In early 2015, a spate of high quality concerts rarely seen in Toronto, began with the Art of Time Ensemble. On the stage of Harbourfront Centre Theatre, they presented music by Lou Reed, interpreted by some of Canada’s finest arrangers, instrumentalists and singers. Art of Time Ensemble is the creation of its artistic director, pianist Andrew Burashko, a passionate and informed communicator with a love for music that stretches far beyond the borders commonly thought to demarcate music categories.
Andrew’s programs are based on themes. For a 2013 programme titled Franz Schubert, Source and Inspiration, composers of Jazz and Art music were commissioned to arrange for voice and ensemble, a theme from Franz Shubert’s
Piano Trio No. 2 in Eb Major. The trio was played first and then the arrangements were performed by five singers, Carol Pope (Rough Trade), Andy Maize (Skydigers), Gregory Hoskins, John Southworth and Danny Michel.
Andrew often commissions Toronto arrangers, a diverse group of superlative musicians who, though relatively unknown to the general public, never fail to astonish audiences with their ability to bring fresh perspectives to popular war horses. Fortunately, Art of Time is recording many of their pearls.
An Art of Time programme titled What is Sacred, began with Arvo Part’s Stabat Mater, followed by three superb arrangements of songs with religious themes: Wayfaring Stranger, arranged by Gavin Bryars; Pilgrim; and You Are Not Alone. After intermission, Olivier Messiaen’s Louange A L’Eternite De Jesus from his Quartet for the End of Time, and a medley of African American spirituals and Oscar Peterson’s Hymn to Freedom were sung, revival style, by Jackie Richardson.
The evening closed with a beautifully subtle and complex interweaving of six female dancers, choreographed by David Earle to the Miserere by Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652). The Miserere was hauntingly sung by Choir 21 as they stood like angels in the first balcony, sending heavenward Allegri’s plea. All this was much too sublime to be followed by anything else.
Attempts to merge art forms have been vulnerable to dismissal by purists or outright failure in the public marketplace. But Andrew does not merge art forms. He respects their individuallity and his classical discipline protects them from being mistreated. An idea must pass through a stringent artistic filter before it blossoms on an Art of Time stage.
In the twenty years from 1970 to 1990, a few elite ensembles, devoted to mostly white western art music, received the majority of government money. Toronto ensembles have favoured repertoire from one of roughly five established genres of westrn art music: opera, ballet, symphony, choral and chamber. They must submit mission statements in order to be eligible for government funding. These statements put them into a bureaucratic niche that can obligate them to a particular repertoire.
In the the 1990s government arts agencies began to realign their financial priorities in response to social and political pressures, gradually achieving more balanced funding by region and favouring emerging composers, pop music, First Nations musicians, and other minority groups. Each re-allocation made the financial pie smaller, dramatically reducing art music budgets. The recent economic down turn exacerbated a feeling of uncertainty within the arts community. Some ensembles reduced the number and frequency of their concerts, limited or re-directed their programme choices, greatly reduced the fees paid to musicians and began exploring ways to work with other ensembles.
In conjunction with his many artistic friends, Andrew is creating fresh concert experiences for traditional Toronto audiences while attracting new concert goers, young and old, hip and staid. The effect this generational blend has on audiences is immediately apparent. As one takes a seat for an Art of Time concert, there is a frisson in the air rarely felt in other venues. So far Andrew has avoided the malady of uncertainty afflicting other Toronto arts organizations. His large and ever growing audience, aided by a group of faithful collaborators and sponsors, portends a long and healthy future. Andrew’s unique artistic love affair has captured the imaginations of artists and concert goers. Concerts by Art of Time Ensemble have become one of Toronto’s most popular sources of art entertainment.
I encourage readers of this article to visit Art of Time Ensemble web site for a complete list of its programmes, artists and videos.
A Letter to a friend.
The last time we spoke I mentioned a certain piece of music I had recently heard on a recording and you immediately responded in what I took to be a rather flat voice, ” Daniel Barenboim’s 50th anniversary concert”. [1.] From the tone of your voice I gathered, perhaps incorrectly, that you were not enamored with this recording. I can understand your reservations. But as we were speaking long-long distance, we had tno time to explore musical subtitles and as well, we had children and grandchildren to Moo about.
Recently I’ve had time to ruminate on Barenboim’s recording and other great artists recorded in front of live audiences. These ruminations and a long silence between us, are the reasons for this letter.
From the beginning, Barenboim’s interpretations ranged from interesting and sublime to overwrought, sometimes beyond the pale of performances typically heard today. My first reaction to this recording was that Barenboim, appearing in triumph before a home town crowd as a prodigal son, had decided to unleash his impromtu passion and willingness to take chances, to create joy, as only an interpretive genius can. His heart on his sleeve, he just took flight. Perhaps it was this flight that unsettled you.
The Mozart Sonata K 330, was played with the traditional rubatos, but others were added. Overall, they were larger, surprising and delightful. I prefer over all the 1957 Clara Haskil live recording.[2.] Barenboim plays the second movement slower, giving it more gravitas. The Beethoven, Op. 57, ‘Appassionata’ really sets out the difference between romantic Barenboim and the classic Clara Haskil. Barenboim’s use of the sustain pedal blurred many of the lines I so love to hear in this sonata. If you wish to hear the clarity of Horowitz, hear every note virtuosity at any speed, check out the live Vienna piano recital of Lang Lang.[3.]
Remember, this is only an assumption on my part, I could agree with your lack of enthusiasm for Barenboim’s recording. Some of the following shorter pieces lack luster, with one exception being the second Scarlatti Sonata. But I beg you to seriously consider his performances beginning with the Chopin Nocturne, Op. 27, No. 2., Db Major. When I first heard this I was stunned. Here was something definitive. A clarity of emotion, a direct path to the heart, that one rarely experiences either in person or on recordings. There is no room here for a contrived thought. This is fingers improvising without touching. Barenboim must have been outside himself, I certainly was.
For lovers of the sublime, Chopin’s Nocturne begins the final and most thrilling part of Barenboim’s recital. His performances of José Resta’s Bailesito, Ginastera’s Danza de la moza donosa and Villa-Lobos’ Polichiinelle are visceral. Ginastera’s Danza reminds me very much of the Chopin nocturne with its gentle left-hand opening, nostalgia in the melody, the grandiose middle and the return with its unexpected yet perfect strokes.
Well dear M. I’ll bring this message to an end by saying how much I am enjoying music history. As a student I started working forward somewhere around J. S. Bach and ended up playing Takemitsu. Now I’m going backwards. Some of my findings have been discussed in earlier postings. My latest discovery, some scholars refer to him as the West’s first composer, is Guillaume Machaut. As a friend recently pointed out, the quality of performances of early music has increased considerably since David Munrow began his crusades in the early to late 60s. The CD [4.] is titled Mon Chant Vous Envoy and there are seven performers, singers and instrumentalists. His music requires a revaluation of what is old and what is new. Midway through this elegantly package and wonderfully performed CD, there appeared a work that stopped me in my tracks.
One more piece of music I feel compelled to mention, I’m sure you know it, is another sublime work in the Chopin, Ginastera, Machaut realm. Schubert’s Die Nacht for male chorus. My version was conducted by Robert Shaw and recorded in France by Telarc. It is the first of six songs under the heading Evensong. If I should die before I wake . . .
Please give my love to R and R, T, A and all the young ones, Gute Nacht.
r[1.] Daniel Barenboim, live from the Teatro Carlo, July 19, 2000. E M I Classics.
[2.] Clara Haskil live recording, August 8,1957, Salzburger Festspiele Mozarteum.
[3.] Lang Lang, Live in Vienna, February 27-March 1, 2010.
[4.] Mon Chant Vous Envoy, 2012-13, Elequentia.
Posted by robinengelman on July 9, 2015 in Articles, Commentaries & Critiques, Contemporary Music
Tags: Chopin, Clara Haskil, Daniel Barenboim, David Munrow, Horowitz, José Resta, Lang-Lang, Mon Chant Vous Envoy, Mozart, Robert Shaw, Schubert, Villa-Lobos