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Volume 18 Issue 7 - April 2013

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Beat by Beat | Art of

Beat by Beat | Art of SongAldeburghFarewellHANS DE GROOTLast september Stephen Ralls and Bruce Ubukata, the artisticdirectors of the Aldeburgh Connection, announced that thisseason, their 32nd, would be their last. Sad news, but nobodywould want to force the directors tosee the series as a life sentence. Inany case, they want to end thingsnow rather than wait until the timewhen people would say, “they haveobviously run out of ideas,” howeverremote and even hypothetical thatmust seem at present.Ralls’ work at Aldeburgh, the seasidetown in southeast England,and his professional involvementwith the operas of BenjaminBritten, began in 1972 when heworked as pianist and vocal coachon A Midsummer Night’s Dream;subsequently he played the pianoin Britten’s final opera, Death inVenice (he can be heard as the pianiston the opera’s original recording).Ubukata arrived in Aldeburgh in1977 with the intention of auditingsome of the masterclasses, but therewas a last minute vacancy and hestayed as a coach and accompanistAllyson McHardy.instead. It was then that Ralls andUbukata first met but they realizedthey could have met four years earlierwhen Ubukata was in the audience at an Edinburgh performanceof Death in Venice, in which Ralls played the piano.The Aldeburgh Connection’s main goal has always been to helpyoung Canadian singers gain experience in the song repertoire.Recently I have been struck by the way Aldeburgh’s concerts havemaintained a balance between emerging singers and established artists.Its most recent concert, for instance, had the well-known sopranoMonica Whicher but also the tenor Isaiah Bell and the bass-baritoneGordon Bintner, neither of whom is at all well known in Toronto. (Thatis bound to change now that Bintner has become a member of theCOC Ensemble Studio.) But the established singers were also youngemerging singers at one time and many were given important professionalexperience by the Aldeburgh Connection early in their careers.That is as true of singers who retired many years ago (Henry Ingram,Ingemar Korjus, Catherine Robbin, Janet Stubbs) as it is of those whoare still in the middle of successful careers (Colin Ainsworth, RussellBraun, Brett Polegato, Michael Schade). A number of singers madetheir first professional appearance with the Aldeburgh Connection:Alexander Dobson, Virginia Hatfield, Joni Henson, Benjamin Coveyand Lucia Cesaroni. Over the years the Aldeburgh Connection hascommissioned a number of works. Several of these were recorded onthe CD Our Own Songs, with Adrianne Pieczonka, Monica Whicher,Elizabeth Turnbull, Colin Ainsworth and Mark Pedrotti.Ralls and Ubukata have always acknowledged the help they receivedfrom their patrons. First and foremost was Peter Pears, Britten’s partnerand the singer for whom he wrote many of his works. Anotherwas Greta Kraus, pianist and harpsichordist, vocal coach and accompanist.It is in her memory that the Aldeburgh Connection establishedits annual Schubertiad.One of the finest things about the concerts of the AldeburghConnection is the work that the directors have done to establishthe cultural contexts of the songs. The first of their concerts that Iattended was based on songs that were performed in Jane Austen’sfamily. To prepare for that concert Ralls and Ubukata travelled to theJane Austen’s House Museum (in Chawton in Hampshire) where theyexamined the music that Austen had copied out. The first half of theirmost recent concert consisted of Schubert songs with texts based onthe poetry of Ovid, Virgil and Catullus. It is those poems that wereread (Ralls and Ubukata are excellent readers). There have also beencontributions over the years by leading Canadian actors. There myfinest memory is Christopher Newton’s reading of the Christmas dinnerchapter from James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.Incorporating readings is now a feature of many concerts, a practiceno doubt influenced by the Aldeburgh Connection. The dangeris that these readings are often rather loosely related to themusic. That has never been true of the Aldeburgh Connection.Special attention has always been given to the anniversariesof composers: Schubert, Poulenc, Hugo Wolf. It is fittingthat in this, their final year, they will finish with three concertsdevoted to the work of Britten, who was born 100 yearsago. The first of these concerts, at Glenn Gould Studio onApril 26 at 8pm, presents three of the Canticles as well asThe Ballad of Little Musgrave andLady Barnard and Britten’s PurcellRealizations. The soloists are DanielTaylor, countertenor, BenjaminButterfield, tenor, and AlexanderDobson, baritone. The second of theconcerts will take place on May 7 inthe Glenn Gould Studio at 8pm, featuringShannon Mercer, soprano, andSusan Platts, mezzo, as soloists in Onthis Island, A Charm of Lullabies,The Poet’s Echo and some of thefolksong arrangements. A Charmof Lullabies and The Poet’s Echo have a special meaning forRalls and Ubukata as they were written for singers whomthey knew and remember fondly: Nancy Evans and GalinaVishnevskaya. “A Britten Festival of Song” (and indeed theAldeburgh Connection) will end with a vocal tapestry, “A TimeStephen Ralls andBruce Ubukata.There Was” in Walter Hall, May 26 at 2:30pm. The soloists are VirginiaHatfield, soprano, Scott Belluz, countertenor, Colin Ainsworth, tenor,and Geoffrey Sirett, baritone.I feel confident about the continuing presence in Toronto of Rallsand Ubukata. Ralls will be the collaborative pianist in a recital withAllyson McHardy featuring works by Berlioz, Schumann, Rossini andJonathan Larson, as well as Scottish folksongs, on April 14 in GlennGould Studio at 2pm. Last month Ubukata travelled to York Universityto direct a masterclass with the students of Catherine Robbin andNorma Burrowes. But I am less sanguine about the continuing presenceof song recitals in Toronto. The celebrity recitals at Roy ThomsonHall were discontinued a couple of years ago and there is now very littlevocal music at Koerner Hall. To some extent the slack has beentaken up by the four-concert series “Canadian Voices,” organized byMassey Hall/Roy Thomson Hall and given at the Glenn Gould Studio,but, unlike the concerts of the Aldeburgh Connection, these concertsfeature established singers, not emerging artists. There are, of course,other concerts that may feature songs. One of the finest things I haveheard in a long time was the staged performance of Janáček’s TheDiary of One Who Disappeared, given by Against the Grain Theatrewith Colin Ainsworth, Lauren Segal and Christopher Mokrzewski.Other series will incorporate sung performances next season: IsabelBayrakdarian will perform with Tafelmusik in April 2014 and PhilipAddis sings for Music Toronto in December of this year. Addis willalso pay tribute to the music of Britten: his recital includes the Songsand Proverbs of William Blake as well as one of Britten’s Purcell12 | April 1 – May 7, 2013 thewholenote.combo huang

Realizations. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra program for next seasonincludes Britten’s Serenade Op. 31 for tenor (Nicholas Phan),horn (Neil Deland) and strings, Alban Berg’s Seven Early Songs (ErinWall), Mozart’s Coronation Mass (Leslie Ann Bradley, Lauren Segal,Lawrence Wiliford and Philippe Sly), a range of soprano-mezzo duets(Yulia Van Doren and Wallis Giunta), an evening of music by Lernerand Loewe (Amy Wallis, Colin Ainsworth and Jonathan Estabrooks)and Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs (Sondra Radvanovsky). Manysingers now organize their own concerts at venues like the HeliconianHall on Hazelton Ave. It is there that recently we have been able to hearMeredith Hall (with Brahm Goldhamer), John Holland (with WilliamShookhoff), Isaiah Bell (with Stephen Ralls) and several others.The new series that comes closest to what the AldeburghConnection has given us is Recitals at Rosedale (Rosedale is short forRosedale Presbyterian Church), directed by Rachel Andrist and JohnGreer. The series opens on June 1 at 7:30pm with a special launch concert;the subsequent recitals are on October 6, December 1, February 9and May 25 (all Sundays at 2:30pm, a day of the week and a timeinherited from the Aldeburgh Connection). Like the AldeburghConnection, Recitals at Rosedale is committed to using only Canadiansingers (their lineup includes major talents like Ambur Braid andLauren Segal, Colin Ainsworth and Gregory Dahl). I am looking forwardto these concerts but I have to add that the emphasis in theiradvance publicity on “renowned Canadian artists” does not suggestthat bringing out emerging singers will be one of their priorities.OTHER EVENTS!!On April 5 and 6 in Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre at 8pm, the TorontoConsort presents Emma Kirkby, soprano, and Jakob Lindberg, lute, ina concert of music by Dowland and Purcell. Kirkby will give a masterclasson April 7 at 2:30pm, also at the Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.!!On April 11 and 13 in Roy Thomson Hall at 8pm, MeashaBrueggergosman, soprano, will sing four songs by Duparc andSamuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 with the TorontoSymphony Orchestra.!!Lucy Fitz Gibbon, soprano, will give a free recital in MazzoleniHall at the Royal Conservatory on April 14 at 5pm. The programincludes songs for voice and harp — Rubbra’s Jade Mountain andBritten’s A Birthday Hansel, with Ingrid Bauer — and works forvoice and piano — Hymnen an die Nacht by Vivier, Cinq mélodiesde Venise by Fauré and The Ugly Duckling by Prokofiev, with PeterTiefenbach. Fitz Gibbon will also sing at the Canadian Music Centre(20 St. Joseph St.) on April 13 at 5:30pm.!!There are four free vocal performances at the Richard BradshawAmphitheatre in the Four Seasons Centre next month, all at noon: “ACelebration of Canadian Art Song” on April 16 includes a world premiereof a work by Norbert Palej performed by Lawrence Wiliford,tenor, a new work by Andrew Ager, dedicated to and performed byShannon Mercer, soprano, and songs by Jean Coulthard sung by PeterMcGillivray, baritone — Stephen Philcox is the collaborative pianist;songs from Newfoundland sung by tenors Michael Barrett andAdam Luther are featured on April 23; the April 30 concert, “Inspiredby Lorca,” showcases La selva de los relojes, a new chamber workby Chris Paul Harman with Krisztina Szabó, mezzo; and “SérénadeFrançaise,” French arias and art songs with the COC Ensemble Studiotakes place on May 2.!!“Greece to Granada,” a program of Greek, Balkan and Spanishmusic, will be performed on April 26 at 8pm in the Heliconian Hall.The singer is the mezzo Maria Soulis and the instrumentalists areWilliam Beauvais, guitar, and Julian Knight, violin. Soulis has hada busy career in Europe, where her roles included the title role inCarmen and Rosina in The Barber of Seville. She has recently returnedto Canada. Here she has sung, among other parts, the role of Clarain a workshop production of the second act of The Enslavement andLiberation of Oksana G. (music by Aaron Gervais and libretto byColleen Murphy) for Tapestry Opera.Hans de Groot is a concertgoer and active listener.He also sings and plays the recorder. He canbe contacted at artofsong@thewholenote.com.thewholenote.com April 1 – May 7, 2013 | 13

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