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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.

And she was never late.

And she was never late. This one day we were all there. Two pm came. Then 2:05, 2:10 and no Madame Ehlers; 2:15 and we were all getting ready to leave and there she was. Walking on air. ‘Ach, I have heard a miracle. There is a Canadian, his name is Glenn Gould. He plays the Goldberg Variations. I don’t agree with everything but he is magnificent!’ Glenn Gould’s Goldberg – the only thing that ever made Madame Ehlers late for class. And this was in 1955, right in the moment after the record’s release.” As for the first time Norcop remembers hearing Jessye Norman sing, the memory of that moment is also vivid, even though the date and place are not. “Was it 15 years ago? 20? 25? Hers has been an extraordinary career. It was also one of those car radio stories. You know, when you turn on the radio in the middle of something playing, so instead of being pre-warned, you have to make up your own mind about what you are hearing. And for me it was simply ‘My God!’ She was in the middle of Wagner’s Wesedonck Lieder. She sounded like a young Kirsten Flagstad back then.” Heading North Within ten years of that memorable day in Madame Ehlers’ Baroque interpretation class at USC, baritone Norcop’s career was about to take an 18-year “temporary back seat” to that of Norcop the arts administrator – a career that would take him from manager of the Vancouver Opera to the Ontario Arts Council, where he met Charlotte Holmes, his future wife. In more than a decade and a half at the OAC he served, among James Norcop other positions, as music officer and eventually as head of the touring program for all the arts. Through it all, vocal music, and in particular art song, remained (and remains) a throughline and consuming passion. The Jim and Charlotte Norcop Prize in Song and Gwendolyn Williams Koldofsky Prize in Accompanying, at the U of T Faculty of Music, are testament to that. So too has been Norcop’s role, from the first year of Douglas McNabney’s tenure as artistic director of Toronto Summer Music, eight years ago, in enabling the TSM art song academy to rise from the ashes of TSM’s short-lived opera program. The hard rocks of financial unsustainability were the primary reason for the opera program’s meteoric rise and fall. “Besides which,” Norcop says, “there are other places in the world to go for opera studies in the summer.” But for art song, not so much, although for Norcop as a genre it is at the pinnacle of the classical vocal arts, albeit widely viewed these days as a poor relation of its “wham, bam, thank you ma’am” aria-driven operatic counterpart. “It requires all the powers of passion, interpretation and artistry that opera does, distilled into intense moments. And all without benefit of script.” For years he hoped and tried to establish, with collaborative pianist Liz Upchurch, a vocal arts competition in Toronto; she wanted to dedicate it to her mentor, repetiteur and vocal coach extraordinaire Martin Isepp. But “Toronto is a very tough place to fundraise for musical causes,” he says, wryly. Which brings us, finally, to the main reason for his braving the ice to be here: the Concours in Montreal. Aria vs. Song “Canada only has four musical competitions of international stature,” Norcop says. “There’s Banff for string quartets, Honens for piano, Montreal for organ, and then there’s this, the Concours.” And even the Concours, with its triennial emphasis on voice, was missing the mark, as Norcop saw it, based on his first visit there, for the 2015 vocal round. “The category was just voice, with everything lumped in, so naturally opera ruled the day, with maybe a little bit of oratorio thrown in.” To cut what should be a longer story short, he leapt in, making the case to Concours executive and artistic director Christiane LeBlanc that it should be feasible to create parallel streams within the triennial vocal round, so that in the vocal year there would be a competition for aria and one for song, running parallel. “She got it right away,” Norcop says (with perhaps no implied criticism of years of futile trying to do the same thing in Ontario). The speed with which it has all come together (three years is nothing in administrative time) is remarkable, reflective of the alactrity and passion with which Norcop threw himself into the task of raising the roughly 0,000 needed to get the initiative off the ground, and to put into place a prize structure matching dollar for dollar the 0,000 offered overall in the aria category (which has a 16-year head start on its upstart twin). And Norcop is putting his own money where his mouth is, in the category that best reflects a lifetime of insight into the realities of pursuing an artistic life in art song. It’s the James Norcop Career Development Award, a no-strings-attached ,000 to the winner. “The song business is not like the opera side,” he says. “It’s a life of one-night stands, or putting yourself out there. The publisher of the Montreal Star gave Maureen Forrester an award that was the equivalent of that much when she was setting out, and she used it to go to Europe. She never looked back and she never forgot.” True to his principled understanding of the nature of the art of song, he takes great satisfaction from the fact that the collaborative pianists accompanying the singers will, if under 35 years of age, be automatically entered into a parallel competition, for the John Newmark Best Collaborative Pianist Award. “We need to name our awards for our great artists,” he says. “Competitors are coming from around the world. It’s a chance to tell them the story of who our great ones were.” And a way to support the ones to come. “You can follow the whole thing via live-streaming,” he says. “It’s a great audience to be part of. They are faithful, following it all the way. But nothing beats being there. Oh, what fun it’s going to be.” CONCERT JUST ADDED! BACH MOTETS Directed by Ivars Taurins SAT MAY 12 AT 8PM JEANNE LAMON HALL, TRINITY-ST. PAUL’S CENTRE Tafelmusik Chamber Choir is showcased in this special evening in the company of the Bach family. 8 | May 2018

FEATURE BACH HOMECOMING: Organist Rachel Mahon MATTHEW WHITFIELD CBC MUSIC This year’s third annual Toronto Bach Festival, curated by Tafelmusik oboist John Abberger, includes three concerts that present not only Bach’s own music, but also works written by predecessors who influenced him. The middle concert this year is an organ recital by Rachel Mahon, assistant organist at Chester Cathedral in the UK and former organ scholar at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, the first female organist in its 1,400-year history. Born and raised in Toronto, Mahon won numerous awards and competitions in Canada and is half of the Organized Crime organ duo, founded in 2012 with fellow organist Sarah Svendsen. Although now based in the UK, she frequently returns to Canada as a recitalist; a list of her upcoming performances, including this year’s Bach Festival, can be found on her website, In advance of her May 12 “Bach’s Inspiration” concert, Mahon shared her thoughts on Bach’s music, his inspiration, and what it means to return home to Toronto. WN: Your upcoming recital at the 2018 Toronto Bach Festival shows “how Bach admired and was inspired by other composers.” What can we expect to hear? How did you put this program together? RM: J.S. Bach’s achievements as a composer are astonishing, especially when considering he never lived or visited anywhere outside Thuringia or Saxony. This didn’t stop him from absorbing all he could at the ducal court of Weimar, where travelling musicians brought Italian and French music and where Bach was organist and Konzertmeister. We know for a fact that he copied Nicolas de Grigny’s Premier livre d’orgue and arranged Antonio Vivaldi’s music. He also took a trip to Lübeck in 1705 to learn from the great Danish organist and composer Dietrich Buxtehude. With these things in mind, I’ve included some pieces by Buxtehude which I will directly contrast with those of Bach, Bach’s arrangement for organ of an Italian concerto and a piece from Grigny’s organ book, alongside some of Bach’s great organ works. I hope that this program will give an impression of the immense impact other composers had on Bach’s writing. As a Toronto-trained organist now working across the pond, this Toronto Bach Festival performance represents a homecoming of sorts. What does it mean to you to return to your hometown and THE LAST CHACONNE On the stage where it all began, a star-studded array of singers, actors, dancers and instrumentalists comes together for a farewell celebration. In a joyful tribute to the company’s spirit and energy, we present TMT favourites by composers John Blow, Dean Burry, George Frideric Handel, Alice Ping Yee Ho, Henry Purcell, James Rolfe, and a new commission by our close friend Andrew Downing. 12 May 2018, 8:00 p.m. Jane Mallett Theatre Tickets from , online or call 1-855-872-7669 an Ontario government agency un organisme du gouvernement de l’Ontario May 2018 | 9

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