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Volume 23 Issue 8 - May 2018

  • Text
  • Choir
  • Toronto
  • Musical
  • Choral
  • Singers
  • Arts
  • Theatre
  • Concerts
  • Jazz
  • Festival
In this issue: our sixteenth annual Choral Canary Pages; coverage of 21C, Estonian Music Week and the 3rd Toronto Bach Festival (three festivals that aren’t waiting for summer!); and features galore: “Final Finales” for Larry Beckwith’s Toronto Masque Theatre and for David Fallis as artistic director of Toronto Consort; four conductors on the challenges of choral conducting; operatic Hockey Noir; violinist Stephen Sitarski’s perspective on addressing depression; remembering bandleader, composer and saxophonist Paul Cram. These and other stories, in our May 2018 edition of the magazine.

his songs [Children and

his songs [Children and Art from Sunday in the Park with George] to perform at a summer music festival and from there I decided I would like to possibly create about five or six more of these transcriptions. My performing and teaching career started to take off and got in the way of focusing on the project, so I had to shelve the idea for a while – actually a long while. Several composer friends and colleagues kept asking me throughout the 1990s (and into the new century) when I was planning to do it. Finally, in 2006, my good friend – Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec – and I sat down and he encouraged me to seriously pursue this. My idea at the time was to cast the net wide to a variety of composers from multiple genres (contemporary classical, jazz, theatre, film, opera, indie, pop, etc.) to create their own settings or “re-imaginings” of a favourite Sondheim song. With the help of a very talented and dedicated fund-raising producer named Rachel Colbert, the project was set afoot. How long did it take to complete the project from the time of the first commission? What was the first commission? The first commissions were put forth in 2008/09. There were many composers commissioned all at once, but not the total amount that it ended up being. The first completed work to arrive was Ricky Ian Gordon’s setting of Every Day A Little Death from A Little Night Music. Following that, a few more trickled in (William Bolcom, David Rakowski, Jake Heggie) and then they started coming one after the other between 2009 and 2014. What were your criteria for which composers you invited to participate in the project? The project was originally going to be about 20 to 25 works, but the roster kept expanding as the composer genres expanded. Also, Steve would suggest more composers along the way who seemed perfect for the project and it gradually climbed up to 36 – “a nice round number” as the producer said – and this provided many options for presenters in addition to emphasizing the possibilities for flexible programming on my part. I wanted to be sure from the beginning that each composer involved felt a true “connection” to Mr. Sondheim’s work and that they wrote well for the piano. Over the years, several composers continued to contact me asking to participate, but we were committed to keeping a balance within the genres. Was it intentionally multi-generational? Yes, definitely. We wanted to have a wide range in age, and the final roster encompassed composers ranging in age from their late 20s to their 80s. Did you have any guidelines you asked the composers to follow? The word re-imagining is key to this project. I presented each composer with five parameters when they started. First, they were free to choose any song they felt connected to. There was a wish list, but they didn’t need to adhere to that list per se. Second, they were asked to retain the original melodic material of the song. Third, to retain most of his original harmonies. Fourth, they were free to play with the structure, especially since they would now be creating an instrumental piece from an original song, which is where much of the re-imagining seems to have originated for many of them. And finally, I requested that they not “deconstruct the material,” although a few actually did. Did any composer ask to transcribe a song that had already been chosen by another? They were of course free to choose a song that had already been chosen. However, the situation occurred only a few times where they asked about a song that was already taken. Once they knew that, they each decided to choose a different one. Nearly all of them had so many favourites, it wasn’t very hard for them to choose another. Which of the commissioned works surprised you the most? Let me just say that each piece was a revelation and each was quite unique from all the rest. Therefore, all of them were actually wonderful surprises. There were those that chose to either add an audio track accompaniment, while others incorporated unexpected “bells ’n whistles.” In each case, the approach was usually indicative of their individual style of writing. Sondheim is so well known for the quality of his lyrics, how did the composers deal with the absence of words in their transcriptions? One of the core missions of the project from the start was to illustrate Sondheim’s genius as one of the great composers of the 20th/21st century. Since Sondheim’s original musical material in each song is expanded by lyrics and narrative, the challenge for many of the composers was to capture and encapsulate the essence of the lyrics, the overall ambience/mood, the character singing it, and the core of its message through an instrumental setting of his brilliant musical material. Some composers found this a mighty challenge – many commented that the songs were already “perfect.” Therefore, some went the route of direct transcription for piano, some more fantasia-like. Each again is unique to each composer’s individual style, active within the fabric of Sondheim’s original musical material. Three examples: Steve Reich’s two-piano setting of Finishing the Hat – enhancing the original passionate melody with his own signature pulsing metre-shifts; David Rakowski’s ingenious setting of The Ladies Who Lunch – capturing the complete musical material combined with the pathos, sadness, humour and bitterness of the character who sings this song. Andy Akiho’s prepared piano setting of Into the Woods, where he animates the piano by orchestrating each character’s voice and personality using prepared piano techniques (dimes, poster tacks, credit cards) and exotic timbres in lieu of the text. There are actually numerous more examples, too many to cite, especially since each piece accomplishes something unique in terms of the individual direction each composer chose to take. Stephen Sondheim What, if any, was Stephen Sondheim’s involvement with the project? Steve was quite intrigued by the idea of the project from the start and also very humbled by the fact that so many of these “A-list” composers (as he referred to them) were so interested in setting his melodies at the piano. He has been extremely generous throughout the entire ten-year trajectory of this project, offering suggestions, commissioners, constructive ideas and a strong foundation of support. We would check in with him periodically to give him updates and he always provided a very enthusiastic “go ahead.” He seems to have a very deep respect for all of the compositions in the collection. How eager would you be to participate in a project that examined the evolution of the musical elements of Sondheim’s songs the way Sondheim himself examined his lyrics with Finishing the Hat and Look, I Made a Hat? Oh I would be very eager. Over the past several years, I often present workshops and classes for students and the public illustrating the connections of each re-imagined piece to its original song both from a musical standpoint as well as from a dramatic one. This has oftentimes also included exploring the composers’ process in creating and re-imagining the works – their challenges and their breakthroughs. Anthony de Mare performs selections from Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim as part of the 21C Music Festival in Mazzoleni Hall May 24 and Temerty Theatre on May 25. Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote. 26 | May 2018 thewholenote.com

Beat by Beat | On Opera Hockey Noir vs. The Monkiest King CHRISTOPHER HOILE The creation of new Canadian operas continues apace. April saw the premieres of The Overcoat: A Musical Tailoring by James Rolfe to a libretto by Morris Panych and the premiere of The Ecstasy of Rita Joe by Victor Davies to his own libretto. May will see the premieres of two more new operas that form a stark contrast in terms of subject matter, performers and intended audience. The first off the mark is Hockey Noir, the Opera by Quebecois composer André Ristic. The second is The Monkiest King by Hong Kongborn Canadian composer Alice Ping Yee Ho. While at the COC The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, featuring two operas by Igor Stravinsky, continues to May 19, and Anna Bolena by Donizetti continues to May 26, the arrival of these brand-new operas demonstrates how varied and vibrant the opera scene in Toronto has become. Hockey Noir Hockey Noir, the Opera premieres on May 10 with two more performances on May 11. Subtitled “A bilingual chamber opera Véronique Lacroix Hockey Noir, the Opera - Illustration by Kimberlyn Porter in 3 periods,” Hockey Noir is the first full-scale opera to be presented by Toronto’s Continuum Contemporary Music. It is co-produced by Ensemble contemporain de Montréal (ECM) and the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. As the title suggests, the opera is an homage to film noir, as well as a portrayal of the perennial Montreal- Toronto rivalry in hockey (which is why the libretto is in both French and English). The setting is a fictional 1950s Canada during the playoff final between the Montreal Quabs and the Toronto Pine Needles.The action is narrated in voice-over by a Detective Loiseau, who describes the details of his investigation and the goings-on behind the scenes of the playoff series. He observes the backroom schemes of a colourful cast of characters PIERRE-ÉTIENNE BERGERON THE LLANDOVERY C •STLE A NEW OPERA WORKSHOP WITH THE BICYCLE OPERA PROJECT The story of 14 Canadian nurses and their doomed WWI hospital ship Music: Stephanie Martin Words: Paul Ciufo Director: Tom Diamond Music Director: Kimberly Bartczak JUNE 26 & 27 2018 AT 8:00 P.M. CALVIN CHURCH, TORONTO LLANDOVERYCASTLE.CA thewholenote.com May 2018 | 27

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