6 years ago

Volume 6 Issue 2 - October 2000

  • Text
  • Toronto
  • October
  • Theatre
  • Choir
  • November
  • Arts
  • Singers
  • Concerts
  • Symphony
  • Musical


CANADA'S REMARKABLE VOCAL TRADITION by AlldnPulker Looking for a break from national hand-wringing at the less-than-winning ways of Canada's olympians in Sydney? You could do worse than gloat about the accomplishments of Canadian singers in recent years. Just last month two of "our own", soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian and bass Robert Pomakov, earned first and third prizes respectively at the Placido Domingo competition in Los Angeles, at which Bayrakdarian was also awarded the Zarzuela Prize. Bayrakdarian was also a winner of the annual Marilyn Horne Foundation Award two years ·ago as was baritone James Westman last year. And this year Canadian, Liesel Fedkenheuer claimed that prestigious prize. Looking at a slightly older generation, Canadian tenors Richard Margison and Ben Heppner are recognized aroul).d the world for their excellence. Sopranos Donna· Brown, Jean Stilwell, Catherine Rob bin, Barbara Hannigan and Stephanie Piercey; baritones Russell Braun, John Rely,ea and Brett Polegato, and teno_r Michael Schade are some of the Canadian singers who perform regularly in opera houses on both sides of the Atlantic. Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka recently made her La Scala debut --drawing not a ripple of attention here -- and mezzo Linda Maguire just last year eo-starred with renowned American soprano Frederika von Stade in the Dallas Opera Association's production of La Clemenza di Tito. I could go on and on, but the point is clear: this country has produced in recent years a significant number of singers who are ·among the best in the world. As someone said (from the Met and therefore · definitely an expert, eh?) "Why are so many great singers coming from Canada these days? Is there something in the water?" I asked Ann Summers, directo~ of Glimmerglass and Chautauqua. "Kids" she says, "need places to go to sing and to bios­ so m as singers." These are the sorts of pro­ grams that Canada needs, to support sing­ ers' transition from student to profes­ sional. "Honestly,' 'coming from Canada, we are not at an advantage at all to people from other places. It is really quite diffi­ cult and we have to try harder in order to the International Resource Centre for Performing Artists, for her thoughts on this question. Observing first that singing is not a national pastime here, the way it is, for example, in Italy, where tradesmen sing as they build houses, and that we do not even have any recognizable national songs, with the possible exception of Alouette, she FEATURES •!• COVER STORY Something in the Water? 42 Wholenote OCTOBER 1, 2000 - NOVEMBER 7, 2000 pointed out that what we do have is a very strong choral tradition, which is, in her opinion, the most significant single factor responsible for our remarkable vocal tradition. · , As an example of just how strong this choral tradition is, she mentioned a concert she organized in Italy a few years ·ago, that brought together for the first time ever the Ottawa Choral Society and Orchestra London to perform Handel's Messiah. The choir and orchestra had only one rehearsal together and proceeded to give a terrific performance. "The Italians were 'astounded. That performance knocked their socks off. It was better than anything they had heard from Germany." There is considerable evidence to support her case: the Toronto Mendelssohn Youth Choir has a number of alumni/ae who have risen high in the singing world, the list of former members of the Opera in Concert Chorus looks like a Who's Who of singers, Measha Briiggergosman did her first singing in her church choir and Stephanie Piercey, who has a concert on October 13 at the Jane Mallett Theatre, not only sang in choirs but started 1 one herself, the East York Choir. I proposed to Ann Summ~rs that the very good instruction available at the postsecondary level for singers might also be an important factor. Yes, it is true that we have very good training available, she said, but in her opinion our whole system breaks down at the point where the singer has finished university or opera school and is thrown into a job market in which, because the booking of singers is done a year and a half to two years in advance, there are no job prospects for at least that length of time. Stephanie Piercey agrees with her. "There is such a huge amount of talent in Canada that needs support and recognition. It's quite sad so many singers need to leave the country." In the United States, in contrast, there is "such a fruitful atmosphere and so many programs for young singers", such as Ravinia, Tanglewood, succeed, because we are the underdogs." Ann Summers summed up the situation: "Our singers are rising in spite of, not because of, what's going on here!" Of course, we do have Opera in Concert and the Canadian Opera Company Studio Ensemble, the Banff Centre for the Arts and Domaine Forget, all of which are intended to provide the sort of transitional training that Summers and Piercey are talking about. So reading between the lines, as it were, it would appear that what they are saying is that while what we do have is very good, it is not enough, and that many talented singers are regularly turned away from these programs because oflack of space and consequently go elsewhere. This is in fact what Stephanie Piercey did when after one year at the Faculty of Music Opera School she went to Europe for a summer to attend the American Institute of Musical Studies. She ended up staying in Europe for several years of study. But it is interesting to note that what Stephanie calls her "biggest break" occurred back here, when Stuart Hamilton invited her on short notice to sing the title role in Opera in Concert's 1996 production of Massanet's Manon. After that "I returned to Europe and never'looked back," she says. · Since then she has sung in opera houses and concert halls in the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Germany and England as Well as operatic roles in New York City. And since most of her work now is in Europe she and her young family have settled in England. October in Toronto will be a month of great opportunity for singers and audience's alike. For singers, Ann Summers' International Resource Centre In collaboration with Orchestras Canada will be presenting a three day symposium for young artists, which will include two days of workshops with the legendary American mezzo-soprano, Shirley Verrett. This event is an example of the sort of thing Ms. Summers is doing to help remedy the lack of "transitional training" that is such a problem for young singers. There will be several other workshops/ masterclasses as well in October. (Please see the EtCetera File on page 40,41/or details.) For audiences, October and early November will offer numerous performances by outstanding Canadian singers, including:

Catherine Robbin, mezzo, Richard Margison, tenor and N a than Berg, baritone on October 2; Celine Papizewska, with American tenor, Jonathan Morrell on October 3; Janet Obermeyer, soprano on October 7; Stephanie Piercey on October 13; Guillermo Silva-Marin, tenor, October 15; Edith Wiens, soprano on October 16; Jean Stilwell, mezzo soprano with Maryam Tollar and the Gryphon Trio on October 17; and Jean Still well again on October 29 in a benefit concert for Opera in Concert with tenor, Anthony Flynn and soprano, Sally Dibblee; Lorna MacDonald, soprano on October 19 and November 4; Norine Burgess, mezzo soprano on October 22; Nancy Argenta, soprano, John Aler, tenor and Nathan Berg, baritone with the Amadeus Choir and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on October 25; Barbara Livingston, soprano, Annamaria Popescu, mezzo-soprano, Kurt Lehmann, tenor and Robert Pomakov, bass, with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir on November 2; tenors, Mark DuBois and Darryl Edwards, on November 4; and rounding the month out as he ushered it in, tenor Richard Margison on November 6. If you are interested in hearing some of the next crop of great Canadian singers, attend the Aide burgh Connection/Faculty of Music Young Artists Recital on October 17, with soprano, Maghan Stewart, mezzo, Colleen Skull, tenor, James Levesque, and baritone, Jesse Clark, baritone. Very frequently the singing students that Aldeburgh artistic directors Stephen Rails and Bruce Ubukata are excited about become the singers that everyone becomes excited about a few years later. And looking beyond the current WholeNote, it's interesting to see performers who did receive early recognition here returning to perform with groups that helped nurse them along. November 10 one of Aide burgh's former protegees, now in the midst of an impressive career, soprano, Donna Brown, will perform as part of the Aldeburgh's recital series. And Isabel Bayrakdarian will perform as part of the Off Centre Series on March 18. Robert Pomakov will also appear in the Off Centre Series (the final concert on May 6) and will be the featured performer in the third recital, February 11, ofBrahm Goldhamer's new "Song Circle" series. Opportunity (like those offered by series like Aide burgh, Off Centre, and Song Circle); and a strong choral tradition: two preconditions for a tradition of vocal greatness. Those starting to rant now about throwing money at Canada's sport "problem" might learn a lesson here. Behind the Scenes • MARK BELL, TEACHER I caught up with Mark Bell in the very large parlour of St. John's Presbyterian Church on Broadview Avenue. It was 9:00 on Monday night, after a rehearsal. Mark motions us to sit at one end of a rough circle of mis-matched comfy chairs, like an overstuffed Stonehenge. A music educator for 17 years, Mark currently teaches music at Withrow Public School, in the new Toronto District School Board. He is also the president of the Toronto Public Schools' Music Teachers' Asso~iation. And BA (Before Amalgamation) his title was Curriculum Advisor, Music for the old Toronto Board of Education. Me: School board amalgamation. Budget cuts. Doom and gloom. What's really happening to music in the schools? Mark: Oh, lots. Where to start? Last year, for instance, with amalgamation, we had 10.5 music advisor positions, plus co-ordinator Paul Martin. This year there are four, they call them "instructional leaders for music" now, but it's the same job. Me: Which is? Mark: Helping music teachers and classroom teachers who are not musicians to deliver the music curriculum -- a lot of classroom teachers don't read or write music. We would go in and help the teacher. Say a choir preparing for Kiwanis, I could give them another pair of ears, I could say, "You should work on blend," or whatever. Where we were coming from, under Bob Rae and the NDP, music and the arts were actually on a par with the other subjects. Now with Mike Harris there is a curriculum for "The Arts", and it covers visual arts, music, drama AND dance. Me: Which does what to music? Mark: Well, under the Harris plan, only one a1ts credit is required during the four years ... Me: Only one? Ill Ill Ill Ill Ill Ill ill liiil"liiif 'liiif 1iiit 1iiit RA.IOS 11111 11111 11111 11111 11111 outstanding classical music at a budget price NEW FROM NAXOS ' ~~-~ :::? r•.SAL\fS '~ FOR Till: ;>OU. ll""' 1:< •"t•"''"'l • " ··~~ •,.,.,,..,,.,.,,, L•W>•" 1 ~:'1-~?.: · • ' "·~

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