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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appetizer

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

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

Entrée

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

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

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

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

Dessert

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord Byron, in a portrait by Richard Westall.George Gordon Byron—best known simply as ‘Lord Byron’—is often considered one of the Romantic Era’s greatest poets. But a number of Byron’s most famous works, among them his celebrated short poem She Walks in Beauty, have a lesser-known musical and spiritual connection. In a rare concert this month at the Kiever Shul in Toronto, a group of local musicians will shed light on the origins and legacy of some of Byron’s best-loved works.

Several of what now are among Byron’s most famous short poems were originally published in 1815 as a collection of music and lyrics titled Hebrew Melodies. The lyrics were meant to be sung to traditional synagogue melodies, supplied for the book by Byron’s friend, cantor Isaac Nathan. The book was an instant hit—but while Byron’s lyrics remained famous for years to come, Nathan’s musical settings did not.

In a concert on October 29 at the Kiever Shul, violist Barry Shiffman, soprano Stacie Carmona, clarinetist Ori Carmona, and musicians from the Royal Conservatory will come together to perform a selection of traditional and new Jewish music. The centrepiece of the concert will be brand-new settings of Byron's Hebrew Melodies, inspired by the tunes Isaac Nathan wrote for them over 200 years ago.

Toronto composer Charles Heller is the person behind the project. Heller, who has been involved in synagogue music for over 50 years, has composed new setting of Byron’s collection that use Nathan’s music as a starting point. “The project will be of great interest to lovers of Jewish Music and Byron,” he says. “Byron’s poems are remarkable for their sympathy with Jewish suffering and longing for a restoration of Jewish national independence.”

Heller isn’t new to the task, either. In 2015, Heller composed, performed and recorded a song cycle titled Tramvay Lider (Streetcar Songs)—a setting of Yiddish poems by acclaimed Toronto poet Shimen Nepom, who worked as a College St. streetcar conductor until his death in 1939, and who wrote the poems as a description of life on the streetcar. This earlier cycle was also featured in a concert at the Kiever, a venue Heller describes as “having a reputation for a charming and restful atmosphere, as well as good acoustics and an intimate feel, very conducive to concerts.”

For Heller, though the two projects present totally different musical and poetic worlds, it’s easy to hear the cantorial influence in both—as is the case with much classical music. “Always at the back of my mind, cantorial chant is a form of melismatic chant very influenced by the meaning of the words,” he says. “Ernest Newman heard it in Bloch, and Schoenberg heard it in Mahler, in the Abschied from Das Lied von der Erde.

Heller himself intends to traverse musical styles and centuries in the same way—and while he’s committed to honouring the work of Byron and Nathan, he’s also bringing to this performance something local and new. “I used a few of the traditional synagogue melodies as arranged by Nathan in 1815, but also there is much completely original music,” he says. “So my piece is a collaboration: between me, Byron, traditional synagogue melodies and Isaac Nathan’s 19th-century cantorial style.”

“Hebrew Melodies” takes place at the Kiever Shul at 25 Bellevue Ave., Toronto, on October 29 at 2pm; visit our listings for details.

rev revcropElisa Citterio. Photo credit: Monica Cordiviola.rev cropTafelmusik, Toronto’s best-known period performance ensemble, played the first concert of their new season from September 21-24 at Koerner Hall. The program included concerti by Handel, Corelli and Vivaldi and a suite by Rameau, all led by their new music director, Elisa Citterio. The playing was incredible throughout, but I also experienced an unexpected revelation during the show: rather than seeing the performance as merely a gathering of musicians onstage, stuck in a static, determined and immovable formation (pairs of players sharing a music stand, ancient in its acoustically optimal strategies), I became aware of the subtle physical communications that took place between the orchestral players as they moved through the music. It occurred to me that they were dancing as well as playing, not just as individuals but also as a group, realizing the innately dance-based structures of the composers’ works through their bodies as well as their violins, violas, bassoons and flutes. They were, in essence, dancing a tango for us there onstage.

The orchestra is onstage, dancing a tango; the leader is moving her hips, arms, legs, head, torso, clavicles heading the charge. Everything is vital and exciting but always in control, and the players behind her are feeding off her energy. Smiles are traded back and forth between players; the violinists smirk and wink and giggle (one misses the occasional entry, he’s having so much fun! He always recovers admirably.)

Everyone onstage is dressed in black, or close enough. A violinist downstage left, sparkling in a silvery, glittery dress, bops to the music like a go-go dancer on roller blades while cellists play solos like Dizzy Gillespie, riffing like Hendrix, fingers flying like Jimmy Page. A cadenza is improvised and for a moment the sounds of the prescribed, notated music on the page are overtaken by the vibe of an impromptu jam session. You forget that you’re in one of the city’s finest concert halls and get taken to that place all performers remember as the purest form of the art, spontaneous and free extemporization, that place where things happen that can never be repeated, although this performance has been and will be repeated throughout the week.

Bassoons look like saxophones boxing as they bob and weave, taking the bass line then the melody, oboes and violins and horns trading solos – a great feeling, a great vibe (and this is only the beginning!) and it seems for a brief moment like you’re the only one in the hall.

But you’re not. The man in the row behind seems unaware that he is whispering, more than audibly, throughout the concert:

“Yesss…”

“Mhmmmm…”

And, once a movement or work is over,

“That’s the end.”

He whispers with delight at a skillfully executed cadenza or flourish even when others in the crowd look bored. Listening attentively takes a lot of different forms.

At intermission there’s a reception for the younger crowd (hosted by Tafelscene, the under-35 club that has intermission parties at certain shows throughout the year) in a bustling cordoned-off area with free beer and wine. Everyone seems to know each other, breaking into cliques and groups like a high school reunion or an office lunch break around an alcoholic water cooler, and it’s good to see so much support from and for a younger demographic, still underrepresented in the classical world. Some of the performers step out onto the mezzanine and mingle with these young concertgoers, exchanging looks and smiles and conversation, welcoming them and encouraging them in their exploration of this ancient music and its age-defying wonders.

Later in the evening the final suite jives along, lively and sprightly and ebullient, vivid in its characterization. You can imagine the first performance in 1763 Paris: powdered wigs, ridiculously voluminous gowns, collars, gold and palatial scenery as the gentry dance and the performers perform.

The drummer hammers a beat and the players stomp through the Airs gay:

“Yeeesssss…”

The string players’ fingers move frantically but uniformly, choreographically, on their fingerboards as the Contredanses sprint past our ears – if they had ribbons, the bows would look like gymnastic wands:

“Mmmhmmmmm…”

As the last notes are played, the audience stands in rapture:

“That’s the end.”

Onstage these masterful musicians possess dual powers – part black-collar courtiers playing the baroque folk’s jazz, entertainers like Counts Basie, Bernstein, Brubeck and Barenboim – part mythical gatekeepers, opening our ears and minds to the wonders of the past. Where else can someone with no everyday musical, artistic, or spiritual knowledge suddenly become enlightened by and immersed in previously unknown cultural wonders? Such is the beauty of this music, a time capsule opened before our eyes and ears. For two short hours that Saturday night all sense of the present was lost, overwhelmed by the energy put out by that group of dancers that took us all for a ride through some of the great songs of long ago, and we are the better for it.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

The New Horizons Band of Toronto.Mont Orford is nestled in Mont Orford National Park, in the eastern townships region of Quebec. It's also where the New Horizons International Music Association – perhaps best-known for their New Horizons band program for mature student and amateur musicians – held a music camp, from September 10 to September 14, 2017. As a clarinetist and member of the New Horizons Band in Toronto, I packed up my instrument and prepared to attend.

The New Horizons philosophy of music-making for mature adults, founded by Dr. Roy Ernst, was prevalent at this camp. Ernst, former professor emeritus at Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, attended himself, and performed in many of the camp’s activities.

The talented faculty from Canada and the United States enjoyed sharing time and music-making with over 150 mature attendees, over four days of rehearsals and workshops. Music sessions included several interesting and motivational choices: conch choir, Celtic and ukulele ensembles, and Jazz and Dixieland bands; chorus and pop song choirs; and concert bands at both advanced and intermediate levels. Excellent performances by all camp attendees at the final concerts concluded the four-day program.

Dan (left) and Lisa Kapp, with alphorn, at a performance of an alphorn solo with Resa's Pieces Band earlier this year.Several members of the New Horizons Toronto Band were in attendance. The talented Toronto musicians participated in all sessions, playing a cross-section of wind and string instruments. One outstanding instrument was the alphorn, played daily by none other than Dan Kapp, music director of the New Horizons Band of Toronto. At 7am every morning, camp attendees/musicians were awakened with that tone! Dan also conducted the advanced band. The president of the New Horizons Band of Toronto, flutist Randy Kligerman, was also in attendance, performing in the advanced band as well as in the woodwind and ukulele ensembles.

As I have discovered, a music camp experience has many motivational aspects. For mature adult music makers, the self-directed learning opportunities in music ensembles, sectionals, choirs, choruses and bands are available, for those who seek them out – with New Horizons being a prime example. Attending my third International New Horizons Band Camp was rewarding – and with this motivation, I will continue to attend band camps in 2018.

On that note, do attend a New Horizons band camp. Soon.

More information on New Horizons music camps, as well as the New Horizons band programs, can be found at www.newhorizonsmusic.org.

Gail Marriott is a clarinet player (intermediate and jazz) and an educator/financial planner.

pimienta cropLido Pimienta performing during the Polaris Music Prize gala in Toronto on Monday, September 18, 2017. Photo credit: Chris Donovan / The Canadian Press.It is almost three years to the day that I first covered the Polaris Music Prize Gala for The WholeNote.

I’ve spent my creative and journalistic career in the classical, contemporary concert and various world music camps. Founded in 2006 by Steve Jordan, a former A&R Executive with Warner Music Canada and True North Records, Polaris seemed to me to represent an alternate – and in many ways much more mainstream – picture of our national music scene. Embedded in the Canadian music industry and notwithstanding its inclusive-sounding mission statement – “A select panel of [Canadian] music critics judge and award the Prize without regard to musical genre or commercial popularity” – I must admit Polaris was just not high on my personal radar.

That was until Tanya Tagaq’s brilliant, overtly political album Animism made the 2014 Polaris shortlist. Joined onstage by her band (including violinist/producer Jesse Zubot and extraordinary drummer Jean Martin) and Christine Duncan’s 40-voice Element Choir, Tagaq’s Animism album was awarded the Prize later that September 22 night.

The video of their exhilarating 10-minute performance eventually garnered a record number of online Polaris views. Tagaq’s win marked an even more significant Polaris milestone – the first time the Prize was awarded to an Indigenous musician. (The album also took the JUNO Award for Aboriginal Album of the Year the following year.)

My report When Tanya Tagaq Won the 2014 Polaris Music Prize mentioned the importance of sonic mindfulness in her work, privileging not so much music as an entertainment commodity, but sound as a universal human experience, a force for good in this world. Animism embodied those notions, and more. I saw in the album “a musical, political and cultural act of great bravery, [as well as] a provocative confrontation on colonial and ecological fronts…[and] a platform from which to continue discussions of social reconciliation and healing.”

Fast-forward to the Polaris 2017 shortlist.

What immediately caught my attention was that four of the ten albums chosen this year directly reflected current Indigenous realities. A Tribe Called Red, Lido Pimienta, Tanya Tagaq, all Indigenous artists, were joined by Gord Downie’s Secret Path, a powerful concept album about Chanie Wenjack, the young Anishinaabe boy who died in 1966 after escaping from a residential school. Secret Path acknowledges a dark chapter in Canadian history – and offers the hope of starting our country on a road to reconciliation by facing up to some very troubling truths. “We are not the country we think we are,” wrote The Tragically Hip’s frontman and lyricist Downie. “It will take seven generations to fix this.”

Arriving at the seventh floor foyer of Toronto’s The Carlu for the Polaris Gala on September 18, 2017, I was met with a room full of very loud music industry buzz. I bumped into a friend, Lido Pimienta’s percussionist Brandon Valdivia. It was Valdivia’s first Polaris and he seemed a mix of bemusement and excitement. When I mentioned the sometimes-sketchy sound system in the hall, he adroitly replied, “but Glenn Gould called the Eaton Auditorium’s acoustics among the best in North America,” before rushing off to set up.

Of the performances at the gala, Tanya Tagaq’s performance, of songs from her album Retribution, stood out – and stunned the audience. She ended with a cover of Nirvana’s Rape Me, during which a number of women in the audience rose dressed in red, fists held high, reminding us of the tragedy of the multitude of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

A Tribe Called Red was represented not by a live performance but a music video, as was Leonard Cohen and BADBADNOTGOOD. Feist sang I Wish I Didn't Miss You solo, accompanying herself on guitar; Leif Vollebekk sang his loose-limbed ballad All Night Sedans with his band; and the band Weaves rocked the house.

The Colombian-born Canadian singer-songwriter Lido Pimienta, who identifies as Afro-Colombian with Indigenous Wayuu heritage on her mother’s side, sang an explosive set, animated by a group of white-clad dancers in the final minutes. In addition to her acrobatic voice, the sound of the tambura (Colombian bass drum), snare drum, electronics and a four-piece horn section dominated the music. Her album La Papessa “has no guitar! I feel like there’s too much electric guitar in music, and it’s just so dude, so guy,” Pimienta said in a 2014 Musicworks interview.

At the concert’s end, last year’s Polaris Music Prize winner Kaytranada revealed this year’s winner, calling up an excited Pimienta, her mother and her 9-year-old son to the stage.

Lido Pimienta at the Polaris Music Prize gala in Toronto on Monday, September 18, 2017. Photo credit: Chris Donovan / The Canadian Press.Pimienta’s acceptance speech was peppered with references to themes she explored on her self-produced, independent, label-less album La Papessa (meaning The High Priestess, a card in the tarot), including racism, patriarchy, spousal abuse, resilience, independence and issues facing BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) communities. She made a point of acknowledging that we were guests on Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee land, and also the significance of winning Canadian music critics' top prize for an album sung mostly in Spanish, and not in English or French. She thanked “all the single mothers out there who inspire me.”

Pimienta’s 2017 Polaris win was a reminder of one powerful direction Canadian music is traveling today. Indigenous musical creators such as Tagaq, Pimienta, A Tribe Called Red and 2015’s Polaris Prize winner Buffy Sainte-Marie are being acknowledged by the mainstream not only for their artistic achievement, but also for their central contribution to the ever-evolving conversations about past, present and future Canadian identities. Like those forebears, Pimienta’s music is an act of political and cultural bravery, confronting mainstream white/settler status quos with fiery sounds and words.

The Carlu, in its previous incarnation as the Eaton Auditorium, was certainly an impressive and influential place – one that Glenn Gould described in the mid-20th century as one of the best acoustics in the world. But the 2017 Polaris Prize gala at the renovated and rebranded Carlu, unlike the Eurocentric music culture that the Eaton Auditorium once represented, points to a different reality. As Gord Downie framed it, the only viable way forward is to listen closely to one another, and to the many diverse voices among us – particularly those who were making music on this land thousands of years before countries like Canada were even imagined.

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer.

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