6 years ago

Volume 21 Issue 1 - September 2015

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  • September
  • Jazz
  • Toronto
  • Musical
  • Sept
  • Quartet
  • Concerto
  • Orchestra
  • Symphony
  • Violin
Paul Ennis's annual TIFF TIPS (27 festival films of potential particular musical interest); Wu Man, Yo-Yo Ma and Jeffrey Beecher on the Silk Road; David Jaeger on CBC Radio Music in the days it was committed to commissioning; the LISTENING ROOM continues to grow on line; DISCoveries is back, bigger than ever; and Mary Lou Fallis says Trinity-St. Paul's is Just the Spot (especially this coming Sept 25!).


MAX WHITTAKER (“Behind the Cello” 2014) Not everyone has been eager to jump on the “we are the world” bandwagon, however. For decades numerous critical voices have raised concerns about globalization’s dire effects: on one hand that it further marginalizes rural and minority forms of expression, sometimes pushing them to the point of extinction, and on the other hand privileging commercially dominant mass-mediated ones. Ma’s optimistic view firmly stresses globalization’s positive rewards however, summarized by his statement, “globalization creates culture.” His SRE musical journeys have only reinforced this conviction. Interactions brought about by globalization “don’t just destroy culture; they can create new culture and invigorate and spread traditions that have existed for ages precisely because of the ‘edge effect,’” notes Ma in “Behind the Cello.” “Sometimes the most interesting things happen at the edge. The intersections there can reveal unexpected connections. Culture is a fabric composed of gifts from every corner of the world.” As a leading cello soloist, it’s almost predictable that Ma would cite the story of one of the movements in J.S. Bach’s Cello Suites, at the core of cello repertoire, to support his main thesis. He tells us it’s one of his favourite stories. “At the heart of each suite is a dance movement called the sarabande. The dance and its music originated among the North African Berbers, where it was a slow, sensual dance. It next appeared in Spain where it was banned because it was considered lewd and lascivious. Spaniards brought it to the Americas, but it also traveled on to France, where it became a courtly dance. In the 1720s, Bach incorporated the sarabande as a movement in his Cello Suites. Today, I play Bach [as] a Paris-born American musician of Chinese parentage. So who really owns the sarabande? Each culture has adopted the music, investing it with specific meaning, but each culture must share ownership: it belongs to us all.” (“Behind the Cello” 2014) Ma’s tracing of the sarabande’s musical (but also choreographic) journey, a string of exchanges and evolutions, bring to light at least six geo-cultural regional affiliations: North African, Spanish, American, French, German and Chinese. Ma’s statement, moreover, forcefully promotes inclusiveness and multiple authenticities while challenging normative monocultural ownership models and also by implication, notions of simple cultural authenticity and “purity.” In his statement Ma proposes an equitable extension of ownership of cultural practices across several regions, rather than to sole actors, further suggesting its ultimate and most appropriate resting place is universal (“ownership…belongs to us all”). Ma also points out in “Behind the Cello” the importance of cultural “necessary edges,” liminal boundaries where intersections and exchanges “I feel that only if you know your roots can you then imagine how to create something new.” Wu Man often first take place, using another metaphor borrowed from another discipline. “The ‘edge effect’ in ecology occurs at the border where two ecosystems – for example the savannah and forest – meet. At that interface, where there is the least density and the greatest diversity of life forms, each living thing can draw from the core of the two ecosystems. That is where new life forms emerge.” Human society also requires such necessary edge sites, he argues. “The hard sciences are probing one far end of the bandwidth, searching for the origins of the universe or the secrets of the genome. People in the arts are probing the other far end of the bandwidth.” He concludes that only when “science and the arts, critical and empathetic reasoning, are linked to the mainstream will we find a sustainable balance in society.” Is this the sort of liminal juncture, the “necessary edge” where the SRE also does its most creative, its most culturally valuable work? Having a Toronto street named after him – Yo-Yo Ma Lane runs across from the Music Garden he helped design – certainly gives a living musician street cred in this too often cold burg. And there is evidence that the SRE’s secular universalist musical philosophy may have a particular resonance with Toronto audiences’ musical values and expectations. Chris Lorway, director of programming and marketing for Massey Hall/ Roy Thomson agrees. In an August 18 e-mail he wrote that SRE’s guiding VIEUX FARKA TOURÉ 10 | Sept 1 - Oct 7, 2015

The Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma principles and mandate to promote “collaboration and cultural exchange, performing music that links to the past, yet reflects our 21st-century global society, align seamlessly with our evolving music city.” It’s a view that meshes well with Toronto’s public and political persona as “one of the most diverse cities in the world.” Bassist Jeffrey Beecher: inside the SRE. Jeffrey Beecher is principal bassist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and serves on the faculties of the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music and the University of Toronto. He also makes time to tour the world with the SRE and to perform with international orchestras. On August 13 the affable Beecher took a break from an orchestral gig in upper New York State to speak to me on Skype. I was curious about how and when he was invited to play with the SRE. “It was my sixth-degree-of-separation connection to some of the string players in the group that got me an invitation in 2004 to play with the SRE and then to tour with them.” It proved a satisfyingly collegial experience. “It certainly wasn’t an ordinary orchestral audition,” he mused “and I’ve been playing with them ever since!” I explored with Beecher the constellation of ideas which gave birth to the SRE, primarily couched in this article so far in the words of its founder Yo-Yo Ma. Ma’s celebrity draw is such that even today, 15 years into the ensemble’s successful career, his name often precedes appearances of the SRE on concert marquees. Interestingly, Beecher portrays a more complex internal dynamic that has evolved within the group. “Over the years the group has experimented with several leadership models. Though he is the artistic director, Yo-Yo Ma believes in flattened hierarchies.” It’s a sharing and supportive approach that applies to acquiring and adapting the bespoke repertoire for SRE’s multi-ethnic non-standard instrumentation as well. “It’s really on all of our shoulders. We players are as much witnesses to the creative process as recreators [in the usual classical music sense] in rehearsal and on stage. I’d say that every member of the ensemble has an opportunity to creatively contribute. I’m working on an arrangement [for SRE] right now.” For Beecher the combination of the different perspectives brought by musicians from diverse backgrounds culminates in real-time performances on stage. “Because we’re coming from so many musical backgrounds, such as represented by the [Galician] gaita, [South Asian] tabla, [Chinese] pipa and [Iranian] kamancheh, one key question for me regarding the evolution of our group is: in what directions do the musicians collectively want to take their music in 2015?” How does the SRE maintain such a unified, collective focus, I asked. “One of Yo-Yo Ma’s gifts is keeping many people and ideas in his mind at the same time,” he replied. “His attention, and the group’s, is not centrally located in one particular ethnic community, but rather it’s always mobile. I like to think of our model of music making as a caravanserai resting for one night and then moving on.” There’s that silk road metaphor again. As for the educational component of SRE’s work, the parent Silkroad organization has been affiliated with Harvard University since 2005, encouraging “dialogue among artists and musicians, educators and entrepreneurs, through mentorships and workshops,” as its website declares. This chimes with Ma’s objective of attaining a sustainable educational balance where science and the arts, critical and empathetic reasoning – qualities too often unbalanced in mainstream society – are linked in symbiotic harmony. SRE continues that mission during its September 2015 Toronto residency – not that it hasn’t held workshops in the city before. Beecher reports that “last year we led a series of rewarding workshops with Regent Park School of Music students during the inauguration of the Aga Khan Museum.” Over the years the Aga Khan Trust for Culture has been an enthusiastic SRE supporter. For example, not only is it a partnering presenter of the SRE’s September 15 Massey Hall concert, but it is also hosting a music workshop at the Museum, inviting students from Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall’s Share the Music program. These lucky learners will participate in a special educational program at the Aga Khan Museum with the Ensemble the week of the performance. Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble has grown well beyond the model of a gigging musical ensemble, the breadth and scope of its vision eloquently articulated by its high profile cellist leader and gifted musicians. Already enjoying success today, the SRE is well positioned to continue to influence the course of future musical streams, an ambition only a very select few other musical groups have considered putting on their bucket lists. Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at Sept 1 - Oct 7, 2015 | 11

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