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Volume 18 Issue 2 - October 2012

  • Text
  • Toronto
  • October
  • Choir
  • Arts
  • Jazz
  • Concerts
  • November
  • Theatre
  • Musical
  • Orchestra

A Rhapsody on BluePaula

A Rhapsody on BluePaula Citron lets her fingers do the walkingDirectories can make for dry reading. Just think about the proverbial telephone book.On the other hand, if you delve into the lives lived behind the names, things start toget a lot more interesting.A similar example is The WholeNote’s Blue Pages, the magazine’s 13th annual directory ofmusical organizations throughout the GTA and beyond. Each group submits a short profile,and while certainly not dry reading, these snapshots are still very factual.My specific assignment was to write “a personal point of view on what’s in the directory.”What follows is my journey into “the blue”— to get behind the names, as it were.At first instance, one is lost in a sea of choirs, instrumental ensembles, opera companies,presenters, churches and service organizations — 26, small print, double sided pages, to beexact. In order to negotiate a way into this mass of material, I came up with the idea of askingquestions inspired by the Blue Pages.COC’s Johannes Debus.OA’s Marshall Pynkoski.Debus’ choice: Here’s an example of something that Iwanted to know. How does Johannes Debus, musicdirector of the Canadian Opera Company, choosewhat he conducts each season? And maestro Debusgraced me with an answer.“At the top of my priority list is the repertoireby the three great masters of opera: Mozart, Verdiand Wagner — full stop! But would that important,fairly small corner of our repertoire be satisfyingand fulfilling for a curious person like myself? I’mdelighted that the COC repertoire allows me to bothengage in the all-time favourites, as well as discovernew masterpieces.”As a side note, Debus is conducting four COC productionsin the 2012/13 season — Die Fledermaus, Laclemenza di Tito, Salome and Dialogues des Carmélites.Marshall’s plan: On another curiosity quest, I demandedof Opera Atelier’s co-artistic director MarshallPynkoski, what is baroque about Weber’s 1821 DieFreischütz, which is the company’s first opera ofthe season. And his answer? “I’m delighted withthe question,” he says, “because it gives me theopportunity to make the point that we no longerconsider Opera Atelier to be solely a baroquecompany. Rather, we now think of ourselves asa period opera/ballet company. We see ‘period’in the broadest sense — that any century’s operacan be mounted as long as we observe the originalintention of the creators, and the contextin which the work was first created.” Can Belliniand Donizetti be far behind?Factoids: As I asked my questions of the Blue Pagesdenizens, I began to notice interesting factoids poppingup in the answers. For example, to ready the musiciansfor the October concert featuring Franck’s Sextet No.2,and Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-Flat Major, Mayumi Seiler’sVia Salzburg needs 15 hours of rehearsal time plusdress. So much for professional musicians sight reading.Anthony Rapoport, violist with the Windermere StringQuartet, points out that while the ensemble plays on periodinstruments, it is in “transitional” style. Their stringtension is at A=430, a quarter–tone higher than the usualbaroque pitch of 425, and their bows have a degree of“camber” or a concave curve in the sticks, which placesthem between baroque and modern bows. Hence thebright tone and sharper articulation.In his rapturous paean to his beloved musical genre,Nurhan Arman, music director of Sinfonia Toronto, mentionsthat string orchestras have played an important rolein movie scores, including the terrifying shower scene inAlfred Hitchcock’s 1960 thriller Psycho.Gotta gimmick: Like the burlesque queens in themusical Gypsy, music groups also “gotta get a gimmick”to keep things fresh.Joëlle Morton, artistic director of the early musicensemble Scaramella, proposes an interesting theory. “Ithink that one of the biggest challenges with early musicis that it’s almost too accessible. Scaramella’s focus oninnovation stems from my belief that people listen moredeeply when they don’t entirely know what to expect.”For example, in the December program, cleverly called“Lions and Tigers and Bears. Oh My!,” the animal themerequires the musicians to find new techniques in order todepict birds and animals. Needless to say, Biber’s evocativeSonata Representiva (c1660) is on the program.The Canadian Sinfonietta, headed by the father/daughter duo, Tak-Ng Lai (artistic director) and Joyce Lai(concertmaster), is on a similar track to Morton, althoughwith a modern chamber orchestra. I asked them abouthow their mantra “Tradition with a Twist” manifesteditself in programming. Joyce Lai answered that it couldbe the interpolation of the Hungarian cimbalom or theChinese erhu into classical music. Or mixing the old withthe new. The upcoming November concert pairs Bach andVaughan-Williams with Alan Bell and a world premiereby Douglas Finch.Pianist/artistic director Catherine Wilson of EnsembleVivant is another musician who believes in that everpresenticon of innovation. What began as a classical pianotrio, has, over the years, moved into jazz, Latin, ragtime,novelty classics and tango, with many new works in thesestyles being written for the group. According to Wilson,Ensemble Vivant now straddles both the classical andjazz worlds.In delving into the directory, I also discovered thatBRUCE ZINGER8 thewholenote.com October 1 – November 7, 2012

Opera in Concert is rebranding. It is now called VOICE-BOX: Opera in Concert. Of course, that led to an obviouswhy? Says general director Guillermo Silva-Marin: “Theboard of directors is working on a transformation for thecompany to provide fresh approaches for new audiences.After 40 years, they saw a need to identify Opera in Concert’sessence, and capture it with a single and effectiveterm. The voicebox is one of the factors involved in theproduction of singing, and we’re a showcase for singers.”Übertext?: And then there are the text devotees of whomI asked, why program the mix of music, voice and thespoken word? The doyens of mixed element concerts,Stephen Ralls and Bruce Ubukata of the Aldeburgh Connection,responded that the idea of text with music wasevolving back in the late 70s, and that it seemed to be asuitable genre for an academic context when they foundedtheir series in 1982 at the University of Toronto.This idea of weaving poetry, memoirs, letters or essaysinto the program is also a format used by the TaliskerPlayers and Off Centre Music Salon. Says Talisker’s artisticdirector Mary McGeer: “The spoken word expandson the ideas and imagery in the music. The result is thateach production has a narrative and a dramatic arc.” Andfrom Off Centre’s Inna Perkis and Boris Zarankin (fourhanded?):“Themed concerts place music into context.It’s telling a story.”Choral quintessence: With 46 professional and communitychoirs listed in the Blue Pages, excluding churches,synagogues and schools, I was compelled to ask, what isthe lure of group singing?For the answer, I needed a quintessential chorister. GregRainville is founder of the Canadian Men’s Chorus andassociate conductor of the Orpheus Choir (and a hedgefund administrator by day). “Choirs are a very humanway of making music,” he explains. “Through the wordsand music, we can tell stories. We can present the wholerange of human emotions directly to the audience.” (Incidentally,when a choir is classified as SATB, it means it’s amixed group featuring sopranos, altos, tenors and basses.)Different songbooks: The next task was discoveringhow choirs differentiate themselves from each other. Asartistic director Peter Mahon points out, when the TallisChoir was founded in 1977, no other group in Toronto wasfocusing on the music of the Renaissance. “Even in today’slarger music scene,” says Mahon, “no choir performs asmuch renaissance music as we do.” The Tallis Choir doesbranch out, however. The final program, “A Grand Concertfor the Battle of York,” with martial music by Haydn,Boyce and Beethoven, will take place on April 27, theactual 200th anniversary of the American invasion of York.Jurgen Petrenko, co-founder and artistic director ofToronto Classical Singers, reports that his group almostalways performs with an orchestra. “What distinguishesus,” he says, “is that we are the only choir in town, possiblyin Canada, that exclusively programs major worksfrom the oratorio/mass/requiem repertoire.” On the otherhand, Michael Erdman’s early music Cantemus Singersare known for the rarely performed renaissance secularmusic that includes love songs, rounds, madrigals, drinkingsongs and songs of humour.Artistic director Robert Cooper points out an interestingdistinction between his small town Chorus Niagaraand his big city Orpheus Choir. “While I love the corechoral repertoire and perform much of it with my ChorusNiagara,” he says, “there is not much point in my being acontinued on next pageOctober 1 – November 7, 2012 thewholenote.com 9

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