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Volume 18 Issue 1 - September 2012

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Spinning Gould30 Years

Spinning Gould30 Years AfterTop, left to right:Billy Iannaci, Safia Kazulin,Lorne Tulk, Andrew Testa.Bottom: Ron Davis, Pia David PerlmanAS MIGHT BE EXPECTED, This month’s 80th anniversaryof the birth of Glenn Gould (and the 30th anniversaryof his death) are not passing unnoticed. A lot of theplanned activities fall into the range of what one mightconventionally expect — concerts ofGouldian repertoire (such as the gorgeouslyconceived “Bachanalia” atKoerner Hall, September 24), CD andDVD releases, book launches, academicconferences and the like.One of these upcoming events,though — the one that inspired thisstory — is as unconventional as Gouldhimself: “Dreamers Renegades Visionaries:The Glenn Gould Variations” willtake over University of Toronto’s ConvocationHall for two jam-packed daysSeptember 22 and 23. With an audienceof likely well over 1,000, and anastonishingly diverse lineup of over 50presentations and performances, allunder 20 minutes in length, it’s thekind of perfect cultural storm usually reserved for elitegatherings like TED and ideacity. Except that it’s going tobe at a fraction of the cost, especially for students.So who is to thank for GGV, as participants seem tobe calling it?RON DAVIS: Piano-man, and self-styled “recovering lawyer,”Ron Davis, is one of them for sure. In fact he couldprobably call GGV “his idea” if that was his style (which itisn’t). “I’ve spent decades preparing for this” he says. “AsI like to say, Glenn Gould was a big palm print in the wetcement that was my adolescent brain, and that impressionhas always remained.”“A good time to get it off your mind, then,” I tease.“I mean, with this great big Gould 80th anniversary ‘brandwagon’ rolling through town.” The lawyer in him flaresa bit.“I would be the first one to criticize anyone who didjump on some kind of ‘brand wagon’,” he says. “I mean,the biggest event immediately after his passing was a pianocompetition that was won by a woman who is now a worldfamous pianist, Angela Hewitt. That was the internationalBach competition in the name of Glenn Gould. Now, if anyoneknows anything about Glenn Gould it’s that he hatedcompetition and he hated performance! He would havedespised having his name attached to that.”So how is this one different?“I think Glenn would have at least appreciated the factthat we were not doing a ‘homage to Gould’.” he says.“What we’re doing is celebrating the spirit of his work,because although he may have disliked performance andactually said, many times, that audiences are a form ofevil, and that performances are a blood sport, on the otherhand, the idea of taking technology, the idea of manipulatingmusic with technology, the idea of combining danceand different modes of performance in public and presentingit in new ways, I think he would have liked.”Consummate pianist Eve Egoyan, who has been invitedto perform at the event, in collaboration with artist husbandDavid Rokeby, would surely agree. She will performparts of a work, Surface Tension, for disklavier and “realtimeimages.” In it, all the various attributes of the pianotrigger visual as well as audible responses, so that theimproviser at the keyboard finds herself in an extraordinarilycompelling realtime feedback loop. (Google “EgoyanVimeo Surface Tension” for a look.)Increasingly as Egoyan’s own career as a performermorphs and evolves, she finds personal resonances inutterances such as the one in one of the early releases forGGV which talks about how Gould was “not only a fearlessmusician, writer, radio and TV broadcaster with endlesscuriosity and a devilish sense of humour, he was also atireless explorer of technology as it applied to the artsand was one of the world’s first true multimedia artists.”DAVID DANIELS: If we have Ron Davis is to thankfor the lofty idea of GGV, then I suspect that Davis himselfprobably has David Daniels to thank for groundingit, by giving it a context and purpose that may yet ensureit a permanent place on the cultural calendar: somethingmore than a one-off anniversary party, or just anotherimmersive weekend for the well-heeled cultural cottageset.“A principal in Daniels Capital Group, the real estateinvestment company, entrepreneur David Daniels hasa successful track record of creating new businesses ina range of industries, from entertainment to retail anddesign,” says his terse bio.But he’s also a man with a steadfast artistic mission.And in Davis’s idea for GGV, Daniels was presented witha a clear opportunity to advance that mission. “Ron onhis own was thinking about a multimedia event aroundGlenn Gould,” Daniels says. “I was aready thinking abouthow to bring about an immersive conference-style eventwith the power of a TED or ideacity, but accessible foryoung people, and in general for people who don’t havethe 0 a day for those events.” “The younger and thepoorer?” I ask. “Let’s call it the young and the young atheart,” he replies.It was a catalytic meeting of minds. Daniels volunteeredhimself as executive producer for GGV. (It is already a rolehe serves to equal effect with Acting Up Stage Companywhose groundbreaking Caroline, Or Change was a theatricalhighlight of this past December.) With Daniels nowon board, Davis could concentrate on finding someone topartner in the daunting artistic task of attracting the kindof participants, and building the artistic team, for the total“Gouldian” event he has been hankering after — the “filmmakers,dancers, choreographers, voices, music makers,DJs, visual artists and music producers, philosophers,futurists, journalists, media mavens, historians, and provocateurswho defy description ...”He knew who to ask and, thankfully, she accepted.PIA KLEBER: Kleber is a professor of comparative literatureand drama at University of Toronto. She picks upthe story. “Just over two years ago, Ron asked and afterthinking about it for a bit I said yes because I like to workwith Ron and also because, coming from Europe I alwaysthought Canadians do not always celebrate enough theirheroes. He had already talked it through with David Danielsand other people, and formulated that we did not wantto do an orthodox GG festivity but something that wasinspired by Gould, and he chose three things, which areart, technology and media, and of course this approachwas very much my vein because I have to teach also howtechnology integrates in the arts.”Like many of the people in this story, Kleber foundout there was more to Gould than she thought. “Oh, Iknew a lot. You know, in Germany you just know aboutGould ... [but] I knew basically about Gould the musicianand about his music ... [As] I did my research and watchedall the videos I was amazed. I discovered this visionary,this man who was so much bigger than just his music.”Kleber, by the way, has taken on the task before oforganizing “Thirty Years After” events built around “titansof artistic influence,” as David Daniels described Gould.In 1986 she organized a “Brecht: Thirty Years After” conference/festivalwhich brought together three generationsof Brecht scholars, and, with Mirvish involvement, twoAIR’LETH AODHFIN8 September 1 – October 7, 2012

landmark productions (Caucasian Chalk Circle andThreepenny Opera) by the Berliner Ensemble. As significantly,it created a rallying point for literally dozensof other productions around the city, loosely affiliated tothe festival. The key was these other productions didn’thave to be by Brecht to be included; but they had to beable to justify themselves as, in some sense, “Brechtian.”“Is ‘not Gould but in some way Gouldian’ a similar ideathis time?” I ask.“Yes. Of course, at the time ‘Brecht: Thirty Years After’was first of all a conference of three generations of Brechtianscholars and then I really wanted to show the breadthand incredible influence that Brecht had, and in many directions... so, absolutely, it was in my mind, and of coursethe person who is the creative director [of GGV] is JohannaSchall, who is Brecht’s granddaughter.”Davis, Schall and Kleber have been hard at it for months,each “bringing in their connections and their research.”Kleber’s position as a teacher at U of T has been crucial.“Of course I also involved my students. I have a council ofstudents and we always try to present them the programand to ask them to come with ideas, because this eventis really geared towards young people. And if theysaid, ‘no [an idea] bores us to death, or it’s exciting,’we looked at it. We did not instantly acceptit but we were looking at it.”Thanks to Davis, Daniels, Kleber and now Schall,GGV moves ever closer to fruition. But beyond theirefforts, if it all succeeds, at the heart of it all will beGould himself who is most to be thanked, callingthe event into being with quite astonishing power.“There was no call for proposals,” Kleber says.“None. I mean, Bob Wilson [Einstein on the Beach]is an old friend of mine ... and Atom Egoyan is afriend, so he came up with his installation, andthere are a lot of people whom I know personallyor Johanna knows personally, or Ron, but manypeople we just found through research–YouTubewas very helpful–and approached them. And it’sthe name of Glenn Gould that is opening all thedoors. I mean Lang Lang who is such a busy manis flying in to celebrate Glenn Gould; or Todd Machoverfrom MIT who is all over the world said ‘no, it’s Gould.I come.’ It’s wonderful to see this.”SPINNING GOULD II: MAKING THE COVEROnce The WholeNote decided to get on board for this story(at a date so far past our usual deadlines that it instantly setoff alarm bells all the way to our printing plant in Etobicoke)it was an all or nothing situation.But even so, it shouldn’t have been hard to figure outthat even for a hurriedly arranged photo shoot, calling itfor high noon on a blazing hot weekday, on the south sideof the CBC Building, was perhaps not the best of ideas I’vehad this past while.Gould of course didn’t care, eyeing us impassively fromhis familiar perch on Ruth Abernethy’s iconic sculpturebench in front of the 300-seat concert hall/recordingstudio in the CBC building that bears his name. But myphotographer and art director sure did, as the sun beatdown relentlessly on the bench, casting harsh inerasableshadows and causing everyone’s eyes to squint againstthe glare.But then again, perhaps it was Gould who, just at theright moment got the sun to slide in behind the great toweringbulb of the CN Tower, immediately across the street,giving us 15 minutes of the blessed shade we needed tocomplete the shoot.And it was definitely in a collegially Gouldian frame ofmind that we all trooped off to the cafeteria in the CBCGLENNGOULDwas a bigpalm printin the wetcementthatwas myadolescentbrainSeptember 1 – October 7, 2012 9

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