7 years ago

Volume 21 Issue 9 - Summer 2016

  • Text
  • Festival
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • Quartet
  • August
  • Orchestra
  • September
  • Musical
  • Theatre
  • Concerts
It's combined June/July/August summer issue time with, we hope, enough between the covers to keep you dipping into it all through the coming lazy, hazy days. From Jazz Vans racing round "The Island" delivering pop-up brass breakouts at the roadside, to Bach flute ambushes strolling "The Grove, " to dozens of reasons to stay in the city. May yours be a summer where you find undiscovered musical treasures, and, better still, when, unexpectedly, the music finds you.

understanding of the

understanding of the context in which he and SSM must operate. If he does his job right, around 65,000 people every season, who make it to Stratford for something else, will “happen across” SSM, and remember the fact that they did. “How do you plan for people to stumble across you and how do you ensure that, no matter how long they stick around for, they go away appreciating the scope of the whole thing and the deftness of the weave?” I ask. “It’s very interesting,” he says. “I am always running into people who say ‘I didn’t know there was a music festival here’ and then I’ll say ‘Well, did you hear the Andrew Collins Trio; did you hear the bluegrass?’ and they’ll say ‘Oh yeah I heard the bluegrass music down on that wonderful floating stage, downtown,’ but they just sort of thought it happened somehow.” “But that’s the big challenge, isn’t it?” I ask. “Because your passers through, your Stratford Festival attendees, even your SSM regulars, are only going to get a tiny taste of it all, unless they are coming back every weekend or staying the week, which I would think isn’t easy to do given how busy the town is in theatre high-season.” He pushes back a bit at that: “Well I suppose. But if you went to the Edinburgh Festival, or Ravinia, or any of these places, even if you come for the Stratford Theatre, you know, you don’t get it all at one time. You have to come back, or you take your chance on what has been programmed by some artistic director for the dates when you’re going to be there. That’s the way it is, and as the artistic director you have to understand that. My responsibility is to present you with a cultural smorgasbord at any given moment, so that you can pick and choose from it.” The trick, he says, is to make sure that there is always a representative mix of ingredients so you come away with a sense of the whole. Beyond Concertizing: Stratford Summer Music is also becoming an increasingly interesting educational destination, for public and students alike, most notably its TorQ Percussion Quartet residency, now in its fifth year, and a robust Vocal Academy which offers a jawdroppingly fine ten-day residency to career-edge artists. “The Vocal Academy is expanded this year,” Miller says, “with new faculty – Krisztina Szabó, Nathalie Poulin and Alison Pybus.” Pybus, he says, is a particularly significant addition. “We felt it was important that these edge-of-career singers have guidance in areas additional to voice. And management is something they need to understand and have insight into. Alison Pybus used to be the director of the vocal division at IMG. So she’s at the top of her field and will join [Michael] Schade and Phillip Addis and Emily Hamper, and Howard Dyck who lectures on oratorio, and Geraint Wynn-Davies who speaks to them about acting.” Getting in is via a rigorous application process involving submission of recordings and CVs so they can be shipped to Schade, Hamper and Addis wherever they may be; at this point applicants come in from all over Canada, and elsewhere – “The furthest this year was New Zealand” he says. “And we sent posters to every music faculty in the country back in January.” It’s not a full scholarship opportunity but the ten days end up costing around 0, with billeting opportunities and/or housing in the nurses’ residence in town as options. “And of course while they are with us they get tickets to the theatre and everything else that’s going on in the Stratford environment.” The great thing, he adds, is that most of those vocal master classes are open to the public – “Alison Pybus will, for example conduct mock auditions, and then spend private time afterwards, giving feedback and going over each student’s promotional materials.” Tellingly, the subsidizing of student participation in the Vocal Academy comes from the community itself – a grass roots initiative. “What is extraordinary to me,” Miller says, “is how the community buys in. After all this time, living in Stratford, you understand how important the arts are, not just for the pocket book but for your own soul. Artists love to come here - 35,000 population, extraordinary restaurants and neighbours. I’m having fun. One heck of a good place, it really is. I am just happy to be lucky enough to do what I do.” David Perlman can be reached at Summer Of Our Discontent? LYDIA PEROVIC A peculiar thing happens each year around mid-May in the largest, busiest city of Canada, the fifth largest North American city: mainstream Toronto opera life all but shuts down, give or take an intrepid indie daring a short early June run. And the season stays shut until the latter half of September. This year there’s an exception, a chamber opera at the Winter Garden in July thanks to the Toronto Summer Music Festival, but it’s likelier to be a one-off than a harbinger. Classical music lovers are somewhat luckier, with the TSO working full steam until the end of June, though it too starts the season late in September. Berlin, on the other hand, goes to the opera until early August and happily returns to it first week of September. Opera in Paris runs parallel with ballet until mid-July. London goes strong until mid-July and effectively has no respite with the Proms taking over from then on till mid-September. Even regional European houses in small cities beat us in quantity and length. The opera house in Liège (population 200,000) has an eight-production season that runs until the end of June. Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam (population 780,000) starts its 12-production season early September and dovetails with Holland Festival on the other end to finish in early July. What do the artists who make opera do in those four months that Toronto doesn’t do opera? And how do they explain our long break? Soprano Ambur Braid recently returned home to Toronto after a Magic Flute run at the English National Opera in London, where she sang a wheelchair-bound Queen of the Night, and subsequently a very different, glammed-up Maleficent-like version of the same role at the Calgary Opera. “Evil royalty,” as she puts it, dramatic coloratura roles are becoming her calling card and one of her great historical research interests: those who attended the Canadian Art Song Project recital “The Living Spectacle” last winter were treated to a standup quality introduction to the wives of Henry VIII before her exceptional rendering of Try Me, Good King by Libby Larsen. She could not confirm or deny if she will return to the ENO in the near future, but I would bet on Yes, and on Verdi, the composer she’s starting to sing more, including the recital with Toronto Concert Orchestra at Casa Loma this May. The voracious intellect whose interests range from Anne Boleyn to painter Stephen Appleby-Barr to Wes Anderson to caftans (if anybody will make them glamourous, it’ll be this statuesque soprano), Braid will combine work, study and travel this summer. “I’ll be singing the bitchy maid Dalinda in Richard Jones’ new Ariodante at the COC in September, so my June will be all Ariodante prep, all the time,” she says. She’ll also travel to Puglia to brush up her Italian, and try out agriturismo (“And eat and gain my preparatory weight,” she adds). “On August 6 I’m singing a recital of Rachmaninoff and Sibelius in Niagara-on-the-Lake, two new singing languages for me, and will be coaching all of that in July.” The COC rehearsals start on September 9. We mull over possible reasons for the shortness of Toronto opera season, and wonder if it’s still presumed that since a lot of people of a certain class are out of town every weekend from May long weekend until Labour Day that everybody else is—or that they’re the only ones going to the opera. Opera tickets as a luxury item, opera audiences upper middle class? Sad state of affairs, if true, we agree. “Even in real estate,” she muses, “and in sales of clothes and jewellery, not a lot of people with buying power are in town in the summer, so that activity slows down.” The massive influx of tourists helps refill the audiences of London, Paris and Berlin during summer, she says after I bring up the European seasons. Is it about our habits, do we only do culture October to May? “It could be because we’re so young. Unlike Europeans, we are not brought up with it…And here, because it’s less subsidized and more expensive to go to the opera, you don’t go as 12 | June 1, 2016 - September 7, 2016

often – it’s a special occasion thing. We Ambur Braid say it shouldn’t be, but it is. And the relative rarity of performances also makes going to the opera a special event. You cannot show up at the opera house any day of the week and see something.” But she’s optimistic we’ll get there. “Hopefully we’ll get to the next step. Things are happening, it’s an exciting time to be in Canada.” Christopher Mokrzewski has a similar take. “I get the feeling that Toronto is still a bit old-fashioned in that so much of the population takes significant time off in the summer. People are always travelling, are out of town, attending weddings and going to cottages, which makes it a little more difficult to maintain an active performance schedule with a diminished audience base,” writes the resident conductor at the Calgary Opera and music director of Against the Grain Theatre in an email. So musicians adapt and leave the city to work at festivals or train, like he’s about to do after wrapping up A Little Too Cozy, the AtG adaptation of Mozart/Da Ponte’s Così fan tutte. He’s taking a few days off in Toronto – “I’m desperate to get to a Jays game and see more concerts!” – before heading to St. Louis for a week on a professional development stipend from Calgary Opera. He’ll be working on bel canto repertoire with conductor Stephen Lord. The brilliant young musician is best known for the mashup of Schubert and Messiaen played with great conviction and drama in AtG’s “Death and Desire” last year, but his conducting interests are growing and it’s bel canto’s turn now. He’s then off to Banff for six weeks, where he is music director for the Open Space Opera young artist program to conduct his first The Rape of Lucretia: his second one is the TSMF semi-staged performance at Winter Garden Theatre, Toronto’s one mainstream operatic exception of the summer. “I just love Banff to death. And I cannot wait for the real highlight of the summer, the Banff Centre Theatre Arts staff softball game. Big league!” Late July the AtG will perform at the Ottawa Chamber Fest, after which Mokrzewski returns to Calgary for a week of rehearsals and two weeks of performances at the Calgary Opera summer festival. “In late August and September I’ll likely be in Toronto and NYC for some professional development opportunities that are currently still in the works. Maybe I’ll take a few days off, if the mood strikes, and go on a road trip.” Not a lot of leisure in Amanda Smith’s summer either. The emerging stage director and founding artistic director of FAWN Chamber Creative is already leaving her mark as one of the few movers within the Toronto Indie Opera network who embrace electronic music as essential for operatic creation and dance as essential to its performance. This approach was very much in evidence in Synaesthesia, FAWN’s recent six-composer workshop performance in the postindustrial area around Sterling Avenue that featured a dancer in pieces that alternate acoustic and electronic, live and tape. “I grew up listening to metal and noise music, it’s a big part of my life,” she says. The audience at Synaesthesia that night was mostly twentysomethings, and this was in part due to this bridging between the electronic music audience and the performing arts audience that those pieces proposed. “I also don’t want to charge people more than per show. People are less willing to go to something unfamiliar if the tickets are more expensive. And us millennials are probably the most underemployed generation in a long while, with little disposable income.” One of the three audience-chosen pieces from the show will be commissioned into an opera. “We’re hoping to create a ballet lyrique and I want it to be sort of like devised theatre – only, devised opera. We have a workshop period, we’ll have a story, but the music will get devised.” Smith’s degrees from Laurier and UofT are in voice and opera, but by the third year she knew she wanted to direct rather than sing. She’s since assisted a number of directors, including Michael Cavanagh for the world premiere of the now much-travelled Svadba by Ana Sokolović and Tim Albery for the landmark Grimes on the Beach at Aldeburgh Music Festival. Her summers so far have been about development. Last year she spent it in Quebec City observing the rehearsals for the new Robert Lepage production of L’Amour de loin and talking with the director (her theatre role model) about structuring rehearsals and getting the most out of people. This June she is travelling to Chicago to attend the Chicago Summer Opera program for two months. “I’ll be working with the director George Cederquist there. He does some exciting work, I’m really looking forward. I’m going to be mentored by him and have one-onone seminars.” The two will work on Britten’s Albert Herring. For the director Ashlie Corcoran there will be no summer vacation this year: the season at Thousand Islands Playhouse in Gananoque where she is artistic director actually runs May to October, and her recently completed run of the play Das Ding at Canadian Stage was her 12th production in as many months. Three of the ten productions at the Playhouse she’ll direct herself: Sondheim’s Into the Woods, Coward’s Blythe Spirit and Das Ding by Philipp Löhle, a German play about globalization that she enthusiastically describes as “wild.” She’ll also be preparing for the pieces she’s directing in the fall, Blythe Spirit in Kamloops, the school tour at the COC and in December, Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah. Then off to direct the JENNIFER TOOLE June 1, 2016 - September 7, 2016 | 13

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