6 years ago

Volume 21 Issue 1 - September 2015

  • Text
  • 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!).


WE ARE ALL MUSIC’S CHILDREN September’s Child Mary McGeer MJ BUELL Mary McGeer lives in Toronto’s east end with her husband Rollie Thompson, a law professor. When she’s not making words-and-music magic she’s a voracious reader who loves watching old movies (1930 to 1950s). Mary McGeer is artistic director of the Talisker Players chamber music concert series. She’s also general manager and principal violist of the larger flexibly sized Talisker Players Choral Music Orchestra dedicated to collaborating with choirs. McGeer also freelances with diverse ensembles in and around Toronto, from baroque to new music. Principal violist of the Huronia Symphony from 1998 to 2010 and a member of the Phoenix String Quartet for ten years, she is also a teacher and chamber music coach. The Talisker orchestra came first, arising out of a one-off gig in 1995 where McGeer assembled a chamber orchestra to perform with a choir. Today the ensemble is an accordionpleated marvel that shrinks and grows according to the needs of the repertoire. It’s made up of fine working musicians who have a shared appreciation for music that has words. Talisker Players chamber music concerts, “Where Words and Music Meet,” came a bit later. Their four-concert series of chamber performances celebrates its 20th anniversary this year at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre (as does The WholeNote). Talisker’s themed concerts of works for voice and chamber ensemble are usually narrated by an actor – always an engaging blend of vocal and instrumental music, poetry, and theatre. Mary McGeer doesn’t remember her childhood photo being taken – she was barely two. But the photo and the context reflect both an early interest in literature and an environment that nurtured it. McGeer grew up in Arvida, Quebec, in the Saguenay Valley. After high school she went to McGill University where she studied history and political science, later completing a diploma in performance at Université Laval. She studied viola in Toronto and New York. Your absolute earliest specific memory of hearing music? The records my parents played: there were children’s records (Burl Ives…) also opera, and lots of Broadway. I still know all the words to several Broadway musicals. Opera – not so much. Were there other musicians in your childhood family? No – they’re pretty much all scientists. How did hearing music figure in your childhood life? Radio and records at home, music at school and in church, but not much live performance. Occasionally we would hear touring performers in recital. First memories of making music? Student recitals – also the annual Jeunesses Musicales competitions, always nerve-racking. Did you sing as a child? No, other than hymns in church. What was your first instrument, and why? CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR WINNERS! HERE’S WHAT THEY WON Dear Readers, You are all Music’s Children too. And when there’s a birthday party for The WholeNote, ALL of Music’s Children are invited. Please come to a very special concert on Friday September 25, 7pm in Jeanne Lamon Hall at Trinity-St Paul’s Centre. A reception follows the concert. Come meet, greet and celebrate The WholeNote’s 20th Anniversary with performances by many favourite artists featured over the years in this column. Hosted by Mary Lou Fallis and The WholeNote’s editor-in chief, David Perlman. This concert is free of charge, but a ticket is required. See this month’s back cover for full details. Come and share this happy evening with The WholeNote’s extended family. We look forward to seeing you, jack buell P.S. Watch out for the next “Mystery Child” in our October edition! Piano. There were very few teachers of other instruments in that rather remote area at the time. What do you remember about a first music teacher? Mme. Partous – I still have a vivid picture of her. She was a fine musician and gave her students an excellent grounding in theory and history, as well as technique. Your first experiences of creating music with other people? There was not much opportunity in that part of the world. The closest would be accompanying my church choir. What do you remember about your first times performing for an audience? I was always nervous about performing – possibly in part because I tended to be a crammer in preparation. As a youngster, I always preferred sight-reading – or fooling around on the instrument – to serious practice. That did change later on. What do you think are the roots of your later appetite for staged works and multidisciplinary performance – the words-and-music aspect of what Talisker does? It would be my life as a bookworm, probably. Also, a lifelong interest in vocal music, and the joy of accompanying it, whether it’s choirs or solo singers. Do you remember when you began to think of yourself as a career musician? Not really, it sort of snuck up on me... . You are invited to read an expanded version of this interview online at Renovated Rhymes (Oct 27 and 28, at 8pm) is Talisker Players’ first concert of the 2015/16 season, at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Mary McGeer says it’s a fun program inspired by playful wordsmiths like Ogden Nash and Dennis Lee, and featuring tenor James McLennan and baritone Doug MacNaughton – both terrific singers who are also great comic actors. Ross Manson is the evening’s actor/reader. There is a pre-concert talk at 7:15pm For all the intriguing and entertaining program details visit WholeNote readers Bastien Woolf and Gwynn Arsenault each win a pair of tickets. Music’s Children gratefully acknowledges Thom, Kay and Peter. 56 | Sept 1 - Oct 7, 2015

The Future of Canadian Music, Back Then DAVID JAEGER Forty years ago, in late 1975, John Peter Lee Roberts, who had been in charge of CBC Radio Music since 1964, left that position, leaving behind an impressive legacy of programming leadership. In his 11 years as Radio Music head, Roberts had commissioned 160 new works by Canadian composers. Among these was R. Murray Schafer’s Apocalypsis, now well known from its revival in this year’s Luminato Festival. Originally commissioned as a 60-minute choral work for the Elmer Iseler Singers, the work that Schafer delivered was twice that length and much more complex and ambitious, incorporating 12 choirs, soloists, sound poets, orchestra, electronics and even mime artists. This commission gave Schafer an opportunity to proclaim his artistic vision to the nation via network radio, and to the world, through international program exchanges with public broadcasters in other countries. It was perhaps the most grandiose of those numerous commissions, but it shared the same objective as those offered to a wide range of Canadian composers, from Violet Archer, Norma Beecroft and Jacques Hétu to Ann Southam, Harry Somers and John Weinzweig. This was a way for the CBC to fulfill the objective, as defined by the Broadcasting Act, to “encourage the development of Canadian expression by providing a wide range of programming that reflects Canadian attitudes, opinions, ideas and artistic creativity.” Roberts, and those leaders of the Radio Music department who preceded him, held the authority and the responsibility to grant commissions to those Canadian composers they felt would best fill the needs of programming. The CBC Archives show that they commissioned hundreds of new works in a wide range of genres and styles between 1938 and 1975, many of them, such as Somers’ Gloria (1962), becoming popular enough to be designated “Canadian Classics.” The impact of these commissions was significant, firstly on the lives and careers of the composers who received them – not only did they provide income and national broadcasts on the network – but furthermore as expressions of Canadian musical styles and new directions in composition in this country. Ironically, by the time Schafer’s Apocalypsis was given its premiere in 1980, John Roberts had moved on in his career, becoming director general of the Canadian Music Centre. Following his departure, authority and responsibility for commissioning original music was passed to the program makers themselves. The argument was that if this content was intended to enhance programming, then the programmers themselves would know what would work best. This significant change allowed music producers to initiate programs based on newly created works tailored to their needs. I experienced this firsthand, when my former composition teacher at the University of Toronto, John Weinzweig, aka The Dean of Canadian Composers, sat down in my office in 1976 with a proposal to create a song cycle for the program I produced at the time, Music of Today. The result of this collaboration was Weinzweig’s Private Collection, written for the young, emerging soprano, Mary Lou Fallis. I remember John telling me that she was “pretty hot stuff” as a performer, besides being an excellent singer. Private Collection, the first work I had commissioned as a program producer, was broadcast on March 12, 1978, a day after Weinzweig’s 65th birthday. It was, in fact, not heard on the show it was commissioned for, but on a new program, Two New Hours, which we had created with the support of Robert Sunter, who had succeeded John Roberts as the head of Radio Music. Sunter saw his role differently than his predecessors; his style of leadership emphasized enabling his staff to make creative decisions. John We were empowered to make our Weinzweig own programs with the artists we felt would make the greatest impact on listeners. In the exercising of this creative freedom we were able to partner with all the elements of the musical community – motivating and engaging with them. It was this process that I eventually found most satisfying in my work as a broadcaster. The challenge of developing emerging Canadian composers was an equally important, if not greater mission, for our Two New Hours production team as the opportunity to make programs with established composers such as Schafer, Somers and Weinzweig. Clearly any production that commissions new works declares its vision of the future. To do so with the younger generation of creative artists was to start a new chapter in our cultural life. Here are three examples: In 1978, the 30-year-old composer Marjan Mozetich complained that he was fed up with musical modernism and declared his intention to do something about it. We offered him a commission for Two New Hours to prove his point. The work he created, a delightfully tonal and exuberant composition titled Dance of the Blind, did more than offer a new approach. It was, for Mozetich, a watershed composition that strikingly displayed a new romantic, accessible style that defined his artistic voice. Mozetich said that the opportunity to write this piece for the CBC gave him the chance to clearly define where he wanted to go with his music. “There was no turning back,” he said, after the work was broadcast on the national network. Mozetich added: “If an artist wished to highlight an aspect of their work, this was the moment to do it!” A young Vancouver-born composer named Alexina Louie had spent the 1970s in Los Angeles, first studying composition and then teaching and trying to find work writing music. But she found few opportunities in Los Angeles for either commissions or performances, and in 1980 she returned to Canada, settling in Toronto. Within months of her return she was offered a CBC commission to compose a work for accordionist Joseph Macerollo, harpist Erica Goodman and percussionist Beverley Johnston. The successful premiere and broadcast of her composition Refuge gave her confidence that she could make a career as a professional composer. It also plugged her into three of the most active performers in the Canadian new music community. “I became a professional in L.A.,” she said. “But returning to Canada provided a whirlwind of opportunity to develop my creativity.” Brian Cherney was entering mid-career as a composer when Two New Hours was created. He accepted a commission for his String Trio, a work that also set him on a new artistic direction. “I knew the piece had to be damn good and interesting but it sort of developed more sophistication and complexity as it went along in the creative process,” Brian said. “I think that one could say that the commission itself made me feel that I had to be as creative and imaginative as possible, so I tried to be just that. I should say that all of my CBC commissions inspired me to write what I consider to be my best pieces –the String Trio, the Third String Quartet, Illuminations, La Princesse lointaine.” Forty years ago, when Sunter succeeded Roberts at CBC Radio Music, CBC Radio Music had positioned itself at the very centre of an astonishing creative storm. The musical legacy that remains from that period is a rich one. These examples should encourage current instigators of commissioning projects to see that their investment in new works shapes the future of music. David Jaeger is a composer, producer and broadcaster based in Toronto. Sept 1 - Oct 7, 2015 | 57

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