La Scena Musicale

Sunday, 14 December 2014

This Week in Toronto (Dec. 15 - 21)

My Toronto Concert Picks for the Week of Dec. 15 to 21 

Joseph So

Now that we're in mid December, Holiday Season programming is in full swing. Recently I was asked if I have a favourite Messiah. Well, it's like asking someone pick one's favourite child!  When I am in the mood for a grand production, I go to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's Messiah - there's just something majestic in hearing a full orchestra with modern instruments, together with a huge choir, in this glorious music.  However, I wouldn't want to go without the more intimate and evocative Messiah by the Tafelmusik forces. The TSO has a great quartet of soloists this year, all well known Canadians - soprano Jane Archibald, mezzo Allyson McHardy, tenor Lawrence Wiliford, and bass-baritone Philippe Sly. As usual, it's the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir supplying the choral forces. Welsh conductor Grant Llewellyn is at the helm. Five performances - Dec. 16, 17, 19, 20 8 pm and Dec. 21 3 pm at Roy Thomson Hall. This run of Messiah will be the last performances of the TSO in 2014. It's taking a three and a half week winter hiatus until mid January when it starts up again with its annual celebrations of Mozart's birthday.
Conductor Grant Llewellyn

Baroque fans will rejoice in the annual Tafelmusik Messiah, with four performances at Koerner Hall (Dec. 17, 18, 19, 20 at 7:30pm).  According to their website, the Dec. 20 performance is already sold out. Soloists are German soprano Lydia Teuscher, British countertenor James Laing, and two Canadians - tenor Colin Balzer and baritone Brett Polegato. Ivar Taurins leads the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir. Don't forget the annual tradition of Tafelmusik's Sing Along Messiah at Massey Hall on Dec. 21 2 pm.  I've only attended this once and it was really magical...perhaps it's time to go again.

German soprano Lydia Teuscher (Photo: Askonas Holt)

Given we live in English Canada, Handel's Messiah is ubiquitous at Christmas time. A quick check reveals no performances that I could find of Berlioz' L'enfance du Christ or Bach's Christmas Oratorio this week, pieces that are routinely performed across the pond.  That said, there are other options that we get that are perhaps not so common in Europe.  On Dec. 20th 2 pm, Toronto Children's Chorus is presenting A Chorus Christmas: Ceremonial Splendour. A special guest is the Canadian actor and icon, Mr. Gordon Pinsent, whom I am lucky enough to call my neighbour, and he's also one of the nicest neighbours one can have :-)  Gordon is the narrator in Brother Heinrich's Christmas. The event is at Roy Thomson Hall.

Aradia Ensemble's Dublin Messiah poster

The Aradia Ensemble under its director Kevin Mallon is presenting its annual Dublin Messiah on Dec. 20 7:30 pm. It takes place at the beautiful St. Anne's Anglican Church on 270 Gladstone Avenue. The fine quartet of soloists are soprano Jacqueline Woodley, mezzo Maria Soulis, tenor Adam Fisher and baritone Dion Mazerolle.

For a Latin flavoured Christmas, there's Toronto Choral Society's  Music of the Americas. On the program are Navidad Nuestra and Missa Criolla by Ariel Ramirez. Also appearing are Casava Latin Band featuring Ernesto Cardenas.  I had no idea that the Toronto Choral Society has such a long history, dating back to 1845! It's repertoire consists of choral works of all types from Baroque to Jazz. Its current Artistic Director is Geoffrey Butler, whom I've heard conduct many times at Opera York.

Nathaniel Dett Chorale (

Also of interest is the Nathaniel Dett Chorale's Christmas offering, An Indigo Christmas. This ensemble is well known for its presentation of Afrocentric music, and this concert is a presentation of Black Nativity, a Gospel Song Play by Harlem Renaissance poet and playwright Langston Hughes. A special guest is Jackie Richardson.  Performance takes place on Wednesday Dec. 17 8 pm at Trinity St. Paul's Centre.

AtG's Uncle John (l. to r. Sean Clark, Miriam Khalil, Betty Allison, Neil Craighead, Aaron Durand, Sharleen Joynt)

Against the Grain Theatre's #Uncle John, a modern take on Mozart's Don Giovanni, opened last week. I attended the very entertaining opening night performance. A very clever libretto by Joel Ivany together with deft stage direction made for a very lively show. Two more performances this week, on Dec. 17 and 19 at the Black Box Theatre at The Great Hall, 1087 Queen Street West just east of Dovercourt. An excellent ensemble cast of singing actors is led by baritone Cameron McPhail as "Uncle John" aka Don Giovanni. Others are bass-baritone Neil Craighead (Leporello), Betty Allison (Donna Anna), Miriam Khalil (Donna Elvira), Sean Clark (Don Ottavio), Sharleen Joynt (Zerlina), Aaron Durand (Massetto), and John Avey (Commendatore)

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