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Volume 23 Issue 7 - April 2018

  • Text
  • April
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • Musical
  • Symphony
  • Arts
  • Performing
  • Choir
  • Theatre
  • Orchestra
In this issue: we talk with jazz pianist Thompson Egbo-Egbo about growing up in Toronto, building a musical career, and being adaptive to change; pianist Eve Egoyan prepares for her upcoming Luminato project and for the next stage in her long-term collaborative relationship with Spanish-German composer Maria de Alvear; jazz violinist Aline Homzy, halfway through preparing for a concert featuring standout women bandleaders, talks about social equity in the world of improvised music; and the local choral community celebrates the life and work of choral conductor Elmer Iseler, 20 years after his passing.

her mother, Margaret

her mother, Margaret Stilwell. Jean was 18 years old at the time. “I’d had approximately ten voice lessons. I sang for Elmer with a mind to sing in the Mendelssohn Choir. Instead he invited me to sing with the Festival Singers, which was the professional nucleus of the Mendelssohn Choir,” Jean says. “It was a great honour for me. The greatest joy was sitting beside my mother making beautiful music together for seven years. We made up the second alto section. She taught me so much. I expect Elmer knew she would make sure I was well prepared for rehearsals and concerts. The first piece we worked on was Bach’s cantata Lobet den Herrn. Elmer did a fabulous job preparing us to perform it. His attention to detail and musical expression was such a joy of which to be a part.” Conductor David Christiani was artistic director and choirmaster of the St.-Lambert Choral Society in Quebec for 35 years and remembers [Iseler] talking a bit about airplane travel. “[It] surprised me, knowing how nervous it made him to travel that way,” Christiani recalls. “He told us that when the planes are thundering down the runway for takeoff, at one point the pilot tells the control tower, ‘We are committed’ when the wheels are about to leave the ground and the plane enters into full flight. He said that was the kind of singing he wanted to hear in the music we performed. It is that kind of commitment that has always marked our performances, be it by the Festival Singers or the Iseler Singers and it is that committed singing that …o, Lydia [Adams] and Jessie [Iseler], are keeping alive today. “I remember all too clearly that, when he passed into heaven far too soon 20 years ago, that great man’s spirit renewed that flame in me as a conductor. Suddenly everything that I did in music became that much more in earnest and that much more committed. Long may it inflame the singers and conductors of tomorrow to remember and preserve his legacy.” “Everything was always connected to the text and the music reflecting that text. Nothing was ever sung in an ordinary manner. Every musical moment had a purpose and a musical and emotional intent. Elmer lived in a rarified space of creating magic with sound.” And finally, Carol and Brad Ratzlaff both sang for Iseler, and both also became choral conductors. Carol Ratzlaff remembers: “Brad and I spent the first years of our marriage in EIS with Elmer conducting, 1985 to 1988. These years were a gift which we still treasure. They were busy touring years and offered rich musical experiences which were diverse and challenging. Elmer has had a profound effect on our music-making at every level. His steadfast commitment to and belief in the choral art as an essential part of life has unceasingly inspired my work. I would say that my own sense of calling and unswerving commitment is, in part, due to my musical roots as a very young singer and conductor with Elmer. He had a singularity of purpose, was passionate and stubborn beyond anyone I had met. That awakened something in me, perhaps a sense of calling. I know that Elmer would be proud of our work in VIVA! Youth Singers. He was so supportive of my teaching career, and always interested in what Brad and I were creating. We miss him.” In addition to the new Raminsh work, “Joyful Sounds, a Tribute to Elmer Iseler, 1927–1998” also includes music by Canadian composers Srul Irving Glick, Ruth Watson Henderson and Healey Willan, and Elmer Iseler’s own adaptation of the plainchant, King of Glory. The J.S. Bach motet, Lobet den Herrn completes the program, which also features a video presentation of highlights from Elmer Iseler’s career, assembled by Edward Mock. David Jaeger is a composer, producer and broadcaster based in Toronto. FEATURE BITCHES BREW ANEW A conversation with Aline Homzy SARA CONSTANT In the United States in the 1970s, the concept of the musical bitch was big. There was the Rolling Stones’ recording Bitch from 1971; David Bowie’s Queen Bitch from later that year; and Elton John’s The Bitch Is Back in 1974. And, perhaps most importantly, there was the precursor to them all: Miles Davis’ 1970 release Bitches Brew, a jazz-rock album that would eventually garner seminal status in the world of improvised music. According to musicologist Gary Tomlinson, Davis’ album title referred to the skill of the musicians themselves – best-of-the-best improvisers, brought together for the recording. And though 1970 was coincidentally the same year that Jo Freeman published her feminist BITCH Manifesto (seminal itself, in other circles), the album’s connection to “bitch” as a gendered term was supposedly just that – coincidental. These words have weight, though – and as they go in and out of vogue, the connotations they carry change in the process. So when violinist Aline Homzy submitted an application to this year’s TD Toronto Jazz Festival Discovery Series for a project called “The Smith Sessions presents: Bitches Brew,” she had a lot of musical and linguistic history to reckon with. And when her application was selected, with a concert of the same name slotted for this April 28 at the Canadian Music Centre’s Chalmers House in Toronto, she knew it would be a starting point for something new. “Bitches Brew” is a quadruple-bill show, featuring four different women-led ensembles. With groups fronted by Homzy, flutist Anh Phung, bassist Emma Smith and drummer/percussionist Magdelys Savigne, the concert is Homzy’s 21st-century take on what it means to equate “bitch” with musical talent, and on how our community thinks about musical artistry today. Same name, new vibe – in a very good way. 16 | April 2018

“Toronto needs this” The project comes to Toronto via Edinburgh, from a concert series of the same name run by bassist Emma Smith. On her website, Smith writes that her Bitches Brew sessions are a response “to the eternal assumption that the only woman in the band must be the singer” – a way of highlighting local Edinburgh talent while confronting stereotypes that women often face in improvised music. After playing on one of Smith’s sessions in August 2017, Homzy started to talk with Smith about bringing the series to Canada. When the applications opened for the 2018 TD Toronto Jazz Festival Discovery Series – a concert series that gives Jazz Fest branding and support to innovative local projects – the timing felt right. On April 28, Homzy and Smith will play a violin/bass duo, featuring some of Smith’s compositions; flutist Anh Phung will improvise with bassist Alan Mackie, in their duo project HaiRbraIN; Magdelys Savigne will lead a trio project, singing and playing percussion alongside Elizabeth Rodriguez (violin and vocals) and Danae Olano (piano); and Homzy will bring her own band, Aline Homzy’s étoile magique, where she’ll be joined by Chris Pruden (piano), Daniel Fortin (bass) and Thom Gill (guitar). At her Toronto apartment last week, Homzy spoke about how for her, this project came out of a feeling of something lacking in the local jazz ecosystem – and about wanting to bring it to light. “I told Emma, ‘We have to do this in Toronto. Toronto needs this,’” she says. “Normalizing the roles of women in bandleader positions. As a student, I felt like that was not at all present in school. I don’t think there’s a single full-time woman professor at U of T [in Jazz Studies]; I think there are only a couple at Humber. It’s important for the community for students – women students – to see that it’s possible. And also to provide role models for younger people as well, however they identify… it’s important for them to have a diverse roster of people who are successfully doing what they do, and who are really good at it.” Having gender-diverse leadership is important for any industry, but it can be particularly crucial in fields like the performing arts, SPRING CLEARANCE SALE April 23 – 28 Exceptional Selection For Every Budget New and Rebuilt Digital Keyboards Trade-ins Welcome 210 Bloor Street West (city parking in rear off Bedford) 12 Famous Brands Including the Italian Hand-Crafted FAZIOLI Factory Rebuilt Steinway & Sons Keyboards by: Casio, Yamaha, Roland, Korg and Kurzweil April 2018 | 17

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