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Volume 17 Issue 9 - June 2012

  • Text
  • Jazz
  • Toronto
  • Festival
  • Concerts
  • August
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marshmallow andLysol

marshmallow andLysol pie”?– The discrepancybetweenthe quality ofthe awesomefilms producedin Quebec andthose from therest of Canadais so vast that itshould make allnon-Quebecoishang our headswith shame. (Iknow that thishas nothing to dowith choral music,That Choir at Hart House.but it needs to bepointed out wherever possible.)– No choir should sing gospel music unless they can memorizetheir scores, clap on the off-beat and sway in rhythm. Kids, pleaseremember —friends don’t let friends clap on one and three.– The reason that none of the really good English music composedafter Purcell and before Britten ever gets performed is because thereisn’t any.– Choral arrangements of music theatre songs are partially responsiblefor global warming.– Choral arrangements of rock songs have been proven to causecancer in rats.– Choral arrangements of jazz standards are like bumper cars —agag version of the real thing.– The previous three statements are clearly written by a madman.In the 21st century, the benchmark for a good choir will be how wellit can execute an accurate version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder will be a distant memory. Actually, it sortof is that already.– Choral singing in the Ontario region is not even close to reachingits full potential. The performance of one composition, and one compositionalone, can achieve this. Tune in to next month’s column forwhat this piece is, and how performing it will achieve this goal.Are you sufficiently provoked or outraged? Excellent. Just keeppassing that good vibe on to all you meet, and my work here is done.The WholeNote takes no responsibility for the opinions expressedabove, so don’t blame them.Now, on to the concerts. There are a number of groups listed belowthat have either flown under my radar, are relatively new, or simplyhave not previously given their information to The WholeNote listingsthat are the source for choral news. In any case, my apologies forany former neglect on my part, and welcome to the column.A number of these ensembles are based outside of Toronto, so ifyour choral experience is a Toronto-centric one —mine certainly is -time to get out of the city and get to know some of the groups outsideyour urban comfort zone. Incidentally, some of these choirs have themost awesome names I’ve ever seen.PETER MAHONSales Representative416-322-8000pmahon@trebnet.comwww.petermahon.comI was intriguedand mystifiedby a groupcalled That Choir.Googling that onewas an interestingexperience.It turns out thatThat Choir is ana cappella groupbased in Toronto,founded in 2008and comprisedprimarily of actor/singers.TheirJune 4 concertlaunches theirfirst CD, andfeatures musicby Rachmaninoff, Whitacre and Lauridsen. Information about themcan be found at www.thatchoir.com.Another prize in the naming department goes to the SoundInvestment Choir, which sounds like a group of very cool singingaccountants. Based out of Collingwood, their mandate is to fosterchoral music-making in the Georgian Triangle, the group of communitiessurrounding the south end of Georgian Bay. On June 1 and2 in Collingwood, the Sound Investment Choir performs “Bernstein &Broadway,” a concert that includes Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms.Owen Sound’s Shoreline Chorus is another group from theGeorgian. They perform hymns and gospel songs for their two “TheGospel Truth” concerts on June 9.Ancaster’s Harlequin Singers specialize in musical theatre andother popular music. Their “45 Years of Broadway” on June 1 will bepresented, cabaret-style, with the ability to buy a drink and listen.This is entirely civilized, and is something other choirs might considertaking up regularly.Another similar ensemble is Barrie’s Bravado Show Choir, a groupthat is strongly theatrical in nature. As well as performing two showsper year, they also do community outreach work, and have a youtheducation component. They perform “Bravado Rocks!” on June 1.The Ispiravoce Vocal Ensemble is a chamber group of 10 to 12 femalevoices based out of Mississauga. In the show-choir style that is increasingin popularity, they use movement and costumes to augment theirmusic-making. On June 2, they perform “Voyage!,” music apparentlyinspired by the tango, flamenco, sacred spaces, secular vices andLord of the Rings. I confess myself intrigued by the “secular vices”aspect of this program. Further information can be found at www.ispiravoce.ca.On June 2 another west end youth group, the MississaugaChildren’s Choir, perform “City Scapes,” a concert that addresses theexperience of the modern city. The concert features a new work bythe excellent Toronto choral composer Michael Coghlan.This month it was a pleasure to discover a previously unknownlocal youth choir, the children’s ensemble from the Oratory of St.Philip Neri. The oratory is located in the west end of Toronto, andhas a lively music program. The Oratory Children’s Choir performsmusic by Legrenzi, Charpentier, Schein, Schutz, Bach and others at afree concert on June 23.At the other end of the city, the Cantemus Singers are based inToronto’s east end Beaches region. This choir steps outside its usualfocus on early music for “My Spirit Sang All Day!,” a concert ofVictorian and Edwardian songs and anthems, including works byElgar, Willan and Finzi. I confess myself a complete fan of parloursongs from this era — My Old Shako —is a personal mantra —and urgeother concert-goers to sample the delights of this beguiling and sometimesquirky repertoire. The group performs on June 16 and 17.Brian TelzerOWBen Stein is a Toronto tenor and theorbist.He can be contacted at choralscene@thewholenote.com.Visit his website at benjaminstein.ca.24 thewholenote.com June 1 – July 7, 2012

Beat by Beat | Music TheatreStratford at 60RoBERt WallaceAnniversaries are great occasions to celebrate success.Fittingly, then, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival presentsThe Pirates of Penzance, one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s mostpopular operettas, to help mark its 60th season. The festival hasa long tradition of Savoyard successes, beginning with TyroneGuthrie’s groundbreaking HMS Pinafore in the 1960s. During the1980s and 1990s, the company’s innovative productions of G&S classicsattracted a huge following, especially those directed by BrianMacDonald, the visionary Canadian choreographer who toured hisStratford production of The Mikado to London, New York, and acrossCanada to showcase the festival’s achievement. “Now once againwe’re taking a fresh approach to this beloved repertoire,”says Antoni Cimolino, the festival’s generaldirector, “one that will surely inspire a whole newgeneration of G&S fans.” Judging by the productionthat I saw in preview last month, he may be right.There’s nothing quite like a Gilbert and Sullivanoperetta, of which there are 14, all written in the late19th century for the ambitious producer, RichardD’Oyly Carte who, in 1881, built the Savoy Theatre inLondon specifically to accommodate their presentation.Although the D’Oyly Carte Opera Companyclosed in the 1980s, replications of its productionsstill appear world-wide, as do updated versions thatreinterpret the originals to meet the tastes of contemporaryaudiences. At their core, no matter whatstyle of presentation, all depict a comic view of humanfolly in nonsensical narratives that use satire,parody, slapstick and exaggeration in the service ofan energetic romp. A pre-cursor to musical comedy,the shows rely less on dialogue and more on music toconstruct characterization and propel plot — scoresadroitly composed by Andrew Sullivan to complementthe witty librettos of W.S. Gilbert. Talking aboutStratford’s Pirates, Franklin Brasz, its musical director,is quick to point out that “those witty lyrics areinextricably tied to memorable melodies.” He adds, “Iderive great pleasure from Arthur Sullivan’s wonderfullycrafted music: solo arias with gorgeous melody,Cynthia Dale as Dorothy Brockrich choral writing, deceptively clever rhythmicplayfulness … ”Stratford’s Pirates provides an excellent introduc-in 42nd Street.tion to the world of G&S by setting the show backstage at the SavoyTheatre where the audience can view the mechanics of staging aswell as its effects —the rigging, for example, that facilitates a flyingkite, or the moving flats that simulate a roiling sea. Ethan McSweeny,director of the show, and Anna Louizos, the set designer, incorporateconcepts from the contemporary “Steampunk” movement intoa design inspired by backstage images of Victorian theatre. “I wasthrilled to learn more about these retro-futurists,” McSweeny explainsof the Steampunks, “[and] their glorious expression of neo-Victoriana through the lens of Jules Verne. I think an importantaspect of Steampunk is its effort to render our increasingly invisibleand virtual world into ostensible and visible machines.”The approach works well, allowing for a stage within a stage thatdeconstructs the technology of theatrical illusion even as it createsmoments of high humour and memorable beauty. The ironies of theapproach suit the improbable story of Frederic, an upright youngman who, as a child, mistakenly is indentured to a band of piratesthat later is revealed to be more (or less) than it seems. About to turn21, Frederic believes he finally has fulfilled his obligations to hiscriminal comrades, and vows to seek their downfall, only to discoverthat, through a preposterous technicality, he must remain theirward for 63 more years. Simultaneously, he falls in love with Mabel,the comely daughter of Major-General Stanley. Bound by his sense ofduty, he convinces Mabel to wait for him faithfully … until, well, it’sbest that you find out what happens for yourself.McSweeny hews closely to Gilbert’s book and libretto, noting that“I have even gone back to some passages that were in earlier drafts.”Brasz takes more liberties, using new orchestrations (by MichaelStarobin) “that are respectful of the core G&S orchestral sound butadd new flavours by incorporating Irish whistles, bodhran drum,accordion, mandolin, even banjo.” A few costumed musicians jointhe actors onstage but, for the most part, the 20-piece orchestraperforms from its traditional location under the stage —the orchestrapit. As for the singing, Brasz confesses that “the vocal challenges are,well …operatic. With few book scenes, the cast is singing throughoutthe show. There is antiphonal chorus writing, layered themes, demandingpatter sections (and not just famously for the I Am the VeryModel of a Modern Major-General), coloratura, and cadenzas. Thevocal forces are massive and demanding but satisfying to perform;and we’ve assembled an extraordinary cast …”Indeed, Stratford’s The Pirates of Penzance is acrowd-pleaser that deserves all the accolades it isbound to receive —a show “respectful of tradition butabsolutely contemporary at the same time,” to quoteMcSweeny. Something of the same could be saidabout 42nd Street, the other musical offering thatI saw in preview at Stratford last month, albeit fordifferent reasons. There’s a symmetry between thetwo shows that becomes especially evident when oneviews them back-to-back, a connection that suggestsa possible reason for their being programmed togetherin an anniversary season. Each depicts theatrefrom a back-stage perspective that allows the audienceto see the process of making a show. WhereasMcSweeny chose the approach to help conceptualizehis innovative staging of Pirates, Gary Griffin, thedirector of 42nd Street, had no choice in the matter:the book for the musical begins and ends on-stage.42nd Street originated as a novel, written byBradford Ropes in the early 1930s. Better rememberedis the 1933 film version that ushered in thecareer of Ruby Keeler and introduced choreographerBusby Berkeley to the song-writing talents of HarryWarren (composer) and Al Dubin (lyricist). The stageversion of the story that premiered on Broadway in1980 under the direction of choreographer GowerChampion primarily uses the movie as its source,which possibly accounts for the flimsiness of thebook by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble. Thisquintessential back-stage narrative in which anunknown chorine saves the show on opening night after its leadinglady breaks an ankle, has inspired so many imitations that its originalimpact has been lost to cliché —except for the tap dancing.“There’s an old saying that when the characters in musical theatrecan’t speak any more, they sing; and when they can’t sing any more,DAVID HOUJune 1 – July 7, 2012thewholenote.com 25

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