In our W5 series, we select one upcoming event, and get the musicians themselves to answer, in their own words, the basic (and sometimes not-so-basic) questions.

croppedRecitals are usually about showcasing a soloist’s musical expertise – but in some cases, they’re also about expanding it. For pianists Christina Petrowska Quilico and Hye Won Cecilia Lee, an upcoming recital at the Canadian Music Centre quickly turned into an opportunity to curate a recital with a less-than-typical common thread. In this case, the through line is jazz: piano works by classical composers delving into the jazz world, jazz works arranged for classical forces, and other genre-traversing music that isn’t quite as easy to classify.

We spoke with pianists Quilico and Lee to ask them the whos, whats, whens, wheres and whys of their upcoming show.

Christina Petrowska Quilico and Hye Won Cecilia Lee.The WholeNote: Who is involved with this project?
Christina Petrowska Quilico and Hye Won Cecilia Lee: Us, and the composers that we have worked/are working directly with: Bill Westcott, Michel-Georges Bregent, Phil Nimmons and Danny Oore.

WN: What’s the connection between all of the pieces on your program?
CPQ: I wanted my half to reflect many styles of piano music inspired by jazz. I wanted to include a Japanese composer – Masamitsu Takahashi – who wrote a very virtuosic, jazzy piece. Some pop influences are included in Metal Tiger and raucous rock and roll in Go Rocker Gangs Go (Both pieces are by Québécois composer Brégent, my first husband who wrote these pieces as a teenager, and who passed away too young).

Bill Westcott's pieces, Wannabe a Rag and All Boogies, are fun with lots of rhythm. The last two pieces I chose are Art Tatum stylings on songs by Duke Ellington and Gus Kahn. Very smooth and “cool.”

HWCL: I wanted to go the opposite direction and choose jazz musicians who wrote “classical” compositions. A couple of years ago, I was asked to take part in celebration concert for Phil Nimmons’ 90th birthday concert at the U of T Faculty of Music: I presented two shorties, the Toccata and the slow movement of the Sonata, and became quite interested in playing the whole sonata at some point. This summer, the “two camellias” (Red Camellia + White Camellia), which Phil wrote back in 1946, arrived in my inbox – and that a very tidy, succinct Nimmons set.

I wanted to complement the set with another piece that shared a certain something, so I went running to ask another friend – Danny Oore, a monster talent who I admire very much, and who also studies and works at the jazz department of the Faculty. He dug up a piece for me, The Mess, which includes many elements we often talk about: “Rests with fermatas are an invitation to tune and retune the music and the environments – its soundscape, people, and other things – and experience them as one...mess.”

So these selections come from the lives of people who I have interwoven with, for quite a while now. Life is varied and interesting and somehow, the pieces sorted themselves out into a nice, neat little collection.

WN: Where is your performance taking place? Why did you choose this space?
CPQ/HWCL: We were approached by Carol Gimbel, who has curated a set of concerts called CMC Presents. We will be at the Chalmers Performance Space, on the main floor of the Canadian Music Centre: 20 St. Joseph St., Toronto.

WN: When will the show be?
CPQ/HWCL: The show is on this coming Sunday, 24 September, at 3:30pm. Come on down, get a glass of ‘something,’ sit down with us, for a sweet Sunday afternoon.

WN: And why this particular idea, at this particular time?
HWCL: A person is made of many layers, interests and facets. However, it is too easy (or convenient) to be pigeon-holed into an identity. Christina is well-known for her contemporary solo piano performances, and I mainly work as a collaborative pianist/accompanist. However, we both have many interests beyond our “main” works – in music, and in life in general.

As result, in order to keep oneself supple, it is necessary to seek, experiment and present something beyond that “normal” thing that one does. So with Carol’s invitation, we brought things that stretch us, and hopefully our community – things that are non-standard, new, and highly personal. The day that one extends oneself outside of the boundaries – whether [those boundaries are] self-imposed, or outlined by the convenience of custom – is always a good day.

Pianists Christina Petrowska Quilico and Hye Won Cecilia Lee will present solo piano works by Masamitsu Takahashi, Michel-Georges Brégent, William Westcott, Art Tatum, Phil Nimmons and Danny Oore, as well as selections for piano four-hands by Nikolai Kapustin and Samuel Barber, at the Canadian Music Centre on Sunday, September 24 at 3:30pm. For more details, visit our listings or www.musiccentre.ca/node/148275.

Miigis.My earliest memories of Fort York are of spending Saturday mornings when I was about ten years old learning how to make musket balls and apple pie, how to fire cannons and plan fortifications. How magical then to see how, in last weekend’s new music theatre production Miigis by Red Sky Performancethe Fort was overtaken by Indigenous dancers and musicians reclaiming the space and adding to its history – and making it that much richer in the process.

Artistic director of Red Sky Performance, Sandra Laronde, spoke about this juxtaposition in her introduction to the evening: how disconcerting at first and then how ironic it was for the company to be rehearsing in Fort York's Blue Barracks to the frequent sound of cannon fire, and surrounded by young people in the uniform of British soldiers during the war of 1812, but how as they listened to an elder retell in this setting the epic story of the movement of the Anishinaabe peoples from the sea to freshwater – the mythic prophetic history known as the seven fires prophecy – it became an increasingly positive merging of energies, a reclamation of Haudenosaunee (Toronto) “where trees grow in the water,” and a strong message of hope.

When I talked with Sandra Laronde back in August she spoke passionately about wanting to immerse audiences in nature while sharing with them this story. I was attracted by her passion for the project and was curious to see how it would manifest in the physical production of Miigis. How much of this story would be tangibly conveyed by the choreography? How much would it be storytelling and how much a more abstract reflection of the story and prophecy and the emotions that arise from it?

For me it felt to be a fascinating combination of the tangible with the evocative, with some elements of literal storytelling but other, more abstract depictions of an epic journey.

The opening procession of Miigis, at Fort York on September 15 and 16.The opening movement, where male and female traditional dancers in full regalia made their way along the southern barrier wall of Fort York into the stage space (to recorded music), set the tone for Indigenous peoples’ reclamation of the land and acted as a cleansing of the palate (from urban Toronto) before the magic of the Indigenous-influenced contemporary dance and music of Miigis began.

Truly it did feel magical. In a natural historical oasis, against a stunning urban backdrop, six supremely fit contemporary dancers, dressed in flowing water-like silk costumes designed by Julia Tribe, led by choreographer and soloist Jera Wolfe, focused their condensed forces of energy and emotion to carry us on a journey of creation, travel, challenge and hope.

To a powerful, varied, original score played live from the side of the stage, the story began with hands and arms emerging sinuously from under the bare skeleton framework of a miigis (cowrie) shell – as if the people were being born, then flowing out of the shell onto the earth. Next the shell became a boat, a coracle shell to carry them from the sea to the first of the prophesied Promised Lands marked by miigis, the symbolism of shell, boat and prophecy intermingling.

The choreography then became more abstract. In solos, duos, trios, and movements for the full ensemble, the story of a journey unfolded – one that began with great hope but that was also filled with struggle, hard work and challenges. All of it was choreographed in a unique language combining Indigenous movement with non-Indigenous contemporary dance, creating a new vocabulary that felt specially invented for this work and subject matter.

I wish I could play back the full piece to capture again all the intricate detail. I am sure I missed some references more clear to the Indigenous members of the audience, and I couldn’t anchor all the movements to specific points in the epic story, but I did feel carried along on the journey.

Miigis, at Fort York on September 15 and 16.What was very clear toward the end was seeing the dance enter the territory of the eighth prophecy, where a choice is laid before mankind to choose either the path of working with the natural world or against it. Emerging from the hard work and harsh challenges of the earlier stages, the dancers’ movement grew more lyrical, with one female dancer, raised up by the others, reaching out to humanity to join her in hope for the future – and suddenly the accompanying song was in both Indigenous languages and English, opening up to let me more fully into the story, and all around me I could sense the audience feeling energized and inspired by the experience.

What would have made this experience even stronger would have been the opportunity to have access to that same moment the creative team had at the beginning of their rehearsal process, of hearing a community elder tell the stories before watching them come to life. Perhaps another time, at a future performance, this might happen. The eighth of the seven fire prophecies really speaks to all peoples as well as the First Nations of North America.

Sandra Laronde has been called “a force to be reckoned with.” She is a force we are lucky to have if she can keep creating works like this that bring people together.

Music theatre production Miigis, created by Red Sky Performance, was premiered in Toronto at Fort York, on September 15 and 16, 2017.

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.

Fin de Fiesta Flamenco, in performance at the Small World Music Centre.Fin de Fiesta Flamenco, in performance at the Small World Music Centre.On September 3, I had the pleasure of experiencing an absolutely breathtaking performance. Led by dancer Lia Grainger and comprising guitar, flute, vocals and cahon, Canadian/Spanish ensemble Fin de Fiesta Flamenco appeared at the Small World Music Centre that night, in the final Toronto date of a summer-long, international tour – bringing their powerful interpretations of Flamenco to an intimate, local stage.

Initially, the musicians entered the packed performance space with an aura of reverence and hyper-focus. The performance space itself is superbly designed for essentially acoustic artists – the lush drapery, excellent sound engineering, comfortable seating and intimacy of the room lend themselves to an authentic experience for both the audience members and the performers.

As the trio began the evening, the audience was reminded of the extreme antiquity of this musical form, as guitarist/composer Dennis Duffin introduced a “Palas” – a song of mourning, which is the earliest form of Flamenco – performed with voice and percussion only (guitar was a later addition). This heartrending vocal narrative seemed steeped in the mists of time and reminded me of other ancient musical forms that incorporate a similar scale and “recitative”-like phrasing – Celtic “Keening” (a chant of deep mourning), Christian liturgical chanting, the Muslim call-to-prayer and the chants of Jewish Cantors. Following that, a true musical highlight was the group’s rendition of Pedro Sierra’s Alegrias (Joy), which featured a lovely flute solo by Lara Wong. Acoustic guitarist Duffin is a facile and gifted musician. The tone of his instrument and his masterful playing were the spine of the performance, and vocalist Alejandro Mendia has a sinuous and powerful baritone voice – full of colours and dynamics, which perfectly captures the intensity of the form.

When Flamenco dancer Lia Grainger took the stage, things reached a supreme level. Not only was she technically thrilling, but her portable, wooden dance floor allowed the audience to hear every nuance of her complex footwork. While the rest of the ensemble shouted out words of support and enthusiasm, it was impossible to keep your eyes off of her – such control, stature, emotion. Although not Spanish by birth, I’m inclined to think that Grainger may have been a Flamenco dancer in a past life! After four mesmerizing dance numbers (including Bulerias and Guajiras), the first half of the program concluded, and Grainger left the stage dancing.

Fin de Fiesta Flamenco, in performance at the Small World Music Centre.The second half of the program was enhanced by the inclusion of Derek Gray – a soulful, skilled cahon player, who brought a sensual, percussive energy to the proceedings. Also a delight was the group’s take on the Chick Corea classic Tomatito, as was the intimate, acoustic moment with vocalist Mendia and guitarist Duffin. The two musicians pulled their chairs away from the microphones and performed a traditional song of love and longing. Mendia explained that the Spanish lyric translated as “I want to be like the Jesus figure on the Crucifix that hangs from the chain around your neck – so that I can be closer to you.” Needless to say, the wave of passion created by this musical moment was palpable.

The term “Fin de Fiesta,” from which the group takes its name, refers to a kind of open “jam” that occurs at the conclusion of every Flamenco festival in Andalusia. In a heartwarming and timeless display of openness, oneness and joyful inclusion, many audience members joined the group onstage and performed alongside the performers through dance and music. Duffin danced, vocalist Mendia danced and played guitar, and flutist Wong danced and sang while Grainger kept the rhythm of Mother Earth going throughout by leading the clapping, and joining in the dance. A fitting and uplifting end to a thoroughly marvelous evening.

Fin de Fiesta Flamenco performed at the Small World Music Centre in Toronto on September 3, 2017.

Lesley Mitchell-Clarke is a Media Consultant, Therapist and Music and Arts Writer based in Toronto and NYC.

come early
make sure you get a seat
they say

so i do
there’s no one else here

i sit
and wait
and drink

The Dakota Tavern.Two beer, two bourbon – I’m half drunk and the show hasn’t even started yet, but nothing sobers you up faster than Bach.

I’m in the Dakota Tavern, a subterranean bluegrass temple, icons of Willie Nelson and Jim Cuddy on the walls, lit dimly by hanging bulbs, their haze interrupted occasionally by blasts of light as the front door opens at the top of the stairwell. The bar is well-stocked, the stage empty except for a honky-tonk piano against the wall and a chair in the centre, in which our entertainer will sit momentarily.

It’s a small venue, seating 40 or so, but most of the seats are full and, although not a bluegrass crowd (more than half the people are baby boomers with their families), there’s an energy in the air. There are some young adults here, in their mid-twenties to early thirties from the looks of them.

There is no program to be found, no performer biography or souvenir shop, just a menu with three items on it: tacos, baked beans, and nachos. I like the minimalism and appreciate it as a conscious departure from our art music norms. Maybe it’s just cheaper, but I’m feeling decidedly anti-establishment this evening, drunk on beer and culture.

At 7:15 the show starts, and Toronto Symphony Orchestra cellist Roberta Janzen takes the stage. She’s nervous and slightly gauche, plucked from her usual gaggle of celli and put on solo display in this musical exposé. (Theatrical people talk about the fourth wall, but for solo musicians it’s a more cage-like experience, I think, like tigers at the zoo.)

She introduces the first piece, Bach’s Cello Suite No.5 in C minor. Maybe I’m imagining it, but there’s an increased sense of reverence within the audience once Bach’s name is mentioned, like the naming of a great religious figure or pagan deity.

Jesus Christ, Baal, Bach
you can take the composer away from the church
but you can’t take the church away from the composer.

Cellist Roberta Janzen.The suite is comprised of seven movements: Overture, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, two Gavottes, and a Gigue. Janzen plays on a modern cello, which suits the venue and fills the space with its rich, warm tone. Her overture is sharp, slow, and stately, the following fugue contoured and, although fast and demanding, always controlled. The allemande, courante, and gavottes are well played, too. Bach’s writing for cello is so rich and complex, it’s often a challenge to identify the intrinsic characteristics of each dance – I know they’re there, but I sometimes can’t find the forest through the trees. The gigue, however, is unmistakable, resplendent in its minor-key exuberance.

Everything changes with the Sarabande, described by Rostropovich as “the essence of Bach’s genius.” Here, Bach creates a beautiful, angular line that, although only one voice, cries out with the sound of many. I immediately think of the warworn works of Eastern composers, Schnittke and Ustvolskaya, even Shostakovich. Whether she knows it or not, Janzen has given us a taste of what is to follow in the savagely delightful, delightfully savage music of Zoltan Kodály.

Kodály’s Sonata is an undeniably Classical work in its form, three movements (fast - slow - fast) beautiful in their lyricism, yet feral and untamable in their vagrant tonality. Janzen plays from memory, ties her hair back between the first and second movements (oh, the wailing of the Adagio, yearning and lamenting and screeching from the depths of the instrument’s soul!), takes a deep gasp of air before the third, an incessantly vigorous folk dance.

i am sitting close enough that i can hear her breathe as she plays
her thoughts as she labours for the silent audience
feel the friction of horsehair and rosin on gut and steel.

The applause at the end feels restrained and insufficient, and I think we should be dancing a wild pagan dance, rioting in our excitement like that first Rite of Spring audience, but we are a civilized people – two curtain calls will suffice.

why are we not more moved by our art
where are the mosh pits of western art music?

Outside the bar is the bus stop, a dirty, crud-filled street corner where hipsters muddle about, oblivious to the magic that has taken place in the nearby basement. As I stagger home on the bus and subway, I know I’m not the same as I was an hour before – I look the same, feel the same – but a transaction has taken place.

All art is a transaction, if done properly, as people come together with their own thoughts and feelings (baggage, therapists call it) and wring themselves out, filtering themselves through the sieve of the composer’s and performer’s offerings, giving something up and taking away something new.

art won’t change the world
but it can change a person –
and maybe that’s enough.

Presented as part of ClassyAF’s September lineup, cellist Roberta Janzen performed at the Dakota Tavern in Toronto on September 13, 2017.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist. 

Darren CreechFor pianist Darren Creech, the classical recital is in need of an overhaul.

“The established concert format [has] a rather conservative approach,” he said in an interview last year with CBC Music. “[I’d] like to see greater diversity and meaning in how we communicate with the audience based on how we present onstage.”

In his upcoming tour, he’s doing just that. Over the coming two months, Creech will be presenting three performances of his solo show RESILIENCE—a piano program that explores themes of trauma and recovery through a queer lens.

RESILIENCE is, technically, a solo piano recital—but it’s also far more than that. Drawing on his multidisciplinary practice, Creech incorporates costumes, glitter, narration, lighting and stage design into his performance, with the aim of introducing elements of queerness and theatricality to the classical stage. Performing works by Sarah Kirkland Snider, Leoš Janáček, Alexander Scriabin, Sergei Prokofiev and Alberto Ginastera, Creech intends to confront audiences with the emotional and political relevance of these pieces, and challenge expectations of what classical music should look and sound like.

“I had been looking for classical repertoire that was political, and discovered Janáček’s piano sonata, which he wrote in memoriam of a protester killed in the streets in 1905,” explains Creech via email. “After discovering that work, I built a cohesive program around that experience of loss. I then developed the show around my own personal experiences of loss in addition to current events (including the Pulse shooting in Orlando). I wanted to feature 20th- and 21st-century music, from some familiar names, but also to perhaps introduce the audience to some music they hadn’t heard before.”

The show, which was first performed in Toronto at last year’s Nuit Rose exhibition (shortly following the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting), is heavily rooted in Creech’s own experience as a queer artist, and has already been presented in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Abbotsford, BC. He’ll be performing the show this Friday, September 15 at Gallery 345 as one half of a double-bill of contemporary music titled “All That Glitters”, followed by appearances at Laurier University (a workshop with student pianists on September 20, and a concert on September 21) and at Kitchener’s Registry Theatre (November 5).

For Creech, the crux of the show lies in how it challenges audiences’ assumptions about what classical music stands for, and opens the door for performers and audiences who otherwise might not see themselves represented onstage.

“I find the culture surrounding so much of how classical music is presented and performed to be quite reserved, adhering to many strict and unspoken rules,” he says. “There are clear ideas of what is deemed acceptable to be spoken about and worn onstage. It’s important for me to try to question and disrupt this kind of thinking, both for myself as well as for the audience. I want to be interrogating where these ideas come from and who upholds them.

“Classical music has a long way to go in terms of embracing and promoting diversity,” he adds. “It’s up to us onstage to be reimagining what the classical music stage can look like.”

And as for what Creech hopes audiences will take away from his own performances?

“I hope the audience will see a sliver of the resiliency that queer and other marginalized people demonstrate every day, despite adversity and loss,” he says. “That despite this loss, there is so much beauty and strength to be found in community and shared experiences. That sadness and searching are as important as humour and celebration as we navigate difficult times. And finally, [that] all that glitters isn’t gold, but that it can add so much depth and joy to our lives.”

Darren Creech will perform his solo piano program RESILIENCE at Gallery 345 in Toronto on Friday, September 15 in a double-bill alongside flutists Katherine Watson, Tristan Durie and Terry Lim, followed by appearances in Waterloo (September 20-21) and Kitchener (November 5). Visit www.darrencreech.com or our listings for details.

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.

DELIGHT, a sound art exhibit that will be present at Nuit Blanche 2017.

On September 30, from sunset to sunrise, Toronto’s art community will be staying up all night.

That night will mark the 11th annual edition of Nuit Blanche, an all-night, city-wide exhibition that reclaims Toronto’s streets and buildings as spaces for public art. This year’s themes, explored across almost 90 city-curated and independent exhibits, appear as a microcosm of the world’s most pressing global concerns, exploring ideas around revolution, political resistance, and the environmental and cultural implications of calling a place home.

While the nature of the event is deeply rooted in visual, performance and installation art, both sound art and music always find their way into the night’s offerings—and this year is no exception.

Here are six music and sound art projects worth checking out at this year’s Nuit Blanche.

  1. Monument to the Century of Revolutions

Curated by Nato Thompson, one of the most ambitious projects this year will be “Monument to the Century of Revolutions,” a series of exhibits and performances on themes of revolution and social justice taking place in large shipping containers stationed outside city hall. Several of these performances centre music in their work: The Rematriation of Revolution presents music and storytelling from Indigenous hip hop fusion collective Red Slam, Lukumi Dub Opera: 150 Years Before & After uses multidisciplinary performance to explore the legacy of Canada’s relationship to land and environment, and Toronto Through Sound presents local electronic duo LAL, who will generate soundscapes inspired by Toronto’s different neighbourhoods and the city’s position as a meeting place for Migrant and Indigenous histories. With over 21 projects hosted in Nathan Phillips Square, this large-scale exhibition is sure to contain elements that resonate powerfully with audiences, musical and otherwise.

Where: Nathan Phillips Square

Details: https://nbto.com/program/art-projects/curated-exhibitions/century-of-revolutions.html

  1. Listen to the Chorus

A statement on women’s voices in the public sphere, Listen to the Chorus is a video installation aiming to generate a women’s “chorus of resistance.” The choral music itself was written by Cecilia Livingston, a Toronto-based composer who has previously worked with groups like Tapestry Opera, Thin Edge New Music Collective and the Bicycle Opera Project. The outdoor installation will be presented in the Ontario Police Memorial, across from Queen’s Park.

Where: Ontario Police Memorial Park

Details: https://nbto.com/project.html?project_id=261

  1. Dream Variations

Created by Abbas Akhavan and Kristina Lee Podesva in collaboration with “Mes Amis Canada / Darzee”, Dream Variations offers U of T’s music faculty building as a place of rest for nighttime travellers. Featuring rows of cots to lie down on and groups of improvising vocalists, Dream Variations seeks to ask questions about home, rest and recuperation, in the context of Canada’s local migrant, refugee and newcomer communities.

Where: Edward Johnson Building

Details: https://nbto.com/project.html?project_id=259

  1. Transmissions

Designed by art and science collective SubZeroArts, Transmissions is a sound sculpture located at 401 Richmond, generated using broadcasted recordings of solar interference, deep-space transmissions, and other cosmic and radio anomalies. Intended to encourage audiences to discover new sounds and rethink their relationship with space, Transmissions aims to bring unusual soundscapes to the forefront of audiences' consciousnesses, and to create a bridge, via sound, between present and future.

Where: 401 Richmond

Details: https://nbto.com/project.html?project_id=451

  1. DELIGHT

[R]ed[U]x Lab is a collective of designers from Ryerson University, who focus on the use of digital and interactive technologies in their work. In DELIGHT, also located at 401 Richmond, [R]ed[U]x Lab has created an interactive installation that uses the ambient noise of the room to trigger movement from glowing orbs of light. Intended to react to the noises that audiences create in the space, DELIGHT uses kinetic sculpture to create a social and playful sound-making environment.

Where: 401 Richmond

Details: https://nbto.com/project.html?project_id=463

  1. Have You Seen My Sister?

Created by ad-hoc collective Artists of the Aurora, this outdoor project will travel along Grosvenor Street. In an interactive composition for voice, artists will sing in recognition of Canada’s missing women, and interrogate the cultural and political legacies that leave some communities of women routinely overrepresented in statistics around violence and disappearance.

Where: Grosvenor Street, between Bay Street and Surrey Place

Details: https://nbto.com/project.html?project_id=465

Planning in advance for Nuit Blanche has its limitations: with crowds of nighttime wanderers, several intermingling communities and philosophies of art-making, and many exhibits being shown for the very first time, the lived experience of the night often differs from what’s promised in the exhibition program. But at the same time, the secret to unlocking Nuit Blanche’s potential is in these opportunities for spontaneity: in the joy of reclaiming the city’s streets, in unexpected artistic discovery, and in seeing the city in a new and different light. Happy wandering!

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.

Composer Andrew Balfour.Three weeks ago, Winnipeg-based composer Andrew Balfour got an email from Highlands Opera Studio, with a commission for a 90-minute opera. The only catch: the workshop performance was less than a month away.

Highlands Opera Studio, which operates as a summer workshop, residency and festival season in Haliburton, originally had a different opera premiere in its 2017 programming: a work-in-progress titled Wiikondiwin, by Odawa First Nations composer Barbara Croall. However, extenuating circumstances forced Croall to withdraw from the project last month. When the studio contacted Balfour, the timing was tight.

According to Balfour when we spoke on the phone last week, this is the shortest notice he’s ever received, by far. “It was only a few weeks ago when I first got contacted by the studio,” he explained. “The email was marked URGENT, in capital letters.”

We frequently hear about performers who need to be replaced at the last minute because of injury, illness or personal circumstances – but for one composer to step in for another on a commissioning project is a different thing entirely. “At first it just seemed impossible, from a practical standpoint,” Balfour says. “But the original idea of doing an Indigenous opera, I’ve wanted to do for some time. So I listened to them and they sent me the outline, and I said, yeah, this is possible.”

The opera, titled Mishaabooz’s Realm, will tell the story of Mishaabooz or Nanabozho, a shapeshifting trickster spirit described in Anishinaabe storytelling. Parts of the opera will be presented in a workshop performance at the Highlands Opera Studio on August 19; after that, Balfour will write the remainder of the opera in Winnipeg, which will be premiered in full at L’Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal (and reprised in full in Haliburton) in the fall. In its final iteration, Mishaabooz’s Realm will be a 90-minute chamber opera incorporating both classical and Indigenous elements, featuring soprano Adanya Dunn, baritone Samuel Chan, pianist Louise-Andrée Baril, Aboriginal vocalist/drummer Corey Campbell, and Balfour himself as a vocalist and percussionist.

“I’ve had ideas in the last couple years about how I’d want to approach this,” says Balfour, who himself is of Cree descent. “I do know with Canada 150, there’s a lot of funding [for things like this] – and some of the projects that have happened already I feel haven’t really hit the mark. A lot of it is Eurocentric. Opera might be a Eurocentric form of artistic expression but for me, opera, especially opera like Wagner’s, is based on myths...and in the oral tradition of the First Nations, myths and legends are everything.”

He adds that for him, capturing the spirit of the project while creating something wholly his own has been an ongoing concern. “I had to be really careful – practically and to do it with integrity and research,” he says. “It wasn’t originally my project, so I had to make sure that the restructuring of this project and commission would be true to the original plan, but wouldn’t be taking someone else’s idea and just writing music for that. I use my instinct a lot for these things. This one felt right.”

Balfour is currently living in Haliburton and working with the singers at the studio, in preparation for their August 19 performance. “This is kind of in some ways a composer’s dream,” he says. “I’ve been here for four days, and I really feel that in this environment, they’ve given me a lot of flexibility and freedom. There have been plenty of opportunities for me to workshop with singers. I have a laptop so I’ve been wandering around writing snippets. I’m staying with wonderful billets who have given me a studio space. It’s unique.”

For Balfour, opera brings with it a lot of cultural baggage – but at the same time, an opportunity like this one also provides the chance to add new depth to the way our country frames its national storytelling. “I’ve always felt that opera, especially 19th-century opera, is kind of like showing off, writing-wise and also singer-wise,” he says. “But I have a bigger picture, at least in terms of the collective. It’s not an anti-Canada piece. It’s not an anti-European piece. But it’s still going to talk about some hard truths. Whether it’s a Truth and Reconciliation call to action, or the idea of important Indigenous issues right now, socially speaking, the direction I’ve been going in for the last 15 years has been to create things that bring awareness [to these issues] – whether good or bad, and whether people get it or not.

“I know what I can do, and I know what I’ve been doing for awhile,” he adds. “But I feel that there’s a bigger national picture [here].”

More than anything, the one thing Balfour wants to get across with this work is that true collaboration, especially when non-Indigenous organizations want to work with Indigenous artists and performers, has to come from a place of respect. And that when that happens – even when the task seems impossible – the result can be magic.

“Someone asked me if I was creating a stew,” he says. “I'm not. A stew, you just throw a bunch of stuff in and let it boil; here, you have to be a lot more careful. And I’m still in the early stages of this, but I want people to hopefully get a sense that this comes from a respectful place.”

“As a writer, it’s a challenge,” he continues. “I’ve never taken something at the last minute like this. But I know it’s possible, because this is a real collaboration. I’m using all of my resources out west, and I’m using what I’m learning, and meeting these people right now, with their resources and respect. And I think we’re going to have something special.”

Andrew Balfour’s opera Mishaabooz’s Realm will be performed in part, as a public workshop, at Highlands Opera Studio on August 19, in Haliburton; details at www.highlandsoperastudio.com.

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.

Composer Aftab Darvishi, featured on the latest episode of Listening to Ladies. Credit: Tahmineh Monzavi.We’ve come a long way from when podcasts were just one of Apple’s side projects for the niche and the tech-savvy. Halfway through 2017, talk radio – in podcast form – is officially back in vogue with the North American mainstream. We are living, according to some experts, in a “podcast golden age” – and with the popularity and diversity of these on-demand radio shows ever on the rise, there’s no shortage of listening options, no matter where your interests lie.

If anything, it seems as though podcasts are especially well-suited to classical music. After all, it’s not that large of a leap to make from music to talk radio, especially when audiences are already used to investing 20 to 30 minutes of their listening time into a single sonata or concerto. And like any of the arts, classical music is full of experts and artists eager to weigh in on how the music works, and why it matters.

Here are six classical music podcasts that we’ve been listening to this summer.

1. Meet the Composer
Produced by WQXR’s Q2 Music, Meet the Composer is a force to be reckoned with in the world of contemporary music. Hosted by violist Nadia Sirota, the show features intimate, artistically probing interviews with some of the biggest names in modern music. With high quality audio samples of each composer's work, as well as a “From the Vaults" miniseries that resurrects archived interviews from the original “Meet the Composer” 1980s radio show that gave the podcast its name, Meet the Composer demystifies new music and reveals its secrets, with a passion that is catching.

LISTEN TO: Anna Thorvaldsdottir: Composing is Second Nature
This episode of Meet the Composer features the music of Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, as she and Sirota talk about workflow, orchestral writing, and finding a sense of home.

2. NACOcast
NACOcast is one of several podcasts coming out of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Originally hosted by now-retired tubist Nicholas Atkinson, the show has recently been taken over by Sean Rice, who plays second clarinet in the NAC Orchestra.

While the show is heavily rooted in the programming that the NACO does in its concerts, there's plenty here that will interest even those outside of the Ottawa area. Episodes explore themes that tie together different classical masterworks, bring in musicians from the NACO to talk about the secrets behind orchestral playing (like on “The Oboe - Beyond the ‘A’”) and present interviews with guest artists about the nature of classical music today.

LISTEN TO: Sean Rice chats with Nadia Sirota before the Canadian premiere of Nico Muhly’s electrifying viola concertoNadia Sirota – incidentally, the host of Meet the Composer – comes to Ottawa to perform Nico Muhly’s viola concerto, and talks with Sean Rice about her friendship with Muhly and how performers today are reinventing classical music as we know it.

3. Listening to Ladies
Elisabeth Blair. Photo credit: Dan Diffendale.Listening to Ladies started out in 2015, as a response to the lack of gender equity in the classical music scene. Run almost entirely by composer and artist Elisabeth Blair (with website assistance from Krystee Wylder), it’s a small operation – and one that is doing relevant, high-quality work. “This area of the arts has missed out on much of what the 20th century had to offer vis-à-vis feminism and equity,” says Blair in a recent interview with I Care if You Listen’s Rebecca Lentjes. “The Victorianesque state of affairs in the classical music world stunned and appalled me when I discovered it...and frankly, it pissed me off.”

Each episode features a composer who is a woman, including interviews and musical samples of their work. The composers interviewed range from well-known names in contemporary music, to emerging and underrepresented artists whom, like us, you’ll probably never have heard of. Blair and her guests talk composer-to-composer about how they navigate the classical music industry, how they write music, and where their work has taken them.

LISTEN TO: Aftab Darvishi
In the latest episode of Listening to Ladies, Blair skypes with composer Aftab Darvishi about growing up in Iran, finding a second musical coming-of-age in the Netherlands, and having her work heard as ‘feminine.’

4. From the Top
NPR’s popular podcast From the Top, hosted by concert pianist Christopher O’Riley, features performances of classical music by kids and teens from across the United States. O’Riley and his team travel the country to interview and record young performers (with O’Riley serving as not only host but also itinerant piano accompanist).

The show features some incredible performances from young musicians, and O’Riley is an honest and earnest host, with a knack for picking out what makes each performer’s story relatable or unique. The future of classical performance is in very capable hands.

LISTEN TO: Honolulu, Hawaii / Show 331
A recent episode of From the Top found O’Riley and team in Honolulu, featuring performances by the Hawaii Youth Symphony Orchestra and a stunning Prokofiev interpretation by Yesong Sophie Lee, the 13-year-old junior winner of the 2016 Menuhin International Violin Competition.

5. Twenty Thousand Hertz
Twenty Thousand Hertz isn’t technically a classical music podcast, or even a music podcast at all – but if any radio show could honestly be described as Cageian, this would be it. Twenty Thousand Hertz is dedicated to finding out the stories behind sounds – both the strangest sounds in the world (like the mysterious phenomenon on the Canada-US border known locally as the ‘Windsor Hum’) and those so ubiquitous that we normally hardly notice them (like noise pollution). New and already promising, Twenty Thousand Hertz is addictive listening for anyone interested in audio, of any kind.

LISTEN TO: 20,000 dBs Under the Sea
Twenty Thousand Hertz brings in underwater acoustician Al Jones to talk about the ocean, which contains a ‘secret world’ of very loud sounds – some of the loudest and most unusual on the planet.

6. The SOUNDLAB
The SOUNDLAB, hosted by Edmonton-based composer Paul Steenhuisen, features interviews with composers, often with Toronto ties, as well as examples of their work. It’s clear from his interviews that Steenhuisen is a keen listener who does his research; his conversations with guest composers always seem to dig into the core of what their music tries to achieve. He often synchronizes his work with that of Toronto concert presenters, so for GTA listeners, the show also functions as a helpful pre-concert primer on music being performed in town.

LISTEN TO: Philippe Leroux
In this episode from 2015, Steenhuisen talks with Philippe Leroux, who was about to travel to Toronto from Montreal to collaborate with New Music Concerts on a show featuring his music. The two composers talk, often switching back and forth between English and French, about spectralism, aesthetics, and, interestingly, chickens.

We’ve refrained from *officially* recommending our own stuff here, but it’s worth briefly mentioning that The WholeNote also has a podcast – Conversations at The WholeNote – available on our website. Our own show is by no means fully formed: originally a YouTube channel of video interviews with local performers and composers, the episodes have recently been transferred to an audio-only format. They’re freeform interviews, uncut and largely unedited – but if you’ve ever had the feeling of hearing Sondra Radvanovsky, Jonathan Crow or Jan Lisiecki perform in Toronto and wanting to be a fly on the wall while they explain what makes them tick, here’s one way to do it.

All of the podcasts above can be streamed from the broadcasters’ websites, or via any podcast app on your device.

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.

A member of RAW in performance in Toronto.Their name kind of says it all.

Raging Asian Women – RAW – is a Taiko drumming collective of East and Southeast Asian women based in Toronto. Founded in 1998 and largely self-taught, RAW is part of a modern, North American reclamation of Japanese Taiko – where a big part of that reclamation has to do with countering stereotypes of who Asian women can be. RAW is a music ensemble, but they’re also an activist group, and a feminist collective – and this month in Toronto, they’re also organizing the second edition of the Toronto Taiko Festival, a three-day-long exploration of Taiko as an art form, educational tool, and vehicle for social justice.

“RAW really started with a simple idea of shattering the stereotype of the Asian woman as being meek and quiet and subservient,“ says RAW member Young Park, who serves as the festival director. “RAW traces its lineage through the North American Taiko movement’s unique history, one that is integrally linked to the Asian American Movement of the 1960s and 1970s when Asian Americans and Canadians mobilized en masse around issues of racial equality, social justice, and political empowerment. RAW, as a group, advances this movement by being the intentional embodiment of empowered Asian women on stage together. This is just a fancy way of saying that by playing big drums in a powerful way as Asian females, we are empowering others to find pride and strength in who they are.”

Park, who joined the ensemble ten years ago, came to Taiko through classical music and dance. “My background is in classical viola, and I was also the artistic director of my own dance company in Cleveland for 12 years,” she says. “Joining a Taiko drumming group (with both drum playing and movement) was a natural fit for me, as well as having the experience to lead and organize large projects like the festival.”

RAW organized the first edition of the Toronto Taiko Festival back in 2012, so this second edition, running from August 25 to 27 of this year, has been a long time coming. As part of the planning process, Park travelled to the 2015 North American Taiko Festival in Las Vegas, and also participated in a residency on Sado Island, Japan, where she lived with apprentices and studied with artists from the renowned Japanese Taiko ensemble, Kodo.

It’s clear that RAW’s mandate has always centred around community building and empowerment – much of which involves working with other marginalized artists within their local Asian Canadian, feminist and queer communities – and the festival reflects this focus. Guest artists who Park is bringing to this year’s festival include Mark H.Rooney, a Scottish-Japanese performer who was a leader in the creation of collegiate Taiko programs on the east coast of the United States; PJ Hirabayashi, a second-generation Japanese American who was a part of the Asian American movement in the 1970s, and who will be hosting a public forum on her activist initiative TaikoPeace; and LA-based Taiko artist and educator Joe Small.

“And of course, RAW could not organize a festival without an Asian queer woman representing!” adds Park. “That [will be] Kristy Oshiro, who is one of the fiercest Taiko players in North America.”

The artists, alongside local Taiko groups, will present workshops and classes throughout the three days, culminating in “Bang On!”, a final concert on the evening of Saturday, August 26.

“When I met with many of the Taiko groups in the region, almost a year ago, many of the practitioners wanted a space and time to be able to connect with each other, to share ideas, exchange skills,” explains Park. “By organizing the Toronto Taiko Festival, especially the workshop component, regional Taiko players have a chance to meet each other, learn from fabulous international artists, and learn new Taiko skills.”

And the final concert of the festival, she adds, will see local groups’ work with one another truly come to fruition. “The concert is an opportunity for the regional taiko groups to share the stage together – in true community fashion.”

The second edition of the Toronto Taiko Festival, organized by Raging Asian Women (RAW), runs from August 25 to 27, 2017, in Toronto. Details and ticket information can be found at www.torontotaikofestival.org.

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.

Update, Thurs Aug 17, 2017: A previous version of this article stated that Park lived and studied with Kodo; in fact, she lived with Kodo apprentices and studied with Kodo members.: 

 

Following up on his article on ballet and opera interpretations of Pinocchio in our summer issue, Peter Goddard talks with three Canadian artists who sang key roles at the 69th annual Aix-en-Provence Festival this July.

Julie Boulianne in Pinocchio by Philippe Boesmans, staged by Joël Pommerat at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence 2017. Photo credit: Patrick Berger / artcompress.It's not just the music that’s over following the finale of any Festival d'Aix-en-Provence, the 69th edition wrapping up a week ago. So's the paper trail, with its voluminous programs with marathon resumes about each artist and their multiple past triumphs. Aix means you can show how you made it; that you have a past.

Aix also means you'd better be willing to risk it, according to the musicians I talked to. Exiting festival director Bernard Foccroulle was himself entirely surprised by what Dmitri Tcherniakov revealed in this year's Carmen. “I was not sure it would work out like this,” he told me. Rising Canadian bass-baritone, Philippe Sly, talked pre-festival about “the company's living vision,” about it being “the rehearsals I enjoy the most, not the performance.”

Aix's inclination toward the experimental fits perfectly with how new singers view careers, says Canadian mezzo Julie Boulianne, whose Aix debut this year had her singing the dual roles of the nightclub singer and “bad boy” in Philippe Boesmans' world premiere Pinocchio.

“This is a world now ruled by the stage director who has a lot of power,” says the Montreal-based mezzo. “Aix really makes a point of having extraordinary and inventive new productions. So as a singer you have to be ready to change a lot of your conceptions. You have to be adaptable to make these shows work. We're not stuck in this big form of music of the conventional opera in conventional houses.”

As it turned out, Boulianne didn't suit the character director Joël Pommerat had initially imagined and created for his original stage play of Pinocchio – so, true to Aix form, they had had to come up with something new. “Building an opera becomes a different thing, something you don't expect,” says Boulianne. “We had to find something that [worked], something suited to my personality. It turns out the audience loved it. I love it that we're constantly re-thinking and re-visiting. It's what keeps opera alive.”

We're talking at the Café de l'Archevêché in sizzling heat, where two days previous, in the same spot, I had met with Paris-based Canadian soprano Marie-Ève Munger, who was the dazzling coloratura fairy in Pinocchio.

 Marie-Ève Munger in Pinocchio by Philippe Boesmans, staged by Joël Pommerat at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence 2017. Photo credit: Patrick Berger / artcompress.“One of our first conversations in rehearsal was, ‘who is the fairy? What is a fairy?’” said Munger at the time. “We knew who Pinocchio is, who the father is. All the other characters are easier to grasp. But even at the first rehearsals we didn't know who the fairy was. But we knew that there are moments of great lyricism in Pinocchio. The music is fairy-like. It's magical. The rest of the score is like (Debussy's) Pelléas et Mélisande, with text over gorgeous music. But there's also coloratura almost in the tradition of (Léo Delibes') Lakmé. It helps that we're trained now to be ready to end up doing everything.” (Like Boulianne and Sly, Munger graduated from McGill University's Schulich School of Music, opera's one-city farm team.)

She added: “As a singer you have to be confident, especially these days when everybody wants to be original. I've made my mark doing a lot of weird projects. I like to be involved in world premieres, something that brings classical music out of its shell a bit, lets it reinvent itself, even just a tiny bit. I find that fascinating and important.”

As if she'd been listening in to our conversation, Boulianne remarked somewhat later: “I really think I'm part of what will make history, something that offers a different way of comprehending the tale of Pinocchio. To me it's a revolutionary way of thinking about it – and meaningful.”

The 69th Aix-en-Provence Festival ran from July 3 to 22, featuring productions of Bizet’s Carmen, Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Cavalli’s Erismena and Boesmans’ Pinocchio, as well as an opera-in-concert presentation of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.

Peter Goddard, music, film and visual arts critic for the Toronto Star with a National Newspaper Award for criticism, is the author of The Great Gould, due out this summer from Dundurn Press.

 

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