6 months ago

Volume 28 Issue 5 | April & May 2023

  • Text
  • Thewholenotecom
  • Festival
  • Quartet
  • Theatre
  • Jazz
  • Conductor
  • Symphony
  • Violin
  • Orchestra
  • April
  • Toronto
April and May is Canary Time in the world of WholeNote -- the time when choirs in larger than usual numbers refresh the info in our online "Who's Who" to inform prospective choristers and audiences what they have to offer. Also inside: There's a new New Wave to catch at Esprit; Toronto Bach Festival no 6 includes a Kafeehaus; another new small venue on the "Soft Seat Beat" (we assume the seats are soft!); an ever-so Musically Theatrical spring. And more.


CHORAL SCENE musica intima WENDY D NAGAMO: Andrew Balfour & musica intima ANDREW SCOTT The 20th century term “postmodern” is often uncritically applied to a whole range of artistic expressions that are not easily compartmentalizable – wherever influences and traditions whose conceits lie on a continuum somewhere between antithetical and oppositional are blended together. Sometimes, though, it is entirely appropriate, as was the case with Andrew Balfour’s beautiful and important piece, NAGAMO (Ojibway for “sing”), recently presented on a coast-tocoast tour by Balfour and musica intima. One of Canada’s most unique vocal ensembles, musica intima is a Vancouver-based twelve-singer-strong chamber group of diverse voices whose raison d’être is relationship building through deliberate programming and collaboration with Indigenous art in the spirit of reconciliation. A shared leadership model allows the singers of the conductorless vocal ensemble to exchange ideas freely Andrew Balfour while exploring their own musical creativity, leading to dynamic performances where the ensemble engages with the audience directly and spontaneously, and local vocal ensembles can be woven into the piece, building a big tent under which a rich panoply of styles, languages and traditions can meaningfully co-exist. Such was certainly the case this past March 4 at Eglinton-St. George’s United Church in Toronto, with Balfour and musica intima presenting NAGAMO, along with the Toronto Children’s Chorus (under the watchful eye of new artistic director Zimfira Polosz), the Toronto Youth Choir and the Earl Haig Secondary School Senior Choir. St. George’s acoustically resonant chapel space provided the perfect setting for the Toronto debut of a work bravely attempting to reconcile in sound the tradition and clear Christian religiosity of Elizabethan choral music (William Byrd, Henry Purcell, Orlando Gibbons) with Indigeneity. In the hand of 2023 Juno nominee and Sixties Scoop survivor, composer Andrew Balfour, original texts have been altered from KRISTEN SAWATZKY Latin to Ojibway and Cree, and the incorporation of nature vocalizations and a staging approach that at times saw the fully expanded choir encircle the audience, resulted in an immersive and exhilarating performative experience. Most impressively, Balfour manages to elegantly strike the fine balance needed to bring greater representation and an Indigenous perspective of spirituality to this European musical form, while maintaining and respecting the rigour and beauty of its original compositional polyphony. As a Cree from Fisher River First Nation who grew up a choir boy in the adopted home of an Anglican priest in Winnipeg, Balfour is perhaps uniquely positioned to author a work so important, and so uniquely Canadian. Similar, perhaps, to others whose intersectional identity contains the strains of historical conflict, Balfour has spent much of his compositional career bringing into congruence his Indigeneity with his love of Renaissance choral music. On record, and during such performances as the NAGAMO project Toronto debut, Balfour puts out the idea of “what if” as a possibility. What if the history of colonialism in Canada was different? What if the spirit of reciprocity that first greeted the Chiefs and First Nations leaders who travelled to Europe during the 17th century to form alliances had continued? With NAGAMO, Balfour’s provocative questions are not only asked, but brought to a harmonious musical conclusion. Rosary Spence Ably supported by musica intima, Balfour has perhaps found the perfect foil for his grand compositional ambitions. Over two sets of music, bookended by riveting performances from Indigenous singer and Song Keeper Rosary Spence, a capacity Saturday night audience was treated to a truly special performance that did not compromise musicality or tunefulness in the service of being intentional intellectual or provocative. On the contrary, the NAGAMO project underscores just how effectively thoughtful consideration and a mature handling of traditions otherwise considered contradictory can result in philosophical, historical and musical good. With valuable contributions and support from the Toronto Children’s Chorus, the Toronto Youth Choir, and the Earl Haig Secondary School Senior Choir, whose young members will likely reflect upon their involvement in this special project for years to come, March 4th was indeed an evening in Toronto worth remembering. 22 | April & May, 2023

SEE What’s on stage AT the aga khan museum Labyrinth Ensemble April 15 | 8 pm Tickets from .50 Evgenios Voulgaris joins the Labyrinth Ensemble in a captivating exploration of 17th-century music and contemporary compositions. Rumi Nations May 13 | 8 pm Tickets from Rumi’s mystical words are set to music in an entrancing showcase featuring renowned vocalists and musicians, as well as the turn of the dervish and original poetry in the Sufi tradition. Dakh Daughters April 30 | 7 pm Tickets from .50 An exhilarating theatrical experience “... genuinely original – mixing classical minimalism with passionate Ukrainian folk and a touch of ‘freak cabaret’, delivered with punk energy...” - The Guardian Rhythms of Canada June 30–July 3 Tickets on sale soon Four days of unmatched summer fun as the Museum turns into a destination for world class performances, delectable food, and activities for all ages. For the full schedule of events, visit

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