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Volume 22 Issue 7 - April 2017

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  • April
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • Symphony
  • Arts
  • Theatre
  • Quartet
  • Orchestra
  • Choir
  • Musical
In this issue: Our podcast ramps up with interviews in March with fight director Jenny Parr, countertenor Daniel Taylor, and baritone Russell Braun; two views of composer John Beckwith at 90; how music’s connection to memory can assist with the care of patients with Alzheimer’s; musical celebrations in film and jazz, at National Canadian Film Day and Jazz Day; and a preview of Louis Riel, which opens this month at the COC. These and other stories, in our April 2017 issue of the magazine!

Encounters John Beckwith

Encounters John Beckwith at 90 First encounters hold a special fascination for many of us. The name of our country for example – so familiar, yet revealing multiple rich layers of transcultural enigmas when you dig deeper – is no exception. The word canada first appears in writing in Jacques Cartier’s 1535-36 travel journals. It’s a transcription of the word kanatha, likely meaning “village” in a now-extinct Laurentian language of the St. Lawrence Iroquoians. Cartier used it to describe the region he visited near the contemporary Quebec City. His tag caught on: within ten years Canada appears as a toponym printed on a French map. Tracing the roots of that name back to a discussion between First Nation native and European explorer’s interpretive act of labelling some 482 years ago evokes some of the power of early encounters. It certainly places Canada’s 150th anniversary into a much larger historical frame. It also serves as a suitable backstory to the celebrations this year of the career of the veteran Toronto composer, music educator and prolific writer John Beckwith, now in his 91st year. He was professionally associated with the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, from 1952, serving as dean 1970-77. Between 1985 and his early retirement in 1990 he served as the first director of its Institute for Canadian Music – and a number of his compositions mine Canadian themes and music performance practices. He is being honoured this year with multiple retrospectives of his music, including a performance of his Wendake/Huronia (2015). Dubbed a “choral documentary” Wendake/Huronia is scored for alto, narrator, chorus, early-instrument ensemble and native drums, and is set primarily in 17th-century Canada. It was most recently performed by the Toronto Consort as the second half of the program “Kanatha/ Canada: First Encounters” on February 4, at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre’s Jeanne Lamon Hall. Beckwith’s six-movement work employing voices and period instruments evokes the pre- and post-contact soundscape of the St. Lawrence Valley beginning with the sounds of snowshoe travel in the winter, and canoeing in the summer. As for the French and Wendat lyrics, Beckwith partly adapted the words and poetry of Georges Sioui, Wendat Traditional Knowledge Keeper and Coordinator of Aboriginal Studies at the University of Ottawa. Sioui’s contributions appear in the angry Lamentation, 1642, as well as in the more optimistic final movement À l’avenir (To the Future) “reflecting today’s efforts towards reconciliation of aboriginal and settler cultures.” It’s a remarkably ambitious, socially complex and sensitive work for any composer, let alone one in his tenth decade. Curious about the man, I spoke to broadcaster and composer David Jaeger, a former University of Toronto Beckwith student and later a colleague. ANDREW TIMAR John Beckwith photographed in 2002 by André Leduc. The photo is taken from Leduc’s book Composers in My Lens which David Olds reviews in this month’s Editor’s Corner column. “I first encountered Beckwith’s name in the 1969 John Cage book Notations which included Beckwith’s Circle, with Tangents [for solo harpsichord and string orchestra]” recalled Jaeger. “The score looked orderly, neat, intellectually rigorous, meticulous and clear in its intentions. Then while a grad student at U of T I took a course on the music of Canada. Who better to teach it but John Beckwith? He was a very good teacher: wellprepared, methodical, wellorganized and professional.” After joining the CBC in 1973 as a radio music producer and creating the celebrated new music program Two New Hours, Jaeger enjoyed a number of professional interactions with Beckwith. “From time to time, John would receive commissions from various organizations. He always had surprises in store. His creative mind is so multifaceted and fertile. Peregrine, his 1989 viola concerto performed by the Esprit Orchestra, for example, was inspired by compass settings. If it was music, John was interested. This emerges clearly in his ‘Canadiana’ pieces, in his adaptations of folk songs and regional music like [his 1966] Sharon Fragments.” Jaeger also commented on Beckwith’s place in Canadian music, education and culture. “His writing has greatly helped his own legacy through his published works. I’m thinking of his beautifully written autobiography. I feel that ‘setting the record’ takes active maintenance, and that it must be regularly presented to the public in order for it to survive into the next generation.” Last month the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music honoured its former dean with “A 90th Celebration of John Beckwith.” It was followed by a lecture by Beckwith tellingly titled CanMus Then and Now, “a comparison between musical life in the centennial year, 1967, and 50 years later in the sesquicentennial year 2017.” And who better to provide this insight into CanMus than John Beckwith? New Music Concerts is adding its seasoned voice to the celebration on April 28 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre with “John Beckwith at 90.” NMC artistic director Robert Aitken invited his longtime friend and colleague Beckwith to choose the repertoire for the concert. He selected two of his latest works, Calling (2016) and Quintet (2016). Both will receive their world premieres. And although Beckwith’s Avowals (1985) has been recorded by the tenor Benjamin Butterfield and pianist William Aide for Centrediscs, this will be their first concert performance of it. In addition, Beckwith has picked compositions for the concert that have personal meaning: Stravinsky’s In Memoriam Dylan Thomas (1954) and String Quartet No. 3 (1962) by his teacher John Weinzweig. These two works reflect yet another kind of encounter: that with music and musicians early in a composer’s career, marking it forever. Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at 22 | April 1, 2017 - May 7, 2017

Beat by Beat | In with the New Singing through a Century WENDALYN BARTLEY I find it fascinating how particular themes that surface in new music events happening in the city have a way of rolling into each other. In my interview in the March issue of The WholeNote with Owen Pallett, he spoke about how he was bringing a different focus to the TSO’s New Creations Festival by emphasizing music related to gender and Indigenous identities as well as genre diversity. A similar theme of exploring identity is at the heart of Century Song, a music, dance and image-based stage work created by soprano Neema Bickersteth in collaboration with choreographer Kate Alton and theatre director Ross Manson of Volcano Theatre. The piece runs from April 19 to 29 and is presented by Nightwood Theatre. Using Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando as an inspiration, Century Song moves through a series of scenes spanning 100 years as it follows the story of a black woman in Canada. The tale is told using the language of the body – both the wordless sounds of the voice and the physical gestures created by the choreography. And the story it tells is one close to Bickersteth’s heart – in fact it is an embodiment of her own personal journey. The work however didn’t start out with this goal in mind, Bickersteth told me during our recent phone interview. Rather it emerged during the development process. The initial question she wanted to explore was whether a classically based singer could both sing and dance as is done in music theatre. Together with Alton, they chose a series of 20th-century compositions for soprano that used only vocal sounds and no text. While rehearsing, it became apparent from the feedback that “I had been putting a persona on top of what I was doing. The music was just a song with no character or text. But I realized I was pretending to be a white woman while singing, something I had always done with classical music due to my university training.” Bickersteth grew up in Alberta and is a first-generation Canadian born to parents originally from Sierra Leone. She grew up with a love of singing and eventually studied classical voice and opera at UBC. During the rehearsal process when she became aware she was singing as a white woman, she also discovered that this wasn’t conscious, but “something that had entered me from early on. It was a personal issue I needed to take a look at. What are the layers that I don’t even know are there?” These discoveries took the piece into a different direction, becoming the threads that tied the entire work together. The character that emerged “came from within me,” she said. Each of the selected compositions is staged within a particular location and time period with a focus on highlighting aspects of Canadian black history. This is accomplished through the set design, projected images and costume. Beginning with Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise written in 1915, the setting is Alberta during the second decade of the 20th century. At that time black communities were relegated to the outskirts of town, with the men often forced into leaving home to find work in Edmonton and the women and children struggling to survive. However, Bickersteth says, “there is always a way through,” and her character finds that necessary inner strength. After WWI, things change, and the character is now a well-dressed jazz singer in Montreal. There is a sense of things being easy and beautiful, communicated through the shimmering colours of Messiaen’s Vocalise-Étude composed in 1935. As the music progresses into an uneasiness, the character begins to raise questions through her sounds and physical movements about whether this new place she has landed is really so great after all. This uneasiness grows darker during the performance of the second Messaien piece, an excerpt from his 1941 composition Quartet for the End of Time during which Bickersteth becomes a wartime factory worker. The creators adapt a section where the violin and cello lines play in unison into a vocalise, using electronic processing on Bickersteth’s voice to create the doubling effect. Between each of the composed vocal works, Gregory Oh (piano) and Ben Grossman (percussion) perform structured improvisations on their respective instruments along with various electroacoustic sounds sourced from their laptops. These transitional improvisations were created in collaboration with the composer of Century Song, Reza Jacobs, along with Debashis Sinha, who performed during earlier productions of the piece. The music following the Messaien piece is explosive in nature, highlighting the character’s internal war coming to terms with things “once believed in, but not anymore. It’s that identity struggle that causes a breakdown.” This storm leads into calm with the performance of A Flower by John Cage, composed in 1950 and set for voice and percussive piano sounds. The setting is Vancouver, where during the postwar period the small black community was moved to housing projects, making way for the Georgia Street viaduct. Using film footage with a rapid succession of images to create the transition through to the 1970s, the next persona to appear is modelled after Bickersteth’s mother, who juggled being a wife and mother while studying and working at a job. She, like many other women of the 1970s, was determined to do it all and this level of intense activity is aptly portrayed through the performance of Récitation 10 by Georges Aperghis. The musicians pick up the heightened field of action and push it to an extreme tempo while Bickersteth dances her way through to the final work composed specifically for her by Jacobs. During this frenetic transition we see images of different faces wearing clothing from all times and cultures. Bickersteth explains how this ties into her personal journey with the piece: “It’s all me. Am I pretending to be someone else? Who am I, who are you, who do we see each other as? If you see a black woman dressed up in a sari – what does that mean to you?” The final Vocalise by Jacobs is the musical moment where Bickersteth can finally land within her own voice. “Working from a personal perspective as opposed to a put-on perspective creates a CARDINAL CARTER ACADEMY FOR THE ARTS MUSIC DEPARTMENT PRESENTS Missa Gaia | Earth Mass Celebrate our common home in song and word with 200 singers, instrumentalists & dancers. featuring the World Premiere of Paul Halley’s In the wide awe and wisdom of the night Wednesday May 10, 7:30pm METROPOLITAN UNITED CHURCH 56 Queen Street East, Toronto GENERAL ADMISSION April 1, 2017 - May 7, 2017 | 23

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