their main dining room via the Thursday Night Jazz Club.


karrin-allyson2I was there this past Thursday for one of my favourite singers, Karrin Allyson. Allyson and her trio appeared as part of the "TDJ Presents" series, which will see international artists playing once a month, courtesy of the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival. The first set starts at 7:30, making it possible for morning people to actually get out and see some live music, have a drink or a meal, and still make it home before their coach turns into a pumpkin. And seeing a singer of Allyson’s calibre in an intimate setting like the Old Mill was a total treat.


karrin-allyson-trioHer appealing sandpaper-on-velvet voice sounded as good in person as it does on any of her 12 albums as she made her way through a range of styles like blues, swing and bossa nova. Always technically spot-on yet maintaining a relaxed, assured manner, she made that Brazilian tongue- and larynx-twister “O Pato” seem like a day at the beach. “Footprints,” the gorgeous Wayne Shorter cover from her 2006 album of the same name, was a case study in ballad singing.


The next in the "TDJ Presents" series is New York piano master Bill Mays, with Terry Clarke and Neil Swainson, on April 22. The Thursday Night Jazz Club will include regular big band nights, which is also a welcome addition, since there are so few clubs that can comfortably handle bands of that size. The next one is the Bob DeAngelis Champagne Big Band on March 25.


While I’m on the topic of jazz venues, I want to mention Koerner Hall’s phenomenal programming. Since it opened in the fall of ’09, Koerner has showcased an outstanding line-up of local and international acts from a range of musical genres. So I was delighted to note that this year it will be a part of the TD Canada Trust Jazz Festival, hosting such greats as David Sanborn, Roy Hargrove and Dave Brubeck. The opening night act is Nikki Yanofsky, who is fresh off her massive success at the Vancouver Olympics. (She was the voice we all heard on that earworm of an anthem, “I Believe.”) Yanofsky will be a fun way to start the festival off and to potentially introduce a new audience to the acoustical delights of Koerner Hall.


Cathy Riches

Let me explain. Sunday, Colin Eatock my editor said “What’s the title of your piece for this month?” (The table of contents had to go to the printer early, you see.)  So I told him.

And now here I am, two days later, hoist with my own petard, wondering what the hell I was thinking of.

Maybe I was planning to write about the fact that up until the year of my birth, 1952, the Olympics offered medals for much more than sport. Canadian composer John Weinzweig, in fact, won a silver medal for composing at the 1948 London  Games.  I kid you not. But Martin Knelman at the Toronto Star scooped me on the Weinzweig story, almost two weeks ago. (He makes a habit of this sort of thing. Just ask the folks at the COC.)

It would have been a good story too. I would have started by musing on the irony that artists got booted from the Olympics in ‘52 because, the IOC said, the good ones were all professional, and therefore in violation of the Games’ principles of amateurism.  And I would have finished by muttering darkly at how in Vancouver 2010  we couldn’t think of anyone better to light the torch symbolizing all that is good in amateur sport than an individual whose own career epitomizes the extent to which in North America professional, mercenary sport reigns supreme.

Or maybe I was thinking that I could find something interesting to say about the relationship between music and sport.  And there probably is something worth exploring in that. “Compare and contrast the relationship of music and the Olympics to the relationships between a) music and supermarket shopping, b) music and winning lottery tickets, c) music and cellphones, d) music and academy award acceptance speeches … .”

Maybe I was just going to say something about wishing for the good old days of the CBC. Or wonder out loud why a song called “Both Sides Now” has three verses.  Or why anyone would come up with an arrangement of “O Canada” for an occasion like this that would prevent the crowd from singing along.

Maybe I was intending to write about Measha Brueggergosman’s stirring rendition of the Olympic anthem. But I must confess that I swooned so deeply when k.d. lang began singing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah that I did not resurface until the flags were flying, so I’d be lying if I said I was really there for that moment.

Or maybe I thought there was something profound to be said about the role of music in figure skating. After all, figure skating is dancing on ice, right? And dancers … . Well, never mind.

I have my athletic trophy somewhere (unless my mother finally threw it away). It was the cup I won in grade one in the Northcliff Primary School sports day.  First prize for … fanfare if you please … the under six musical chairs race. You know how it works, right? Twenty people traipse in a circle round nineteen chairs till the music stops. Then everyone races for a seat. The person left standing gets eliminated, another chair gets taken away, and so it continues until it’s just me and Philip Rogoff left, circling the one remaining chair. Waiting for the moment when the music stops, so we can go for gold.

And now? I’m sitting round waiting for the “going for gold” to stop, so I can get back to the music.

Guess I’ve got an an even worse than usual case of the Toronto end-of-February-tell-me-please-what-is-my-destiny blues.

And only music can cure that.

I heard pianist Angela Hewitt on Friday night, when she gave a recital at Roy Thomson Hall: Bach’s Italian Concerto, Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 10 No. 3 and Brahms’ Sonata No. 3. As the programme notes explained, this repertoire was chosen for a specific reason. These works were among the pieces she played on the same stage 25 years ago – in her successful effort to win first prize in the 1985 Toronto International Bach Competition.


Read more: Angela Hewitt Then and Now

Just how would the theatrical dance company Red Sky present the music of a spectacular integrated dance theatre work, by itself?  I was curious to hear for myself at The Music Gallery on January 20.

Read more: Tono by Red Sky

With the passing of Mary Gardiner on January 30, Canadian music has lost a true leader. Mary’s  extraordinary range of activities touched many lives and influenced many organizations.

Mary was an eloquent and persuasive advocate  for Canadian music. She had a gentle manner, but she was fierce in her determination to get things done. Her tireless work with the Association of Canadian Women Composers, the Alliance for Canadian New Music Projects, and the Canadian Music Centre left an indelible mark. To honour her achievements, the CMC and the Canadian League of Composers gave her their Friends of Canadian Music Award in 2003, and the Alliance for Canadian New Music Projects established a scholarship in her name.

As a composer, pianist, conductor and teacher, Mary accomplished far more than she would ever admit to. Her own compositions have been recorded, broadcast, and performed around the world.

Mary led by example. Her kindness, generosity, elegance, marvelous sense of humour,  unusual sensitivity, and reassuring confidence went far to help her accomplish so much. People listened to her.

A selection from recordings of Mary’s compositions can be heard on the Canadian Music Centre’s website: http://www.musiccentre.ca

We offer our deepest sympathies to her family.

Pamela Margles

Here's an artist, and a demo disc, worth talking about!

The intimate clarity Michelle Willis' Shining Bits and Pieces, an EP demo of original songs, captures and reveals every expressive nuance of the singer/pianists' silky voice. Twisting and turning, these songs explore the lyrics’ journey, creating musical textures that enwrap the listener. Shining does exactly that, glistening with freshness and energy.

The funky Quincy Jones-like groove of “Psychology” gives us a taste of Willis’ blues-R&B chops. She's able to make perfect sense of the quirky almost-anti-melodic semitone dissonance of “Rain,” and brings a wonderful spontaneity to “Weightless” and “Love Song.” Like other songs on this recording, “Open Hands” constantly entices and surprises with shifts of time, style, and texture. Backed by Heather Crawford (guitar), Charles James (bass), Shawn Rompre (drums), Kristjan Bergey (tenor sax) and vocalists Marla Walters, Janee Olivia and Andre Reid, Willis has a seemingly endless resource of vocal colours – breathy whisper, feline purr, bluesy growl, soulful wail – all used so naturally.

We’ll definitely be hearing more about this extremely talented singer-songwriter. In fact, you can hear her at the Rex this month, on February 9, 16, and 23, at 6:30 pm.

Frank Nakashimahead_shots_016

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