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Volume 15 Issue 1 - September 2009

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Musical Exoticism:

Musical Exoticism: Images and Reflectionsby Ralph P. LockeCambridge University Press440 pages, photos, musical examples;0.95In this rewarding study,Ralph Locke offers abroad-ranging approachto the use of exotic elementsin western music.For Locke, who teachesat the Eastman Schoolof Music, it’s not just amatter of examining thenotes of a score. Noris it sufficient to study the context of a work.Equally important are factors like “the particularsof a given performance and the musicaland cultural preparation of a given listener.”By uncovering an expanded range of meanings,Locke’s analysis makes a work withexotic content “more durably enjoyable, continuinglyrelevant, and perhaps, by the verystrength of its musical imagination, healthilyproblematic.” I can’t think of a work thatwouldn’t benefit from such an approach, butnonetheless it pays rich dividends here.Starting in the baroque with Rameau’s LesIndes galantes, he unearths political issueslike colonialism, tyranny, nationalism, andracism, as well as cultural issues like the relationshipbetween folk music and art music.He shows how, in Madame Butterfly (comingup in the COC’s fall season) Puccini usedJapanese folk tunes – or what he thought tobe Japanese folk-tunes – to make Cio-Cio San“one of the most richly realized charactersin the operatic repertoire.” Similarly Lockeillustrates how Bizet’s handling of Spanish,Cuban and Gypsy-flamenco themes becomespart of the dramatic structure of Carmen (alsoon the COC’s fall roster).Though his main focus is on opera, Lockealso looks at piano works like Liszt’s HungarianRhapsodies and Chopin’s Mazurkas,orchestral works, jazz, popular songs andBroadway musicals like West Side Story (nowon stage at Stratford).Locke’s ultimate concern is how to producea work with ethnic or exotic colour most effectively.When controversial opera directorslike Calixto Bieito relocate an opera, theyare in effect removing the exotic elements.And when a contemporary composer likethe Argentinian Osvaldo Golijov “merges alltoo readily the different chosen materials”he is treating a work as if it were “capable,somewhat like a food-processing machine,of smoothing out stubborn tensions betweennations and peoples.” For Locke, the solutionis “not to rip it apart and rewrite it to suit ourown ideas, nor to refuse to perform it, but toget to know it better, contend with its originalcontent and messages, and think about itsimplications for today.”Book Shelfby Pamela MarglesJohn Arpin, Keyboard Virtuosoby Robert PoppleDundurn Press358 pages, photos; .00Pianist John Arpin couldplay anything, from operaarias with MaureenForrester, and his ownjazz arrangements witha big band, to solo rags.Yet he never achievedthe kind of reputation hedeserved, even at homein Toronto. Perhaps itwas because he playedin so many styles, though biographer RobertPopple blames ineffective marketing, badluck with insolvent recording companies anda too-gentle personality.Popple, whose friendship with Arpin datesback over fifty years, is unstinting in hisadmiration. His familiarity with Arpin’s lifemakes for lively anecdotes, especially aboutArpin’s numerous entanglements with women,many of whom were musicians.But that closeness with his subject leadsPopple to lay on descriptions of Arpin’s geniustoo thickly. “No other Canadian,” hewrites, “has matched his stupendous musicalreach – either in breadth or depth, norhas, arguably, any other keyboard musicianworldwide.” Then he continues to call Arpin“gifted” or “excellent and proficient” at everyturn.The best material comes directly fromArpin’s own comments, based on Popple’sextensive conversations with him before hedied in 2007. Popple quotes them often, andannotates them meticulously in his endnotes.About Glenn Gould, a friend from studentdays at the Royal Conservatory, Arpin says,“He wasn’t welded in a rigid way to thestrict, mechanical setting of the notes that thecomposer wrote. He’d try things, experimenta lot, and he was constantly analyzing themusic, trying to get inside the composer’smind, always trying to imagine ‘What was hethinking?’ But he couldn’t play anything thatwasn’t classical, written right there in front ofhim.”We meet interesting figures from the Canadianclassical and jazz worlds, like VictorDi Bello, John Arab, Percy Faith, and RuthLowe, but we learn little about them. AndJohn Weinzweig is identified merely as a“teacher at the Royal Conservatory of Music”,and American composer Ferde Grofé isreferred to as ‘Ferdy Grope’This is a lively and sympathetic portrait ofa seminal figure in Canadian music. Popple’sability to convey what is special aboutArpin’s music led me – to my delight – tolisten to Arpin’s recordings of Scott Joplin.Tenor: History of a Voiceby John PotterYale University Press316 pages, photos; .00 USIn 1837, tenor Gilbert-Louis Duprez stunnedthe audience at the ParisOpera by singing a performanceof Rossini’sGuillaume Tell - includingthe famous high C’s– in full chest voice. AsJohn Potter writes in thisfascinating history of thetenor voice, “This wasthe point of no return fortenors, a change in the very nature of thevoice and a defining characteristic of the best(and worst) tenor singing ever since.” It alsoprecipitated one of the most tragic episodesin operatic history. Potter chronicles how thegreat Adolphe Nourrit, who had premieredthe role, and whose singing Rossini actuallypreferred, attempted to remake his voice tocompete with Duprez. He ended up committingsuicide at age thirty-seven.Potter is a tenor himself. He sang for yearswith the innovative Hilliard Ensemble andrecently recorded Dowland with saxophoneaccompaniment. He traces the developmentof the tenor voice from its earliest documentedorigins in twelfth century church music,through the increasingly virtuosic demandson tenors due to the influence of the castrati,with their lightness and agility. Since the demiseof the castrati, Duprez’s breakthrough,and the development of recordings, operatictenors have been expected to fill huge operahouses with ringing high notes.Inevitably most of Potter’s focus is on operasingers, as he highlights the contributionsof significant singers of the past and present.including Canadians Léopold Simoneau, JonVickers, Ermanno Mauro and Ben Heppner.He looks at such recent phenomena as ‘stadiumtenors’, writing that “if you start yourcareer in stadiums, the chances of a retreatinto an actual opera theatre are rather remote,as Mario Lanza found (ultimately to hiscost).” Even though he appreciates eachmember of the Three Tenors individually, asan ensemble, he writes, they “reinforced thetendency for the public to be offered a verylimited musical diet, anthologized in the formof a ‘greatest hits’ collection, with none ofthe vagaries of operatic plots or the contortionsof recitative to contend with.” On theother hand, early music tenors occupy “oneof the few areas in which creative singers canhave the expectation of a career outside therealm of opera,” in spite of what he refers toin an endnote to a Handel aria as “the blandofferings of the twenty-first century earlymusic movement.”48 WWW.THEWHOLENOTE.COM September 1 - October 7, 2009

ecordings reviewedEDITOR’S CORNERAs the summer draws to a close one of thefirst significant events of the new season isthe eighth annual Small World Music Festivalwhich takes place September 24 throughOctober 4. A highlight will be the October1 performance by Toronto klezmer-fusionmasters Beyond the Pale at the Lula Lounge.The band’s new album Postcards (BorealisBCD197 www.beyondthepale.net) is aneclectic collection oftraditional material innew arrangements andoriginal tunes by variousmembers of theband, notably violin/violist AleksandarGajic, mandolin andcimbalom player EricStein and clarinettist Martin van de Ven.Milos Popovic, accordion, Bret Higgins,double bass, and Bogdan Djukic on violin andpercussion, complete the mix, but among themost effective tracks are three on which theband is joined by vocalist Vira Lozinski. Lozinskiis one of the leading voices in the newgeneration of singers cultivating Yiddish traditionsin Israel and she provides a real senseof authenticity and is a perfect complementto the impeccable instrumental musicianshipdisplayed throughout this fine recording.Something in the Air is a selection of flutemusic from Alison Melville’s Bird Project.Well-known for her virtuosity on recordersand baroque flutes this CD (Verdandi Music0906 www.alisonmelville.com/bird) providesa glimpse intoa number of otheraspects of Melville’sworld. Still performingon recorders andtraverso, for the mostpart this repertoire isfar from what we’dexpect from a baroquespecialist. The disc opens with LindaC. Smith’s tranquil Magnolia which seguesseamlessly into Ben Grossman’s The IllFated Ornithopter, which in turn morphs intoMelville’s take on Hildegard von Bingen’sO ignis spiritus and then a free improvisationbetween Melville’s flute and Grossman’shurdy-gurdy. The third performer involvedin the recording is narrator Kathleen Kajiokawho is first heard reciting Lorna Crozier’sTafelmusik-commissioned poem If Bach werea bird overlaid upon a traditional Shanghai operamelody and followed by a recorder renditionof Bach’s Gavotte from BWV 1006. Thisis just a taste of the eclectic delights on offerthroughout this disc. Other jewels include two“Bento boxes” comprised of Japanese Haikuinterspersed with improvised instrumentalsections; Ben Grossman’s electronic Birddduband unusual baroque selections includingJakob van Eyck’s The Little English Nightingaleand the anonymous Bird Fancier’sDelight from 1717 in which we are presentedwith pieces to teach to wild birds - five dittiesintended for the instruction of nightingales,canaries, starlings, woodlarks and parrots.Concert note: The Bird Project will presenttwo concerts and a guided nature walk atTodmorden Mills Heritage Museum and ArtsCentre, beginning at noon on September 19.I must confess I don’t quite know what tomake of the latest Centrediscs release, P*P(CMCCD 15009) from Toronto’s TocaLoca. This unusual ensemble – GregoryOh and Simon Docking, pianos and AiyunHuang, percussion – is a relative newcomeron the Toronto contemporary scene. But sinceits inception in 2001Toca Loca has establisheditself as avibrant and dynamicforce to be reckonedwith. High performancestandardsand the ensemble’sinternational reachhas resulted in some of the most memorableand entertaining performances of serious,and seriously witty, contemporary music inToronto in recent years. Although they haveworked with some of the country’s finestyoung singers, for this project all the vocals –and vocalisms – are provided by the membersof the ensemble. There is no singing per se,but certainly a lot of recitation, declamationand exclamation – well, yelling actually.The strident tone is set by the opening track,Canadian performance artist Myra Davies’No Time, a clever take on a common moderncircumstance performed at breakneck speedby Gregory Oh. Most of the other worksare by “serious” composers of Toca Loca’sgeneration – 30 to 40 something – includingAaron Gervais, Juliet Palmer, AndrewStaniland, Veronika Krausas, Erik Ross andNicole Lizée. Perhaps the most disturbing isStaniland’s Made in China which is given 2distinctly different interpretations in male andfemale renditions, although alt-pop singersongwriterLaura Barrett’s Robot Ponies runsa close second, for very different reasons.Quinsin Nachoff’s Toca Loca juxtaposespiano with Fender Rhodes and vibraphone ina world that spans jazz and pop inflection tocreate something at once familiar and “wondrousstrange”, something that could be saidof this whole disc. But what’s with the packaging?The 20 page booklet contains onlyminimal program notes and no biographicalmaterial but does include a graphic novel ofsorts which at time of writing still remains amystery to me.Thanks to Naxos I may remember 2009 as“the summer of the string quartet”, with newreleases by several intriguing and lesserknown 20th century composers. The CypressQuartet’s recording of Benjamin Lees’String Quartets Nos. 1, 5 and 6 (8.559628)is a great introduction to the chamber musicof a composer better known for Grammynominated larger works, Symphony No. 5and the Violin Concerto. The quartets datefrom 1952, 2002 and2005 and give a goodidea of where Leeswas coming from – hewas 28 when the firstquartet was written– and where is now.Interestingly, the fifthwas written for theCypress Quartet’s “Call and Response” series,where a composer is asked to create a work influencedby two standard quartet pieces whichwould be performed alongside the premiere,in this case quartets of Shostakovich and Britten.The lyricism of this work is juxtaposedwith the more abrasive Sixth Quartet.Touted as China’s “first avant-garde composer”,Ge Gan-Ru is a name which I hadnot encountered before the release of Fall ofBaghdad – String Quartets Nos. 1, 4 and5 (Naxos 8.570603) performed by Modern-Works. Born in Shanghai in 1954, his violinstudies were interrupted by the Cultural Revolution.In 1974 when the Shanghai Conservatoryre-opened hereturned, switchinghis major to compositionthree yearslater. His first majorwork, Yi Feng (LostStyle) for “radicallydetuned cello”, wasreceived with consternationand criticism,but established him as a pioneer. Thiswas followed by his first string quartet Fu(Prose-Poem) which was a work-in-progresswhen he was invited to New York to studywith Chou Wen-chung at Columbia Universityin 1982. Fu was picked up by the KronosQuartet shortly after its completion and Gewent on to receive his doctorate from Columbiain 1991 and continues to live in the USA.This CD presents distinctly different quartetsfrom 1983 (Fu), 1998 (Angel Suite) and 2007(The Fall of Baghdad), providing glimpsesinto the development of this multi-faceted andculturally innovative composer.[This month our website features an expandedversion of this column including the completestring quartets of Ginastera and Villa-Lobos.]We welcome your feedback and invite submissions.CDs and comments should be sentto: The WholeNote, 503 – 720 Bathurst St.Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourageyou to visit our website, www.thewholenote.com, where you can find added features includingdirect links to performers, composersand record labels, “buy buttons” for on-lineshopping and additional and archival reviews.David OldsDISCoveries Editordiscoveries@thewholenote.comSeptember 1 - October 7, 2009 WWW.THEWHOLENOTE.COM 49

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