4 years ago

Volume 24 Issue 8 - May 2019

  • Text
  • Theatre
  • Symphony
  • Concerts
  • Singers
  • Arts
  • Jazz
  • Choral
  • Musical
  • Toronto
  • Choir
What a range of stuff! A profile of Liz Upchurch, the COC ensemble studio's vocal mentor extraordinaire; a backgrounder on win-win faith/arts centre partnerships and ways of exploring the possibilities; an interview with St. Petersburg-based Eifman Ballet's Boris Eifman; Ana Sokolovic's violin concert Evta finally coming to town; a Love Letter to YouTube, and much more. Plus our 17th annual Canary Pages Choral directory if all you want to do is sing! sing! sing!


GAETZ PHOTOGRAPHY Liz Upchurch with the 2018/2019 COC Ensemble Studio By the time the first round of taped submissions for the Ensemble Studio auditions arrives, Upchurch will have heard a good number of applicants already. She spends a chunk of her year travelling to vocal programs and festivals. “By the end of a summer, I’ve heard between 50 and 80 Canadian singers from undergraduate level up, and several pianists. That allows me not just to hear young people with a lot of potential and watch them and be at the significant point to guide them over the next few steps, but also to interact with their teachers and people that they are with. So: there are no real surprises, honestly. The talented people rise. It’s important to have that big radar.” You can have a wonderful voice and not know how to communicate. You’ve got to sort of have it all and then you’ve got to really want it. It has to be a calling. It’s a very hard discipline, singing. What is she looking for in the 130-plus submissions that they get? “Extraordinariness. Beauty. People with amazing sense of message: communicators. You can have a wonderful voice and not know how to communicate. You’ve got to sort of have it all and then you’ve got to really want it. It has to be a calling. It’s a very hard discipline, singing. It looks incredibly glamorous, but the fact is it’s a very difficult life.” The international success of Canadian singers thrills her, but she’s not entirely sure how to explain it. “It’s a miracle. I’ve said it for years: for a country this size, how is it conceivable that everywhere you go, any of the major opera houses right now, you will fall over a Canadian on the stage. Frankfurt’s now become a mini-Toronto, in a way.” There are Canadians in Berlin, and Paris, and across France. Doesn’t it also speak to the quality of training here? “Yes. When you have such a plethora of amazing training, there’s not necessarily work of a certain type for everybody,” she adds, and the singers travel abroad. What about the training program, developed over the years, at the COC that she now heads up? “I have a small army, basically,” she says. Because it’s a large art form, it can be broken down and taught in separate ways. “You’ll do movement in one room, you do German diction over here, you have a vocal session here, you have coaching over there, everything is silo’d in boxes. For the singers who’re trying to put it all together, if there wasn’t a unified language, they are starting to ping pong.” She is first and foremost a pianist and she plays for all the trainers that she brings in, which means that she can see first-hand whether this trainer is a good fit for that particular group of singers. “It took me a long time to find this team. I have people like Wendy Nielsen, and Tom Diamond, and Jennifer Swan whom I met in Italy ten years ago, who’s an expert on breathing and physicality. It’s taken years to develop a sort of language, an understanding, a philosophy, and a method – a repeatable method. Sometimes we have four trainers in the room. We’re very good at sharing who needs to go when in the room, who needs to talk. The teamwork is essential. They also teach them separately.” The new Studio members are always introduced to the audience of the noon-hour concert series as a group, but they say farewell individually, in the Les Adieux concerts. Near the end the repertoire is often ambitious. “They sometimes want to do big song cycles, and we created space for them in the series for that. I’ve already spoken to the incoming studio members about their Les Adieux concert. For a Schubert concert like Samuel Chan just did, that is two years’ work.” “The song aspect has been elevated during Liz’s tenure with the Ensemble and that’s been a fantastic thing,” says Wendy Nielsen, the head vocal consultant at the Ensemble Studio and the head of voice at U of T. The two women did a recital together in 2011 in the RBA and after meeting as teachers at the Ensemble Studio, Nielsen invited Upchurch to come to her own summer program in St. Andrews in New Brunswick. What is Upchurch after in a young singer? “She’s primarily focused on helping them to develop their artistry,” says Nielsen. “Obviously voice matters, that’s their instrument, but she has a real ability to bring out the artist inside them.” And if that includes singers or pianists who also compose, like Danika Lorèn and Stéphane Mayer, she will find ways to bring forward their original work. “She is very respectful of what each ensemble member needs, and aware 10 | May 2019

that they all need something different. One of her strengths is that she meets someone where they are. The recipe is not the same for each person. While providing training, the program allows for a lot of growth in different directions.” When I ask Upchurch what composers she favours personally, she takes the Romantic lane. “Brahms was my first love – and Schumann. I get Schumann. I was obsessed with the letters, with the relationship, with how he wrote, how he changed from improvising to seeing text for the first time, that whole thing. The Brahms-Mendelssohn- Schumann-Wolf axis was a major love affair for me. All of the piano trios, Brahms piano trios, Brahms cello sonatas, violin sonatas, how violin sonatas bleed into art song – all that.” But Brahms and Schumann won’t be on the program on May 7, giving way to some contemporary music, as is only right. Schubert, though – “a god of writing for text” – will make an appearance, with An die Musik. It was hard reducing her favourite things to an hour-long concert, she says. “I was really stuck – and I’m never stuck. It gelled about a month ago when I really knew exactly who I could have. I decided it should be about the Studio – the first year Simona Genga and Anna-Sophie Neher, who are friends, will do duets and rep that they love. The COC orchestra concertmaster, Marie Bérard, will play the violin solo in Strauss’ Morgen, with Genga singing.” Among the songs by living composers, the Ana Sokolović cycle Dawn Always Begins in the Bones will be well represented, as will Derek Holman’s The Four Seasons. “It’s an incredible set, which I’ve already recorded with Lance [Wiliford]. The Fair Daffodils is a true gem – Anna-Sophie will sing it.” Upchurch also composes. “Monica Whicher and I used to perform this song that I wrote, but this time it will be with a violin since Marie is there. It’s a lullaby for my son, who’s now nine, and who I have to go collect right after our interview. He’s never fallen asleep to it, not once in nine years,” she tut-tuts. Lydia Perović is an arts journalist in Toronto. Send her your art-of-song news to ART OF SONG QUICK PICKS MAY 11, FROM 2PM TO 10PM: The 4th Annual African Women Acting Festival presents a tribute to Miriam Makeba. Centre for Social Innovation, 720 Bathurst St. MAY 11, 3:30PM: At Kingsway Conservatory of Music in Etobicoke (2848 Bloor St. W.), soprano Vania Chan will perform a selection of arias for Handel’s heroines, Cleopatra included. Rezonance Baroque Ensemble is, besides Chan, Rezan Onen-Lapointe and Kailey Richards, baroque violins; Matthew Antal, baroque viola; Erika Nielsen, baroque cello and David Podgorski, harpsichord. It’s a 45-min program, on PWYC basis, which the ensemble test drives before taking it to the Early Music America Emerging Artists Showcase in Indiana. Chan’s version of the aria “Piangero” from Giulio Cesare in Egitto can be found on the Tube. MAY16 TO 26: Canadian Stage. I Swallowed a Moon Made of Iron, the staged song cycle with poetry by Xu Lizhi about his life making electronic parts on an assembly line in a factory in Shenzhen, China. Created by Njo Kong Kie (Picnic in the Cemetery, Mr Shi and His Lover). May 2019 | 11

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