Beat by Beat | In with the New that younger players of today now come from all over the globe and have an entirely different view of the classical canon. A case in point is the Israeli vocal and instrumental group Profeti della Quinta, who came together as an early music group in Galilee and re-formed in Switzerland at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. Since then, the group has specialized in late-Renaissance Italian music, particularly in the music of Salomone Rossi, the 17th-century Italian-Jewish composer of madrigals, sacred vocal music and chamber music. To hear Profeti della Quinta’s singing is to know that Rossi has been unfairly neglected by history. He’s a top-tier composer in the seconda prattica vein – meaning he could compose sacred polyphony in the style of Palestrina as well as use later techniques such as word-painting in more secular works – who was just as comfortable setting texts in Hebrew as in Italian. The effect on a modern audience is splendid as well as jarring, as if Monteverdi had decided one day that Hebrew was a better language than Italian for his madrigals, but the Profeti are both technically and interpretively flawless players who do justice to both this composer and this style of music. You can catch them in performance in Kingston at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts on February 15 for an all-Rossi concert. If you can’t make it out to Kingston, the group has posted a number of music videos on their website quintaprofeti.com featuring the music of Rossi, Orlando di Lasso and Carlo Gesualdo, all of which I highly recommend. Ben Stein’s lute: Some artists choose to master the entire canon and others choose to specialize. Still others need no composer at all. We’ve known for years that performers in the Western art-music tradition were able to improvise. Bach’s Musical Offering, which was initially a challenge the composer received from Frederick the Great to improvise a three- and then six-part chromatic fugue, is a famous example, but many other famous composers were also great improvisers, and the tradition of improvisation stretches back much further than Bach. In the Renaissance and early Baroque, a young musician’s education included learning to improvise a melody over a commonly recognized bass line or series of chord changes – like the jazz standards of our time, but shorter and harmonically simpler. But knowing that improvisation was everywhere can change our view of compositions from the period. Printed music written down by gifted improvisers seems less like a painstakingly worked-out masterpiece and more like a surviving specimen from a larger group of improvisations, so players are supposed to perform music as if it were improvised. Less precise printings of music present other problems. But if they are just the shell of the music, rather than the final finished product, does that mean the performer is supposed to fill the gaps by ornamenting a bare melody or the chord progressions? Jazz musicians learn to improvise this way, but conservatory-trained classical players don’t. And as long as historically informed players can’t improvise in the style of the composer, it makes their supposed goal of re-creating the music as the composer heard it impossible. Toronto-based lutenist Ben Stein may have an answer to this musical quandary. For the last several years, Stein has been researching how musicians of previous eras were taught musical improvisation, with a special focus on the conservatories of 18th-century Venice. Study and practice have let him re-create the part of a musical education from that period and, as a result, Stein can now improvise over a given melody or series of chord changes in much the same way that a 17th- or 18th-century musician would. If this sounds far-fetched to you, Stein can prove it – he’s going to both show and tell his musical discoveries in concert at a lecture-recital at Metropolitan United Church on February 10 at 7:30 pm. He’ll be joined by Lucas Harris on lute as well as Rezan Onen-Lapointe on violin and myself on harpsichord, and I’m pleased to say that Stein’s ability to teach classical musicians some necessary improv skills is as informative and entertaining for concert audiences as it is for his fellow musicians. David Podgorski is a Toronto-based harpsichordist, music teacher and a founding member of Rezonance. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Musical Mosaics WENDALYN BARTLEY With the beginning of 2017, Canada is about to enter into a year-long marking of the fact that the country began 150 years ago in 1867. Some will be celebrating, and others will have more ambivalent feelings about it all, aware of how much indigenous cultures have suffered and lost under a political system that attempted to destroy them. On the musical end of things, much is being planned as a celebration, and no doubt this theme will return in various ways in this column throughout the year. One significant player in the creation of musical events to mark this moment in Canada’s history is the Toronto Symphony. Their major initiative, Canada Mosaic, will involve performance, education and collaboration initiatives across the country. One of their projects is the commissioning of two-minute orchestral works from Canadian composers called Sesquies, to be performed throughout the year by the TSO and 38 partner orchestras across the country. During February, the TSO will be premiering a series of these at several of their regular concerts, beginning on February 1 with Yatra, composed by Dinuk Wijeratne. Other Sesquies during the month include works by Vivian Fung (February 4); Jocelyn Morlock (February 8); Louis Babin (February 10); John Rea (February 15); and Andrew Staniland (March 4). New Creations: One of the major ways the TSO has annually contributed to increase awareness of Canada’s composers has been through the New Creations Festival, and of course this year is no exception. The festival runs from March 4 to 11, with three concerts curated by Toronto-based composer and performer Owen Pallett. It features eight newly-commissioned works, including five from Canadian composers. In order to fit all the three festival concerts into The WholeNote issues, I will feature the March 4 program in this month’s column and follow up with the other two concerts in the March issue. The March 4 program is chock full of TSO-commissioned works: one from German composer and clarinetist Jörg Widmann, another from Canadian Jordan Pal, currently an affiliate composer with the TSO, and finally a collaboration between Tanya Tagaq, Christine Duncan and Jean Martin, with orchestrations by Christopher Mayo. Some readers may recall a feature story about the 21C Festival that I wrote for last May’s issue of The Wholenote in which I discussed the collaboration between Tanya Tagaq and the Kronos Quartet. Tagaq, originally from Cambridge Bay in Nunavut, is a stunning improvising vocal performer in a style almost impossible to capture in words. Her sounds are influenced by both the deep guttural tones of traditional Inuit throat singing as well as the wild vocal exclamations of avant-rock. When combined with the explosive sounds of her band members, Jean Martin on percussion and Jesse Zubot on violin, both of whom use extensive electronic processing as well, it’s a sonic experience that often shakes audience members to their core. To find out more about how a performer of this nature will collaborate with the TSO, I contacted Christine Duncan, one of the collaborators in the current TSO commission. Their commission will be a 20-minute-long work titled Qiksaaktuq, the Inuktitut word for grief, and is intended as a musical reflection upon missing and murdered indigenous women. The piece is in five movements inspired by the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Duncan talked about how the ideas for the piece came together during a series of exchanges about how to create a work combining improvisation and notation. The final verdict was that the piece would be collaboratively composed by Tagaq, Martin and Duncan with the final score orchestrated by composer Christopher Mayo. During the compositional process between the three of them, the primary focus was to create something that would feel familiar for Tagaq to improvise with. Because of Martin’s extensive experience of performing as a regular 30 | February 1, 2017 - March 7, 2017 thewholenote.com
BOB TOMLINSON member of her band, his input was invaluable in creating a structure with the same peaks and valleys she’s used to. The piece came together using a computer software program that uses the traditional symphonic sounds, thus enabling the creators to hear the work unfolding as they worked. These tracks were then given to Mayo to create the final notated parts. The more subtle sounds not available on the computer program were discussed with Mayo and written into the score. Having an orchestrator involved was important Duncan said, as it ensured that everything would be clear to the orchestral players in a format they were used to. Duncan’s role during the performance will be to use what she calls the “conduction hand cues” she has honed over the last several years working with the Element Choir. Using these cues, she will lead the brass section in an improvisation that will complement the notated score and Tagaq’s live improvisations. The hand cues are (above) Christine Duncan and the Element Choir (left) Tanya Tagaq visual gestures that suggest the type of sound being asked for and it’s up to each performer to interpret how they will respond. During the composing of the work, the nature and timing of the specific hand cues were carefully chosen and added into the notated score. Duncan emphasized that the “overall effect of the entire piece will be like a large ensemble structured improvisation, sounding like what one of Tanya’s performances would sound like. In order to make it that loose and open it has to be completely and specifically notated to come off that way.” The piece will premiere on March 4 in Toronto and will be performed by at least three other orchestras across the country as part of the Canada Mosaic project. I was also curious about the story behind Duncan’s creative relationship with Tagaq. It began, she said, in early 2014 when she was invited to sing at one of Tagaq’s performances in France. “Tanya is quite generous and inclusive. She loves to have people and friends thewholenote.com February 1, 2017 - March 7, 2017 | 31
from master musician Keith Jarrett
voices can be appreciated on Credo.
See Avi Avital In Concert! DOVER QU
KOERNER HALL IS: “ A beautiful sp