Category Archives: Unassigned

Art of Time Ensemble

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.





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Seiji Ozawa in Toronto

The Japan Foundation of Toronto recently held a celebratory event honouring the 50th anniversary of Seiji Ozawa’s arrival in Toronto as conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Toshi Aoyagi, the Foundation’s director of Japanese projects, displayed a large and interesting variety of photos from those early years, including a photograph of Seiji looking astonishingly young, and a giant black and white photo showing all the players, easily identifiable, on the stage of Massey Hall, its performance venue until 1982. Toshi also prepared sushi, sashimi and California rolls for 50 guests. In attendance were members of Toronto’s arts community including  the Symphony’s long time manager Walter Homberger who had played an important role in bringing Ozawa to Toronto. Also included among the guests were current and former members of the T.S.O.

åSome of the veteran players who were asked to speak briefly about their early experiences with Seiji were principal flutist Robert Aittken; principal harpist Judy Loman; myself, principal percussion; cellist Richard Armin and double bassist Ruth Budd. We had not known beforehand we’d be called upon so our comments were a bit skittish, even disjointed, but it was clear to all that Seiji  had been a respected and in some cases, a beloved maestro.

in the earliest days of Seiji’s tenure, he had some difficulty with the English language. Though we became rather close, as close as a conductor and player could or should be, he was never able to pronounce my first name Robin, because of the R. So he always called me Engelman. Of course given the Japanese order of names, correctly Ozawa Seiji, he was perfectly correct to call me Engelman, particularly when we were in Japan. Judy Loman told a wonderful story from those days. Seiji introduced her as  Mary Loman, harpist and when the orchestra laughed, Seiji turned to someone and said, “She plays harp doesn’t she?”.

I was always impressed by the acuity of Seiji’s ears and told two stories. We were rehearsing one of the Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe Suites down on the lake under an open tent. There were thousands of seagulls squawking and swooping and dropping bombs, young children laughing, screaming and running around, airplanes taking off and landing at the small nearby airport, tour boats blaring music for parties and the ferryboats back and forth between the mainland and the islands. An impossible acoustic situation with the Ravel beginning so quietly. I couldn’t hear the contra basses to the left of me and the orchestra pianist Patricia Krueger, playing celeste, was only about 20 feet to my right. After less than two bars Seiji stopped and said, “Patty, put the pedal down”.

After Toronto, Seiji conducted in San Francisco and then the Boston Symphony. Karel Ancerl succeeded him in Toronto and when Ancerll died in mid season, Seiji came back to conduct a concert or two to fill in while the Toronto Symphony management scramble to fill their seasons concerts with conductors. Seiji programmed music from his first concert in Toronto in 1965. One of the works was Sergei Prokoffiev’s Fifth Symphony, at times densly orchestrated. Seiji was back among friends and obviously wanted to show us how he had progressed. He leaped onto the podium and after a friendly hello began conducting. After the break Seiji came back to the podium and waved to Johnny Cowell the second trumpet, “Johnny, 3 bars before H, don’t breathe after fourth beat. Take breath after second beat next measure”.

One of the things I always liked about Seiji was the fact that he rarely talked in rehearsal. Some players didn’t like this. They wanted to be told how to play, but Seiji said, “I conduct, you play”. Seiji believed questions of ensemble and string bowings were the provenance if principal players. Another collegial aspect was his willingness to share the act of re-creating music with the players.

After he programmed Ives’ 4th Symphony, Seiji asked me, “How shall we do last movement?”  The percussion section must play a quiet, nine bar ostinato, holding a steady tempo during the entire movement while the rest of the orchestra winds its way through a number of tempo changes and dynamics. As the orchestra finishes, the percussion section plays one cycle in diminuendo, ending the movement. Seiji wanted to know if the percussion section wanted him to  conduct them or ignore them. No decision had been made by the time Seiji walked on stage. As the audience applauded, he stopped by my side and said, “Well?”.  I said. “Conduct the orchestra.” “Okay” Seiji replied.  As we had earlier discussed, the percussion section, by Ives’ calculations, would ideally have 9 measures remaining after the orchestra finished. Otherwise, if we concentrated and kept track, the farthest afield we’d drift would probably be in the range of 10 or 12 measures. We were just about dead on.

Seiji conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra for twenty nine years. He wanted to break Serge Koussevitzkyi’s record of twenty five years. Vic Firth, Seiji’s close friend and timpanist of the B.S.O. told me when Seiji heard he was going to retire, Seiji called and said, “Vic, don’t retire now, stay until you make 50 years!”. Vic made it.

Toronto was Seiji’s first job as conductor and music director.  Since then he has become a national treasure in Japan. I’ve always thought that Seiji did his best work with contemporary music. I heard, but cannot confirm that his management dissuaded him from conducting contemporary music. However, a composer friend told me he’d overheard a conversation wherein Seiji was told by his manager not to conduct my friend’s music anymore. And so he seemed to do.

My first year in the orchestra we played Charles Ives Symphony No. 4, the Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra, Iannis Xenakis’ Pithoprakta, (conducted byJames Levine, no less) for 46 string instruments, two trombones, xylophone, and woodblock, about a half a dozen works by Takemitsu, a recording of Takemitsu’s music, Gunther Schuller’s 7 Studies on Themes of  Paul Klee and a number of other works I cannot now remember.  I missed playing Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony by one year. The excitement was palpable every time Seiji conducted. I was working with a conductor only two years older than myself – one who genuinely enjoyed new music and made audiences enjoy it as well.

During Seiji’s tenure, I looked forward to rehearsals and performances. He was a conductor I never had to watch. Simply by listening, I knew where the music was going. If a player extended a note a bit longer then usual, Seiji would accept that and the piece would change.

Seijii Ozawa, Toronto, 1969

Seijii Ozawa, Toronto, 1969

Seiji Ozawa, 2011.

Seiji Ozawa, 2012.





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NEXUS WORLD TOUR– 1984 – A DIARY, Part 8. – Kwang Chao



May 13, 8 AM

Commercials on television here in Shanghai, some with rock music! Guy told us that the government took a nationwide poll to determine the most popular singer in China. The winner was a girl from Taiwan who sings rock so the politicians changed the results in favor of China’s most popular girl singer who sings patriotic songs. The people know the real results. The propaganda in China is mostly in the form of slogans on billboards ” One baby” and “Work to keep production….”.  Kwan Chao says she hates the slogans. Many things are the same the world over.

A great respect is building in me for  the Chinese people. After all the pain they have been through they remain civil to foreigners and they’re  building everywhere and continuously to provide housing. There are horror stories, everyone has them, but the Chinese seem genuinely interested in themselves whereas the Russians seem more concerned about others. Canadians hope that people think about them. Americans don’t care.

In Beijing, the publicity did not mention Nexus. We wewre billed only as a “Canadian percussion ensemble”. We’ve seen an ad in Shanghaithat refers to Nexus. Official tours are cloistered. Guided trips – concerts. The Chinese say they want criticism. But we have no opportunity for one-on-one musical discourse. There is an American flute teacher in Beijing. We saw an ad for a concert by him and his students. If the Chinese are interested, thy could use some help. Their conception of Western percussion is strange and that is to be expected. It would be useful to me and them if we could have some sessions with their players while we are here.

This is our first trip and such arrangements could be negotiated on another trip. Such sessions would make me feel more useful. Something else which we just became aware of. When I was shopping for silk with Russell we met a girl who had been in China for two years. She graduated from Wesleyan a few years after Russell. She said that on official tour such as ours, the concert tickets are usually distributed to selected people well in advance of the concert. Few citizens have a chance of getting in. 150 tickets for concert were allocated to the Canadian Embassy.

I am watching the test pattern on TV. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is playing. Turned it on in the middle of the third movement.

11 PM

The Chinese name for their country is the Zhong Guo – the center of the world

Before our concert tonight we met with the local cultural leadership, conductors and performers in a small room off the main hall. The vice president of culture for Shanghai is a lovely woman – very heavy and short who looks to be in her mid-60s. A pianist who is going to Canada at the end of May is next to me – very dour.

Towards the end of “Raintree” someone near the back of the audience let out a huge yawn and breaks the audience up. They keep laughing almost to the end.  We finally learned why everyone laughs when we play Reich’s ” Music for Pieces of Wood”. The claves are instruments used by monks in meditation. The Chinese associate all music with images. Everything is programmatic. They cannot comprehend abstractions. Hence,” The Birds” is understandable and humorous. The rest of our program they just enjoy looking at our instruments.

The names of composers are indecipherable. John Cage does not translate except by sound. They love individual sounds – the Lions roar – ratchet– bamboo devilchasers – rattles, but they do not respond to the energy and flow of lines.

A frequent question asked of us is: What does this instrument represent?”  Overall, the concert is very warmly received. There are calls for encores but the leadership is already making its way on stage for group photos behind the back bouquet of flowers. The audience, unlike Beijing, stay standing and applauding while we gather four congratulations and pictures.  Much applause.

The curtain is lowered and we have some moments to talk with individuals. The pianist looks as if he’s been shit on and doesn’t stay very long. He’s into Mozart and Beethoven and just can’t stand being around. It must have been very hard for him. Everyone else is generally moved by the performance and the conductor of the Shanghai Symphony is beaming because our Chinese mallet tune is Cantonese and so is he. The vice president says we truly capture the spirit of the Chinese people and our performance of that piece. Many photos and we hang around in small groups conversing – a very successful evening.

At the bar, Guy tells us that  Andre Ouillet, Canadian Minister for labor is asked if he wants to see the pandas. He reluctantly agrees and the party arrives early in the morning when the pandas are still asleep. He complains about getting up early and traveling all this way and all the panda is doing is lying there. The Chinese send a man to probe the bear with a long stick the band grumbles, gets up, moves a few feet towards Quillet, and curls himself on the  ground to go back to sleep. Ouillet swears and throws his cigar at the bear. The Chinese are amazed. KWang Chao wants to defect. At the bar we plan strategy. kwang Chao has given Joanne self addressed envelopes so that she can remain in contact and be sent Canadian forms. Guy believes the Chinese may already suspect her intentions so things must go slowly. Bob Aitken, Jim Campbell et al. arrive in September and will pass on certain sponsorship documents to her. She told Jean that she would be willing to marry anyone in Nexus if that would help her. Stay tuned for the next installment in the continuing saga of Kwang Chao.

it is now one minute till midnight. Tomorrow night is our last concert in China.

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Posted by on January 23, 2015 in Unassigned