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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.

McGillivray, a standout

McGillivray, a standout as singer and actor in his leading contrasting roles of Head of the Department and the Tailor. The design team has created a clearly evocative world, a slightly macabre, slightly Dickensian, silent movie-in-looks world, dark with colours for highlights, faces all painted white with black-rimmed highlighted eyes exaggerating every facial expression. The music is clean and spare, toeing the line between new opera and new music theatre, occasionally going into flights of fancy (as when the tailor takes his snuff) and finding eerie harmonies for the mad-girl chorus who haunt the hero like an invisible three fates waiting for him to fall, commenting on his actions and predicting his end. What I did miss was the odd aria, or solo song, to give the characters a chance to connect more deeply with the audience. Both librettist/director and composer spoke to me about wanting to give primacy to the words and ideas rather than musical ornamentation. But I missed the connection that an aria or solo can create between the stage and the audience, particularly for the lead character Akakiy, embodied well by Geoffrey Sirett, a simple man obsessed with numbers to the exclusion of almost everything else in his life. Oblivious to the attraction his rather Brechtian landlady has for him (she gets to tell us a little bit about this) he follows his daily routine and does sing to us a bit about numbers but not at any length or to any great depth. If the creative team still tinker with their creation as it goes on the road and goes into the opera repertoire I hope they will consider adding a solo or two. Musicals, in my view, need to have these moments – in Fun Home, currently onstage, for example, the most powerful moments are captured in solo songs where the leading characters, unable to hold their feelings in, turn to the audience and sing. Middle Alison in Changing My Major and Small Alison in Ring of Keys, for example, offer clear moments of discovery for both characters. That being said, there are some other very interesting dramaturgical choices that work well in this Overcoat. Taking Akakiy’s original obsession with copying letters from the short story, turning it into an obsession with numbers and then throughout the libretto into combined themes of counting and measuring a man’s worth, for example. The biggest dramaturgical choice that departs from the short story is the framing of the stage version with madness. When Akakiy loses his overcoat to thieves here, he goes mad rather than just getting mad, and the mad girls and physical performers become the inmates of a mad house where Akakiy ends up, wearing another sort of jacket altogether. While there is a definite neatness to this concept, it is a bit frustrating in that it loses the universality of the original symbolism of Akakiy dying and his ghost continuing to haunt the streets stealing coats from passersby. There is a haunting moment in the staging where it looks as though this will indeed happen, but then it is gone. These caveats aside, this Overcoat is a highly accomplished, highly theatrical night in the theatre, and I’m sure it will live on and develop further. QUICK PICKS To June 3: Fans of TV Series Downton Abbey will be delighted to see Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) as Miss Hannigan in Annie (run extended to June 3), presented by Mirvish at the Ed Mirvish Theatre. To May 6: Former composer for La La La Human Steps, Canadian Njo Kong Kie brings his musical collage Picnic in the Cemetery to Canadian Stage’s Berkeley Street Upstairs Theatre. Starting May 3: Grand Hotel begins at the Shaw Festival. Fans of the film starring Greta Garbo and John Barrymore may be curious to see this musical version. May 4 to June 2: Soulpepper presents August Wilson’s classic 1920s musical Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, starring Alana Bridgewater and a strong Toronto cast. May 24 to June 17: Grease Toronto presents Grease. Music, lyrics and book by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. Winter Garden Theatre, 189 Yonge St. Toronto-based “lifelong theatre person” Jennifer (Jenny) Parr works as a director, fight director, stage manager and coach, and is equally crazy about movies and musicals. Beat by Beat | Early Music Now Is the Month of Maying (or, In Search of Spring) MATTHEW WHITFIELD Discussing early music is similar to discussing winter in Canada, particularly here in Toronto. We know where each is supposed to begin and end: early music covers everything from the Medieval era to the end of the Baroque, widely considered to be 1750 (the year of J.S. Bach’s death); winter begins with the winter solstice near the end of December and lasts until the spring equinox in March. This year, though, Toronto was treated to an intense April ice storm, causing almost 1,500 car accidents over a single weekend, wreaking havoc on property, and instilling regret in those who switched over their vehicle’s winter tires too soon. The Farmer’s Almanac may have told us one thing, but as we well know, real life scenarios rarely match our neat-and-tidy theoretical assumptions. When attempting to categorize early music, we encounter many of the same practical and theoretical conflicts we face when discussing the weather. As time moves forward, formerly avant-garde composers such as Cage, Messiaen and Berio become part of music’s history, relics from the past century, while the greats of long ago, including Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms, move even further into the distant past. When this happens, we realize that this inevitable progression of time pushes composers and their works further and further back in history, thereby blurring our outdated and neatly conceived 19th- and 20th-century categorizations of classical music’s epochs. The continually expanding exploration and development of performance practice in music mirrors this passing of time. The Historically Informed Performance (HIP) movement, for example, was started 60-or-so years ago, when Leonhardt, Rilling and Harnoncourt began recording the complete Bach cantatas, and has since grown to encompass Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and even Mahler. As what we consider contemporary continues to move ahead and composers continue to utilize technology and digital media as compositional techniques to be included along with live performers, we look back at the music of the past through a constantly-changing lens. Is this to say that we should consistently take the pruning shears to Western music, judiciously weeding out repertoire that no longer serves a purpose or that seems too old or outdated? Probably not – we wouldn’t want to cause a riot, after all, by acknowledging the inherent clunkiness of some of Beethoven’s compositions or the influence of Leopold Mozart on young Mozart’s symphonies and concerti, or echo Pierre Boulez’s critiques of Schoenberg’s structural schizophrenia. Instead, we should look at music as a whole, do away with our naïve categorizations and acknowledge the ancient nature of this music and its place in history. By taking a large-scale look at individual repertoire in its historical context – as a progression of musical lineage and development that bridges the enormous gulf between the beginning of medieval staff notation and monophony to the monstrous complexity of Ferneyhough and Finnissy, ultimately ending up with the products of today’s composers – we see that everything is connected. If we acknowledge the innate interconnectedness between Schütz and Scelsi, Fasch and Ferneyhough, we can throw away the idea of narrow-minded specialization in music and increase our own awareness of the greatness of all musics, and then pass on this awareness to our audiences. As Robert Heinlein writes: “specialization is for insects.” 34 | May 2018 thewholenote.com

Toronto Bach Festival The month of May provides many interesting opportunities to see presenters straddle the lines more frequently, offering concerts of music taken from different eras and showing the progression of musical history over time, whether in shorter segments or over large, epochspanning periods. The third annual Toronto Bach Festival, which takes place from May 11 to 13, explores Bach’s influences, the musical figures from the Renaissance and early Baroque that combined and incubated to result in one of classical music’s primary figures. Featuring three concerts and a lecture by professor Michael Marissen, this year’s Bach Festival, curated by artistic director (and Tafelmusik oboist) John Abberger, focuses on the music of Bach and Heinrich Schütz, regarded as the most important German composer before Bach and an influence on later composers such as Brahms and Webern. The opening concert includes Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos No.2 and 4, Concerto for Oboe d’amore and Orchestral Suite No.4, with Abberger (as oboist and director), Baroque violinist Julia Wedman, and natural horn player Scott Wevers among the orchestra’s 14 players. British composer Brian Eno recently spoke of our contemporary cult of genius, stating that “although great new ideas are usually articulated by individuals, they’re nearly always generated by communities.” Through performances of Bach’s orchestral music, including two Brandenburg Concerti, Schütz’s stunning Johannes Passion and an organ recital by Rachel Mahon featuring works by Dieterich Buxtehude, this year’s Toronto Bach Festival will paint a large-scale picture of Bach in relation to his peers and predecessors, an engaging portrait that removes Bach from his isolated, elevated pedestal of genius and contextualizes his works within his musical community. Toronto Bach Festival artistic director John Abberger 21C Music Festival Continuing the theme of multi-era concerts, The Royal Conservatory’s 21C Music Festival presents pianist Simone Dinnerstein with chamber orchestra A Far Cry, in what looks to be a magnificent juxtaposition of the complex counterpoint of Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in G Minor with the deceptively simple minimalism of Philip Glass’s Piano Concerto No. 3. While Bach uses counterpoint to create an overall effect greater than the sum of the parts, Glass’ counterpoint sounds less complex than it actually is, with characteristically repetitive themes and gradually evolving, large-scale processes combining to create works that bring to mind Michael Caine’s quote on the duck: calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath. Lest one say that Glass’ music is “light” or “superficial,” it is helpful to remember that Glass received the same intensive training as many of his compositional contemporaries, even studying for two years with Nadia Boulanger, the legendary French pedagogue. Glass’ music, particularly his large-scale works, contains moments of distinct compositional ingenuity, thematic developments sharing similarities with the age-old fugue, and ideas that are combined, contrasted and displayed in virtuosic versatility. This ingenuity correlates perfectly with Bach’s own ideas on counterpoint, and this unexpected combination of old and new works not only provides a vehicle for virtuosity that spans the centuries, but also contains a consistent set of underlying principles, albeit within distinctly different soundscapes. Tafelmusik plays Beethoven Tafelmusik’s Beethoven collaborations with conductor Bruno Weil, culminating in a recently-released set of the complete symphonies, expand the repertoire conventionally assumed as suitable for a Baroque orchestra. This May, the Tafel/Weil duo reunites to perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, “Pastoral” and his magnificent Violin Concerto, with Jeanne Lamon as concertmaster and Elisa Citterio as soloist. Many are familiar with Romantic interpretations of this symphony – think Furtwängler and later – rife with pictorial depictions of rolling hills, birdsong and the inevitable storm. By performing this work on period instruments – thereby reducing the kaleidoscopic range of expression typically available on modern instruments – the characteristically caricatured interpretation we have come to expect may be tempered somewhat. It will be worthwhile to hear this work in the context of its time, rather than as a scene-painting predecessor to Wagnerian drama! There are many other fantastic concerts happening in the early music world this month, too many to mention here, and I hope that you’ll do some exploring, both in this magazine and in the Toronto arts scene as a whole. With the last blast of winter hopefully behind us, take some time this spring to get outside and take in some music. Not only will you be able to walk around in something other than a parka and boots, you will also have the opportunity to hear marvellous music from all eras performed by some of the city’s most talented artists. I hope to see you at some of this month’s musical events. As always, feel free to get in touch at earlymusic@thewholenote.com. Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist. JULY 20 TH – AUGUST 11 TH , 2018 PARRY SOUND, ONTARIO CLASSICAL & JAZZ CONCERTS • CRUISES • TALKS JAMES CAMPBELL, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR 60 EVENTS • 70 MUSICIANS • 20 ENSEMBLES Including Canadian Guitar Quartet, Charles Richard-Hamelin, Elmer Iseler Singers, Elora Festival Singers, Ensemble Made in Canada, Gryphon Trio, Hogtown Syncopators, Jonathan Crow, Lafayette String Quartet, New Zealand String Quartet, Penderecki String Quartet, Slocan Ramblers, Stewart Goodyear & many, many more! SWING, BLUEGRASS & JAZZ ISLAND QUEEN CRUISES www.festivalofthesound.ca 1.866.364.0061 thewholenote.com May 2018 | 35

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