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.
Concerts in Toronto – No. 1, October 16, 2015.
Art of Time opened with two concerts – October 16th repeated on 17th, masterfully played and for the most part refreshingly new, at least to my ears and eyes and all based on the concert theme,TZIGANE.
Tzigane began with performances I’ll not soon, if ever forget. Guest violinist Yehonatan Berick and Burashko opened with three Brahms Hungarian Dances, numbers 1, 4 and 5. From the first note Berick took off. I felt as though he would crash and burn somewhere. But no, he had it all together, including padded shoes which allowed him to stamp his feet in time when the heat got hotter. Anyone who didn’t appreciate that touch must have the emotional range of a dead jelly fish. Yehonatan Berick is a Naumburg Prize winner and teaches at the University of Ottawa and the Glenn Gould School whilst maintaining an international solo and chamber music career. His performance with Burashko of Zigeunerweisen by Pablo de Sarasate put a genuine stamp of authenticity on the evening’s Gypsy theme.
I can think of violinists with the technique to play these works, but only one who played them with Berick’s innate understanding and willingness to take chances, that is, to bring the listener with him, exploring the music as if for the first time. Michael Rabin (1936-72) was the only violinist who compares and I urge readers to find the treacly titled CD Strings by Starlight, with Felix Slatkin conducting the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra. The CD is superp in every respect and contains Zigeunerweisen as well as other one-movement masterpieces for orchestra and solo violin with orchestra. [ EMI Studio,CDM 7 63660 2 ]* If you can find this collection, grab it. Then you will know. Yehonatan Berick now abides side by side with Rabin in my exclusive music vault.
Then came something different. An exciting display of Spanish dancing by Esmerelda Enrique and Ilse Gudiño of the Esmerelda Enrique Spanish Dance Company. They performed De Los Buenos Mountainiales, a set of Fandangos de Huelva accompanied by two guitarists and a percussionist. The arrogant poses and gestures and aggressive foot tapping of Spanish dancing remind me somewhat of the opening poses, upright presentation and sheer physicality of Highland dancing. Featured too was the poignant and powerful singing of Fernando Gallego who was born in Cadiz and is known as “El Reale”. With the greatest respect, whenever I hear this singing, I feel a need to be hammered.
After intermission Andrew and Berick Performed Tzigane, Rhapsodie de Concert by Maurice Ravel. I’ve rarely heard it played more expressively.
Next was Van Django, a quartet from Vancouver, B.C. whose speciality is music of Jean “Django” Reinhardt and its genre. Reinhart (1910-53) was a famous Jazz guitarist, composer and recording artist during the first half of the Twentieth Century. I have a modest, but comprehensive collection of Reinhardt’s recordings and can testify to the honesty of Van Django’s arrangements within which they’ve left room for their imaginative improvisations. Van Django is Cameron Wilson, Violin; Budge Schachte and Finn Manniche, Guitar; and Brent Gubbels, Double Bass.
Van Django are composers as well as arrangers and performers of sensitivity. Beside the music of Rheinhardt, they played other complimentary works from the era. This music genre deserves to be heard. As with so much of our music heritage, it has been shunted aside by the Pop Music behemoth, but deserves to be remembered. Van Django is one ensemble keeping this creative tradition alive with skill and respect.
The Brahms Quartet No. 1 for Piano and Strings, Op. 25, iv. Rondo alla Zingarese (Gypsy style) Presto, concluded the evening of Tzigane explorations. Berick and Burashko were supported by the fervent cello playing of Rachel Mercer** and violist Carolyn Blackwell. I am familiar with the Brahms Hungarian Dances in their orchestral versions, but had never heard the piano trios. I was therefore delightfully surprised by the Romani verve Brahms had captured in his chamber work. A spectacular concert.
Andrew Burashko, Art of Time’s indefatigable artistic director, continues to invigorate Toronto’s traditionally nonchalant audiences with thoughtful programmes imbued with style and excitement. Whatever the music, whoever the players, one always recieves highest quality.
*Originally released as an LP titled In Memorium this CD also contains a rendition of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings that rivals in every way Leopold Stokowski’s brilliant 1957 recording on the Capital LPs, The Orchestra
** Rachel Mercer is cellist with the Ensemble Made in Canada String Quartet. They have recorded on compact disc the music of Canadian composer John Burge. If you do not know about them, look them up on Google. Besides their fetching publicity photos, you may be surprised by their accomplishments to date.
Posted by robinengelman on November 10, 2015 in Commentaries & Critiques, Composers
Tags: Andrew Burashko, Art of Time Ensemble, Brahms, Esmerelda Enrique, Michael Rabin, Van Django, Yehonatan Berick