For me, this is the moment I never tire of in this process: sitting with the issue almost complete, gobsmacked as always by the sheer diversity of musical life teeming under the lens of the month’s microscope.
September’s writers often spend a fair bit of time looking back at the summer past, as much as looking ahead at the month to come. In part, as I have noted in other Septembers, this is because the Toronto International Film Festival strides like a colossus across the middle of the month, so there are fewer live concerts in September than any other in the year. No major musical presenter in town hoping for undivided media attention goes head to head with TIFF. (For devotees of this magazine hungering for their customary musical fix, all is not lost, though. Once again managing editor Paul Ennis, in TIFF Tips, has seized the opportunity to combine his twin passions for film and music and has combed the TIFF catalogue for films with one or another musical slant. As always it’s a rich and eclectic mix and worth a look.
There are those rare and serendipitous coincidences (too neat to be planned) where a film of significance comes to TIFF right at the same time as a concert by the subject of the film in question. It sort of happened three Septembers ago when the Brentano String Quartet came to town, for a concert at Music Toronto, at the same time as the film A Late Quartet for which they had done the actual playing. This year’s example is way more interesting - the Silk Road Ensemble is coming to Massey Hall two days after the world premiere of The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble at TIFF. If the movie delves into the social aspects of the Silkroad Project touched on in Andrew Timar’s cover story, taking in both events will be a real treat for lovers of music and film alike.
That being said, the propensity of our September writers to look back at the summer because of slim concert pickings is even more pronounced than usual this year because it has been, to say the least, an unusual summer. “The Summer to End All Summers” we called it on our June cover – a bit too apocalyptic, it should be said, for more than one reader. “Let’s hope not!” one WholeNoter muttered, darkly. (The reference – a bit too oblique in retrospect – was to the eagerly anticipated Luminato mounting of R. Murray Schafer’s magnum opus, Apocalypsis, at the Sony Centre.)
Readers will notice that Apocalypsis features in the summer musings of more than one WholeNote writer; In with the New columnist, Wende Bartley, joined up with the Element Choir to experience the event from the inside out; Brian Chang, who steps into Ben Stein’s choral shoes this issue, was in the balcony with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir in which he sings (tenor, I suspect from his first column!); and David Jaeger refers to the work’s genesis in his musings on the golden years of CBC Radio (The Future of Canadian Music, Back Then, page 57), this time on the topic of commissioning.
Speaking of Jaeger’s piece I got a bit of a chuckle (that’s 20th century talk for LOL) in his description of another commission mentioned in the piece – a song cycle titled Private Collection by John Weinzweig. “[It was] written for the young, emerging soprano, Mary Lou Fallis. I remember John telling me, that she was ‘pretty hot stuff’ as a performer, besides being an excellent singer.”
As for Mary Lou Fallis, she is a welcome guest in this issue, writing in Just the Spot (page 54) about her long association with Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, where she, along with yours truly, will, on September 25, host what promises to be a splendid concert/celebration of this magazine’s 20 years of existence. For details (and to arrange your free ticket to the event) see the magazine’s back cover!
But back to the topic of Luminato and Apocalypsis, one last time. Beyond the writers already mentioned in this opener, I counted at least ten other WholeNote staff and contributors, myself included, who went to see and hear Apocalypsis. And for every two who saw it, there were at least three different opinions as to its artistic merit and significance: it was an overblown insult to the perfection of Schafer’s vision; it was a tribute to director Lemi Ponifasio’s genius that he could massage Schafer’s bombast into something genuinely theatrical; it was an artistic triumph; it was an artistic failure; it was more than the sum of its parts; it never really came together….
As for me, to borrow a phrase from Bob Ben’s column Mainly Clubs, Mostly Jazz, page 45, “when petty concerns of quality and integrity eclipse art’s purpose (whatever it is), that, to me, is tragic.” Granted, Bob is talking about jazz jams, but there’s an idea worth delving into here. Apocalypsis for me had a purpose that was as much social as artistic. It brought together, under one tent, a thousand performers and twice as many witnesses, to experience something that as a totality existed only in the moment of enactment. Each of the performers, musicians, singers and soloists alike played their part. None had a chance to see the whole picture, only to be part of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Whoever is charged with taking Luminato into the future should reflect on this: as a festival, as a fixture, its future depends on being more like this one show – a giant tent under which our city’s artists are invited to play. Bringing in the headliners, the stadium shows, the big names is part of that mix, for sure. But the real spectacle is the musical and artistic city we already are and can continue to be if top-down “bring in experts to fix it” cultural policies are set aside in favour of humane social policies that enable our artists, along with the other working poor, to afford to live and play here.
We’ll be watching, and keeping score.