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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then, out of hopelessness, hope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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