7 years ago

Volume 8 Issue 5 - February 2003

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  • Toronto
  • February
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COVER STORY: Bii-ly to

COVER STORY: Bii-ly to Rise The Toronto Consort at 30 Interview by Dawn Lyons 1 The Toronto Consort can lay claim to purveying the earliest ear- . ly music in Toronto. How early? Well, back in I964 a bunch of graduates students ai the University of Toronto's Institute for Medieval Studies produced the medieval play Everyman as part of a graduate seminar on early drama, liked · it so much that they did another one, and another, and kept on doing it. This was the beginning of the PLS - Poculi Ludique S.ocie- - tas (Latin for "the cup and game society) also affectionately lawwn as Pillage & Looting Society, Parking Lot Sacrifices, Partly Literary Sources, Plays Larger than Shakespeare and, oh no!, Play Less Songs. The PLS has produced over 200 plays and is still going strong (they 're planning to do The Digby Mary Magdalene this coming May, for instance). You can find information on current or past productions, and on how to join, at www.chass.utoronto. cal-medievallwwwlpls/ .) The PLS sought out and produced plays, many not seen for hundreds of years, from the mediaeval and Renaissance periods. Texts, costumes, language, theatrical practice and stagecraft of the day were researched and incorporated into productions such as Rafe Roister Doister and the cycles of medieval mystery plays from York and Chester. Although intended primarily as a scho{arly activity, the prOduciions. were so much fun that they enthusuaStic "regular" audience. Arid since an important element in early drama was music and singing, these things got researched, too, leading to the formation of a sort of irregular house band, using any nearby tal- . ent that could be pressed into service. In good minstrel tradition the members played several instruments, many of them learning crumhom, shawm and sackbutt on the fly, and the musicians sang as well. Eventually, possessed of more music than the plays could absorb, they gave a few concerts under the name Toronto Consort. The concerts were well-received and in due course a subscription series was born. 6 I talked to David Fallis, the also a fine musician, he had been can't replicate - we are playing Consort's artistic director, in the a professional bassoonist, and church music but we' re not in study/sitting room of his Palmerston Avenue home - about the him? - the countertenor, and this isn't a dance. But we try to Gary Creighton-;- do 1 you know church, we play dance music but Toronto Cqnsort's 30th anniversary; and how it matured from a cologist and player. So they did context. Tim McGee, who was a musi­ let our audience know about the bunch of enthusiastic but inexperienced scholars into a polished en­ PLS 's plays and people seemed we have to remain constantly cu­ the music for a couple of the As members of the ensemble, semble, well-reviewed in both to like it so they said let's continue, and they made a small se­ the same, how not the same, as rious, questioning. How are we North America and Europe. I began by asking him how long ries at the Faculty of Music, at we reach across the centuries? he had been with the group. Walter Hall. After which it was We see some of the same preoccupations, David: I joined in the fall of 79. Hey, this is OK! and they just , but some things are I had auditioned in the spring kept going. not the same, and we ask why and I started at the beginning of Me: .The Toronto Consort has did they do it this way, why do ~he next sea so~. Terry McKenpa had thirty concert seasons, they think that is beauty? We are is the next semor member, he you've toured North America like travellers, sometimes struck came in the early 80s'. then Laura . and Europe, made half a dozen by similarities, sometimes.J:>y difference. So, how far should we Pudwell, and then Abson CDs done movie soundtracks. Melville, she's been with us I've ~ead some of the reviews on go in a given case to get the music to educate? How authentic quite a while, and of ~ourse John, and , ~epper and Paul Jenkms, made over and over again I read "fine should we be? We tread a middle ground. We think there is a SIX. We hav.e tw~ new members musicianship". How do you get now, Katherme Hill and Ben there from the impromptu beginchallenge and an interest to Grossman, so we are now offi- ning you described? knowing what it really was like, cially eight. A lot of times, and at the same time 'you still though, we'll.need or want David: Well, it was the price of have to enjoy yourselves ~nd the more musicians so we frequently . success. The group had to go to audience has to enjoy it. have guests and friends playing professional musicians because Sometimes do things and with us. We'll have 17 musicians for the Monteverdi Oifeo ' but we'll do it anyway. For inwe think, this is not very likely, (February 21 & 22) -that's in concert. But Ben Grossman plays hurdy-gurdy and percussion, and there's no hurdy-gurdy or-percussion in the Monteverdi, so he won't be playing with us for that one. However, he's the mainstay for The Way of the Pilgrim, Medieval Songs of Travel that we' re doing February 2 in Guelph. Me: Guelph? David: Guelph's the new series that we started this year. This will be our second concert, we took Sir Gawain and the Green Knight there in the fall and we'll be back in April -· A Renaissance Festival, with David. Greenberg; we'll be ctoing two performances of that here in Toronto, then one in Guelph. Me: You guys have been around for a long time. What was the early music scene like back then? David: Thirty years ago there was not much. Tafelmusik had not even started. We consider our founderHo be Tim McGee of U of T and .. . . Well, how it happened was that the director of the PLS said I'd love to have music of the period, so they put together some musicians including David Klausner, he's a professor of medieval Welsh and the professors were just too busy. --It is difficult to manage touring, recprding ete., in addition to academic work. To be a player at the level of, say, Alison Melville, you really have to do it full-time. Me: A lot of the music you perform is fairly obscure - odd instruments, composers nobody's ever heard of, and musifal traditions arid forms that are not, . well, not what we're used to. How did you find and keep your audience? David: A lot of education is required. But education is part of our mandate and activity - ·we've recently expanded our education program to include a program for high school students, too. As to what exactly we do, it depends on the kind of early music. The folk type is pretty easy to understand - a. tune and some words. The music of the medieval aristocracy is less accessible, it is sophisticated and complicated. And in those times there weren't what we know as concerts. There were church services, aristocrats had musicians play while eating or relaxing, ther.e was music as part of the theatre, but not ever a place for some people to go and pay money and listen and go· home. We like to explain the original occasion at our concerts. We stance, on our Orlando di Lasso: Chansons and Madrigals, that was our first CD with Dorian, we think this is very like Lasso would have heard it. On our most recent one, Mariners and Milkm°'aids, we do some arrangements of country dances that are a little more fanciful, we're sure that originally they were done much more simply. Me: How do you find the music that you perform? David: As artistic director I'm principally responsible for the program, and I take a great deal of care shaping a program that I think will be interesting and will flow well. I'll say I think a lute solo would be good here, and I think it should be slow and melancholy, or fast and jolly. But the only way to make a chamber group work over the long haul is ·to make people feel that ihey can contribute, that they can have their own projects, and that gives us a variety in our recordings and performances that we couldn't otherwise have. 0ur· members are very knowledgeable, Alison knows a great deal of the recorder repertoire, Terry for lute, Paul for keyboard, and they are always digging up more. And we are blessed with a wonderful resource in the University Febru;:iry ) - March_ 7, 20p3

of Toronto Music Library. Having been a bit to other university libraries, I think we can be extremely proud of it. Me: How far in advance do you plan . your. season? .. David: We have our annual meeting about now. The grant applications, the first ones for next season, are due beginning of March, so basically by the end of February we have to have all our dates set, guest musicians arranged and so on... . The sliding door opens. It's Alison Mackay, Tafelmusik bass viol player, and also David's wife. ·"David, it's Maxine on the phone, in Holland." Alison te1ls me, I used to be in the Consort, too, that's where David and I met. Meanwhile ' David is explaining to the telephone "the e-mail bounced, so I wanted to confirm. OK, get that plane ticket and save your receipts. Oh, you know we're at 440? Good, see you then. Bye." David explains to me: That was one of our 17 musicians for the Orfee. You know Charles Daniels, the English tenor? He's singing Orfee, and we'll have Charlotte Nediger, David Arnot, Doug Kirk the cometto player. It's going to be a lot of fun .... His enjoyment in this moment of anticipation is evident, and it speaks volumes. It's a case in point of what keeps the Consort, after thirty years of adventuring, still eager for more travel in the always surprisingly new realms of early music. T11E ToRoNTO CONSORT (LEFT ro RIGHT): Katherine Hill (soprano, viola da gamba) also pelforms with Sine Nomine, Duo Seraphim, and Aradia. In Europe she pelforms with Dutch ensembles including Fata Organa. John Pepper (bass) is active in early and contemporary music, and has appeared with Tafelmusik, Elora Singers, Toronto Chamber Choir, and Tafelmlisik Canson. Ben Grossman (percussion, hurdygurdy) is a well-known pelformer of experimental, folk, early, traditional and Turkish classical music. ' David Fallis (tenor) has been Artistic Director of the Toronto Consort since 1990. He is in demand on both sides of the border as a conductor and recently . made his Cleveland Opera debut. He is also Music Director of Opera Atelier and the Toronto Chamber Choir. Terry McKenna (lute) is a specialist in plucked string instruments. A member of the Stratford Festival, he also heads the guitar and lute prograin at Wilfred Laurier University. Alison Melville (recorder, early flutes) has pelformed around the world and is cojounder of Baroque Music beside the Grange, and also a member of Ensemble Polaris. She is on the . faculty of Oberlin College. Laura Pudwell (mezzo-soprano) has pelformed in Paris, Salzburg, Landon and Vienna, as well as locally with Opera Atelier and Les Violons du Roy. Paul Jenkins (tenor, keyboards) has pelformed with Tafelmusik, Purcell · Consort, Toronto Chamber Choir, Esprit Orchestra and at the Elora Festival. · · GREAT CHAMBER MUSIC DOWNTOWN LAURA WILCOX, violist CONTEMPORARY CLASSICS Music for viola and piano, viola and electronics Thursday, · February 13 at 8:00 p.m. PENDERECKI STRING QlJARTET CONTEMPORARY CLASSICS Ligeti, 'Bartok, Penderecki Thursday, February 20 at 8:00 p.m. MARKUS GROH, pianist Prize-winning German pianist plays Haydn, Gin

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