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.

A still from the 2016 documentary Conduct! Every Move Counts.Filming the work of an orchestra is not an easy job. The television series Mozart in the Jungle, about a fictional orchestra, focuses on a handful of individuals to tell the broader story. Dutch documentary Around the World in 50 Concerts (dir. Heddy Honigmann, 2014) follows the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra on tour and looks at the orchestra’s work in a roundabout way, by talking to music lovers about how they experience the music they hear. While both creations have much to recommend them, neither is quite as exciting as the orchestral music-making itself—and neither exactly capture the contingency, the heartache and the unpredictability of a career in music.

Conduct! Every Move Counts, screened in Toronto on Tuesday, November 21 at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema as part of the cinema and the Royal Conservatory’s Music on Film series, made me think of these earlier examples because this 2016 German documentary about the Georg Solti Conductors’ Competition comes closer to both the glory and the gore. It zooms in on a few candidates (I presume the team interviewed many more of the 24 conductors selected for the 2008 competition before deciding who to follow), and while the winner did turn out to be among them, the documentary centres on the “losing” candidates and their personalities and musicianship, which they have in bucket-loads. The winner too comes across as an interesting character – Shizuo Kuwahara, who at first stands out for his bizarre arm gestures and grimacing, but who eventually convinces the orchestra (of the Frankfurt Opera), the jury, the audience on the final night as well as the doc viewers of the seriousness of his approach.

Still, he remains in the background. Foreground is occupied by the then little-known, now established conductors Alondra de la Parra (who doesn’t make it to the second round, and who in the cab on the way back to the airport says on camera: “I shouldn’t have done it. I already have my orchestra, I already conduct – I really didn’t need this”), James Lowe, Andreas Hotz, and the “dark horse” figure in this film, the very young Aziz Shokhakimov. Shokhakimov and Lowe become fast friends and the camera captures them a few times playing the “guess the symphony by my hand movement” game.

The director, Götz Schauder, managed to access and film the jury’s pre-selection of candidates, the rounds of the competition which are not open to the public, jury deliberations, the announcement of results, and of course, the final, public round at the Frankfurt Opera. On the candidates’ side, in addition to the on-camera interviews, there was access to their hotel rooms, prep time, off time, waiting time and the feedback conversations – including one particularly memorable one in which the orchestra’s first violinist tries to explain to Shokhakimov that he should try to be less cocky and listen more, since he just couldn’t fix a problem in a particular section in rehearsal.

This documentary is not afraid to go into details: there is a lot of useful footage on the nitty-gritty of the work of conducting and playing in an orchestra. There are also some surprises along the way, but after all is said and done, the reasoning of the jury remains looking fairly arbitrary, or mysterious at best. Competitions are there to drum up media interest and the excitement of the public, and to give a boost to the careers of musicians who don’t have connections or a big agency behind them. At the same time, competitions can be as arbitrary as awards and auditions, dependent on multiple other factors besides candidate’s musicianship and potential.

Conductor Tania Miller.In the post-screening Q&A at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, conductor Tania Miller talked about her own experiences with competitions – and as a young conductor, she’s tried some, including one that was won by the then still little-known Gustavo Dudamel. The Music on Film Series MC, the Royal Conservatory’s Mervon Mehta, asked her about her take on why there are still few women making a career in conducting, and she said she perceived three main reasons. First, the business side of a career in classical music: agencies, labels and media boost what they know and what’s been profitable so far, and that will be men. Second, some of the women conductors just out of school will not feel confident enough faced with what looks like an awe-inducing, largely male monolith – the classical music canon and the people whose job is to run it and write about it – and will need a confidence boost which may not come from anywhere. ‘Well, if nobody else is willing to believe in me, they must be right and I must be wrong,’ is the kind of thinking that may make a woman conductor change careers. And third, Miller said, is in part a matter of choice. It’s not an easy road to take. Alondra de la Parra says at one point in the documentary that she is studying scores from early morning to late in the evening, “and I believe her,” said Miller. “It is actually like that.” Miller went on to say that, if you want a family as an aspiring conductor, you must be extremely lucky to have an accommodating partner who is willing to do a lion’s share of child-rearing and relationship maintenance.

Greatest laugh of the evening? Mervon Mehta describing seasoned orchestra players as, on principle, “cranky bastards.” “Not the Royal Conservatory Orchestra,” interjected Miller. “Yes, not them, because they’re still students,” said Mehta to another wave of audience laughter.

The Music on Film series continues on January 30 with Strad Style, a documentary about an Ohio-based, Stradivari-obsessed violin maker, and February 27 with a bio-doc dedicated to Miriam Makeba, Mama Africa. Full program for Music on Film can be found here.

Lydia Perović is an arts journalist in Toronto.

Jake Epstein (L) and Sara Farb, singing a final duet as Springsteen and Dylan on November 14. Photo credit: Joanna Akoyl.How have I never been to an UnCovered concert until this point? How could I have missed that this series is right up my alley? Now a signature annual event for The Musical Stage Company, the UnCovered series makes a point of investigating and unearthing the stories told by popular songs and, via exploration with individual performers alongside artistic director Mitchell Markus and music director Reza Jacobs, creates new, explicitly theatrical musical arrangements to bring those stories out.

Every year, different singer/songwriters are chosen to be featured. This year they fell upon Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, a choice that led to a revelatory, moving, celebratory evening of both their and our times.

The evening began with Sara Farb as Bob Dylan. Calmly, with a quiet, almost disconcerting intensity, she came onstage to talk to us, slipping in and out of a cappella snippets of song before gradually moving into a full-throated performance of “Mr Tambourine Man.” It set the tempo and tone of the evening: a window into an unexpectedly self-deprecating, rather dark-humoured singer-songwriter denying to us that he had any deep purpose in the writing of his songs, that he was not, as some insisted, “the spokesman of his age.”

Throughout the first half of the evening, Farb (as Dylan) continued this theme, talking to us between songs performed by others, often watching from an armchair ensconced in the territory of the (magnificent) band. He continued to deny his importance until near the end of this first half, when he expressed the hope that someone might be found to carry on “the work” – work that clearly, through the performance of the songs, proved wrong his insistence that he wrote without any socio-political purpose.

In Part Two, Jake Epstein as Bruce Springsteen took over the narrative duties, as his own story overlapped with Dylan's – the young Springsteen inspired to write songs and “make a difference” in the same way, but along that journey having to fight being compared to Dylan, and create his own identity and style. Like Farb as Dylan, Epstein was completely believable as his character, embodying Springsteen’s personality and his clear approach to involving the audience in the concert experience – a more joyful, lighthearted approach than Dylan’s, with songs with just as much weight and anger and purpose, yet also filled with longing and hope.

The superb company of singers joyfully shared the songs with us, excavating the stories and bringing them to life with subtle detail. Melissa O'Neill, with her rough, dark velvet sound, made magic first in Dylan's “It Ain’t Me Babe,” and then again in the classic Springsteen “The River,” making the iconic character of Mary live before us in a moving partial duet with Epstein’s Springsteen. Brent Carver proved again why he is at the top of the list of interpreters of song, imperceptibly gathering up all the audience into his arms to wring our hearts with a quiet exploration of “Knocking on Heaven's Door” that built to an apocalyptic passionate finish. There was also the joyful release of full rock and roll power in Dylan's “Like A Rolling Stone,” with Farb saying to the band “now play loud” and singing full out – and in the second half, Andrew Penner backed up by Hailey Gillis and Arinea Hermans blasting out a joyously rocking rendition of “Born to Run.”

All was tied up at the end, with Dylan and Springsteen meeting backstage on the occasion of  Dylan being awarded the Kennedy Centre Honours – Dylan asking, “Is there anything I can do for you?”, Springsteen replying, “Are you kidding, you have already done it” – and the two of them joining in a quietly powerful duet of “The Times They Are A Changin’,” an arrangement that in its subtlety and complexity summarized all we had heard: difficult times are still here, and we still need music and song that connects with our world, that tells its stories and that asks the questions and speaks the truths that not everyone wants to hear.

I could easily write several pages more about all the talent onstage and in the full creative team: Jackie Richardson’s soul-inspired rocking of the house with a powerful yet soft, all-encompassing “Forever Young,” Hailey Gillis and Arinea Hermans, who did excellent work as the backup singers and giving us exquisite harmonies of notes and emotions in “Make You Feel My Love,” Jake Epstein again showing a wide range, from an aching performance of Dylan's “Don't Think Twice/It's All Right” in the first half to creating Springsteen before our eyes in the second.

This is an unmissable show and series – and I am already looking forward to the next one.

The Musical Stage Company’s present “UnCovered: Dylan & Springsteen” at Koerner Hall in Toronto, November 14 to 16.

Toronto-based “lifelong theatre person” Jennifer (Jenny) Parr works as a director, fight director, stage manager and coach, and is equally crazy about movies and musicals.

cassettes100BANNERThe original performance of Cassettes 100, at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 1971. Photo c/o Andrea Mapili.At a performance in Toronto’s Distillery District this Sunday, over a hundred people will come together to experience community, and community listening, in a monumental way.

Cassettes 100, a 30-minute music/movement piece taking place at the Distillery’s Young Centre on November 19, is, in some ways, exactly what it sounds like: a set of 100 pre-recorded cassette tracks, all played at once. However, it’s also more than that. The piece, first created and presented by late Filipino composer and ethnomusicologist José Maceda in 1971, requires 100 ‘musicians’ to weave their way through and around the audience – each of them carrying one of those 100 cassette players, playing recordings of indigenous Philippine instruments, voices and natural sounds. This performance will be its Canadian premiere.

José Maceda was a leader in the field of ethnomusicology, renowned for his field recordings of the Indigenous music of the Philippines. His granddaughter, artist, movement and awareness coach Andrea Mapili, and theatre artist Byron Abalos, are behind this Toronto performance of Maceda’s work.

José Maceda with field recording equipment. Photo c/o Andrea Mapili.“I’ve always been curious about my grandfather’s work,” explains Mapili. “This January, [Byron and I] were both in the Philippines for the kickoff of Maceda 100, the yearlong celebration of his life and work in honour of [what would have been his 100th birthday]. We were a part of a Cassettes 100 performance there, and we were blown away – and we just thought, ‘we really need to bring this to Canada.’”

The Toronto performance will be a collaborative effort between the University of the Philippines’ Center for Ethnomusicology and Soulpepper Theatre Company’s 2017 Shen Development Festival – a free one-day event dedicated to celebrating theatre, dance and musical works by artists of Asian heritage.

The team needs 100 volunteers to make the project happen; so far, they’re at 70, and counting. “We have more people signing up every day,” says Abalos. “We really tried our best to reach out to many different communities: the academic community, the theatre community, the dance community, the Filipino community in Toronto, and the new music community as well.”

The volunteers will be coached on how to move throughout the space in a rehearsal the morning of the show, have lunch, and then start the performance. They’ll be separated into teams, each with its own distinct choreography, and move through the theatre lobby, stairwells and balconies – creating shifting sonic textures as they go.

“We’re building a soundscape – a moving soundscape,” Mapili says. “That’s really what the piece allows us to do.”

For Mapili and Abalos, Cassettes 100 sits at the juncture of several monumental moments in time – the Maceda 100 centenary celebrations, Canada 150, and the development of Soulpepper’s Shen series. And for both of them, reimagining this piece in a way that makes it transnational, integrative and inclusive has been crucial.

“My grandfather was really interested in technology as a tool for humanism and humanitarianism,” says Mapili. “So it was very important to him to use as low-tech equipment as possible. That’s why we’re actually using .mp3 players for this performance, as opposed to cell phones or even cassettes [like those used in the premiere]. It’s the most low-tech, accessible, cheap-as-possible technology within the current, modern context.”

“And I think it’s important for us to have this moment where we can gather a lot of people to celebrate the launch of this festival,” adds Abalos. “It’s a way to call in people from other communities, so that we’re not so siloed. So that it’s not like, “here’s an Asian Canadian festival; it’s for Asian Canadians’. No – this is a festival for everyone. And it will be a chance for people from Soulpepper’s [audience base], who are used to coming to that space, to be a part of something that is from a different tradition other than the Western, European tradition of theatre, dance and art.”

“We’re trying to highlight difference in people,” says Mapili. “We’re trying to unite through diversity. And I think that that’s a huge hope for Canada right [now]. We hope that even though everybody’s different, we can still come together as a community. And I hope that by seeing the size and the scope of this project – 100 people, almost like a microcosm of Toronto – that people will leave with the knowledge that connection through difference is possible.”

Cassettes 100 will be performed at the launch of Soulpepper’s 2017 Shen Development Festival on Sunday, November 19 at 1pm, at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto. For event details or information about volunteering, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/1185305688237509/.

Soulpepper’s Shen Development Festival is a free day-long event on November 19 featuring the work of Asian and Asian-Canadian performers and artists. For details, visit https://www.soulpepper.ca/performances/shen-festival.

Ivar Taurins as “Herr Handel,” at a Tafelmusik Messiah performance. Photo credit: Gary Beechey.Ivar Taurins as “Herr Handel,” at a Tafelmusik Messiah performance. Photo credit: Gary Beechey.A palpable change takes place in the atmosphere the day after Halloween. Creeping ahead in our calendars with ever greater urgency while we nurse our M&M-induced sugar hangovers, grim reapers are suddenly replaced with gingerbread lattes, skulls with seasonal spices, and the tricks and treats cleared out to make way for trees and tinsel. Commercial segments are suddenly comprised of barely palatable (and occasionally downright awful) adaptations of carols, jingles and other seasonal songs, which have already made me buy three unnecessary pairs of pants and a shirt…Fa la la la la, la la la la!

And at the same time as all this takes place around us, our mailboxes are inundated with invitations to holiday parties and weddings. The beauty and romanticism of a winter wedding, freshly-fallen snow draping evergreens and wood-burning chalet fireplaces, makes jingle-bell time a swell time to get married in a one-horse sleigh.

If you find yourself needing a festive boost at the end of all this running around, be sure to catch another holiday tradition: one of the Greater Toronto Area’s plethora of performances of Handel’s Messiah. Here are six Messiah performances that we’re looking forward to this year – arranged in an appropriately matrimonial manner.

Something Old

Messiah is a classic work, and each year it receives numerous top-notch interpretations. Here are two ensembles that will undoubtedly bring the audience to its feet with rousing performances of that legendary ‘Hallelujah!’ chorus.

Who: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
When: December 18 to 20, 22 to 23; see www.tso.ca for concert times.
What to bring: Kleenex – I challenge you to make it through an entire Messiah without tearing up at least once.

Who: Grand Philharmonic Choir
When: December 9, 7:30pm
What to bring: See above.

Something New

Handel wrote Messiah for a traditional ensemble of orchestra and chorus, but not everyone wants to hear that style of classically-performed classical music. For those who like their mulled wine old and their bottles new, here’s the Messiah for you.

Who: Soundstreams
When: December 4 to 6, 8pm
What to bring: An open mind. Nominated for the Classical:NEXT 2017 Innovation Award, Electric Messiah promises to revamp Handel’s holiday classic through a plugged-in and completely immersive musical experience.

Something Borrowed

For those whose attention spans and renal systems can’t Handel (ha!) a full-length performance of Messiah, here are two groups that provide concerts of selections and excerpts, hand-picked from the score to provide a satisfying concert experience without the extended duration of Handel’s original tome.

Who: Pax Christi Chorale
When: December 2, 4pm
What to bring: A festive sweater, the brighter and uglier the better.

Who: Porgiamor Chamber Concerts
When: November 22, 7:30pm
What to bring: An affinity for art song. This interesting concert removes the orchestral and choral parts from Handel’s score, presenting all the solo recitatives, arias, and duets with piano accompaniment.

Something Blue

For diehard singers and do-it-yourselfers, participating in a sing-along Messiah is as much of an annual tradition as baking cookies, stuffing a turkey and decorating the tree. With a national study recently finding there are more choral singers in Canada than hockey players, perhaps we’ll soon find sing-along Messiahs on TSN 15, receiving coverage alongside a curling tournament or two!

Who: Tafelmusik
When: December 17, 2pm
What to bring: Your favourite dog-eared Messiah score. Bonus points if you have the Bärenreiter edition – it’s blue!

Stay informed about these and dozens of other local performances of Handel’s Messiah by checking our listings online and in the upcoming December issue of the magazine.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

23316828 10155724437963815 8702082761833099016 nBANNERThe Vancouver Symphony Orchestra welcomes composer Charlotte Bray (standing, left), during a concert including her music at the ISCM 2017 festival.Of the 30 or more concerts that took place in Vancouver during ISCM 2017, the annual festival presented by the International Society for Contemporary Music, only a few involved orchestras. Naturally, due to the greater costs of larger musical forces, the majority of concerts in the festival were for smaller ensembles. It was, nonetheless, impressive that the organizers of ISCM 2017 Vancouver were able to include several orchestras: the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, and the Victoria Symphony. And then there was the Vertical Orchestra, definitely not your conventional classical orchestra – but more about that in a moment.

On November 5, day four of the week-long ISCM festival, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO) and music director Bramwell Tovey presented a concert of Canadian and international works at Vancouver's Orpheum Theatre. VSO composer-in-residence Jocelyn Morlock introduced the evening, which began with the premiere of a re-write of her own 2015 composition, That Tingling Sensation. She said that her work was inspired by “that fascinating human experience of being physically thrilled by music.”

“I think that this is why people love music – that visceral reaction to beauty, to energy, to lovely or powerful sound,” she explained. “I've named my piece out of love for this ideal, and for the kaleidoscope and electrifying palette of sounds the orchestra can create.” Whatever prompted the re-write of the piece, Morlock seemed to get everything right: her ten-minute composition scintillated with energy and orchestral colour.

Every ISCM concert contains works that are chosen in advance by an international jury. At the VSO concert, this was the case with UK composer Charlotte Bray's brilliant composition, At the Speed of Stillness. Bray explained that the imagery that prompted the music was a poem by the surrealist poet Dora Maar. “The energy, sense of endless movement, and exhaustion encapsulated in the poem permeates the music,” she wrote in the program notes. “Important also is the play of paradoxical ideas: the contrary notion that something moving quicker than the human eye detects can appear to be motionless.” Bray read Maar's poem, and then Tovey and the orchestra immediately dazzled the audience with her powerful musical depiction, revelling in colourful and inventive orchestration and an unstoppable pulsing drive.

German composer Friedrich Heinrich Kern's Indigo was another jury-selected composition at the VSO concert. The work had been commissioned by the German chemical company, BASF, to celebrate the restoration of a concert hall in Ludwigshafen, Kern's hometown. Kern said he intended the work to exploit the acoustics of the hall. However, Kern shared another impetus for the work – namely the connection of BASF to the creation of synthetic indigo dye in the late 19th century. In fact, the celebratory nature of the work was uplifting in a broadly stated sense, and yet another take on colourful orchestration.

A highlight of the evening was the collaborative composition Pressed for Time, a sitar concerto jointly composed by the soloist, Mohamed Assani, from Pakistan and Vancouver composer John Oliver. Oliver and Assani managed to create an attractive, effective work that was very well received – a true meeting of Hindustani classical music and Western orchestral composition, and a wonderful example of community-building.

Later in the festival on November 7, an orchestra of a very different nature performed at the Atrium of the Vancouver Downtown Public Library: the Redshift Vertical Orchestra, named after the way that Redshift organizes ensembles to play spread out throughout the seven levels of the library space. The November 7 show, titled “21st-Century Guitars,” involved seven world premieres for guitar ensemble, performed by what composer and organizer Jordan Nobles described to me as “18 of the most innovative and respected guitarists working in Canada today.”

According to Nobles, “the Vertical Orchestra brings music into the public sphere with works addressing important themes and ensemble configurations tailored to unique architectural spaces.” Nobles told me this was the seventh time that he and his Redshift organization had staged such site-specific events.

As the audience entered the enormous atrium, the 18 electric guitarists were already positioned high up in alcoves lining the outer wall of the library atrium, tuning up their gear. The air was filled with random frequencies, exactly as one might hear in a conventional hall where a classical orchestra is preparing to play. But in this case, the sounds of 18 electric guitarists were sending signals that bounced around the reflective surfaces of the space, producing a sort of audio halo that was at once chaotic and mesmerising.

At the appointed time, all fell silent, and we were welcomed to the performance by Nobles, whose piece would be the first of the seven on the program. At Nobles' signal, the music began.

From composition to composition, each composer's work played with the acoustics of the space, stringing a succession of contrasting sonic adventures with pieces by Nobles, Lisa Cay Miller, Alfredo Santa Ana, Rita Ueda, James Maxwell, Benton Roark and Tim Brady – all Canadian composers. The effect of all this cascading, reflecting, enveloping sound was magical – and made the Redshift Vertical Orchestra’s performance an ISCM festival highlight.

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

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

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