Tuesday, October 29 & Wednesday, October 30 - 8pm
Pre-concert talks at 7:15pm
Trinity St. Paul's Centre, 427 Bloor Street West, Toronto

Programme notes
by Andrea Budgey

Cities are places of energy and creativity, centres which attract people from a broad array of birthplaces and backgrounds. The concentration of personalities, cultures, commerce, and history speeds up the processes by which ideas are formed and art produced, and each city develops a particular character, one which can inspire in its citizens a stronger sense of identity than does their nation-state.

The powerful influence which this urban self-image exerts on writers and composers is clear in our selection of works, representing 16th-century Paris, 18th-century London, 19th-century Venice, 20th-century New York, and Toronto in the late 20th and 21st centuries. The composers of the Wienerlieder zestfully employ characteristic local idioms to depict the city of their birth. Janequin, Giordani, and Bernstein portray their adopted homes with the fervour of converts, and Blumenthal creates a tourist postcard of an exotic foreign locale.

All these pieces are to some extent glorifications of their subject-matter, elegant and urbane presentations for the hearers' approbation. It is with our two Toronto works that we begin to ask questions, to enter into the complexities and ambiguities of the city. Ross' work is focused – by intention and design – on the built environment, the product of a very particular period in architecture, and plays with notions of verbal and physical structure. Ager explores particularities of another sort – time, season, and precise location – with a lively sense of incongruity.

Leonard Bernstein: On the Town (excerpts). Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Tommaso Giordani: Addio di Londra Text by Giovanni Gualberto Bottarelli
Various composers: Wienerlieder (selections)
Clément Janequin: Les cris de Paris
Erik Ross: Concrete Toronto. Poetry by Carl Wilson and Darrell O'Donnell
Jacques Blumenthal: Venetian Boat Song. Lyrics by Herman C. Merivale
Andrew Ager: Ellis Portal (excerpts). Libretto by Rex Deverell

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990): Excerpts from On the Town (1944), for baritone, soprano and string quartet, arr. Laura Jones. Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

The musical On the Town was based on the scenario which Jerome Robbins devised for his 1944 ballet Fancy Free, which he had set to music by Bernstein. With book and lyrics by Comden and Green, and extended dance sequences by Robbins, On the Town opened at the Adelphi Theatre on December 28, 1944 and was an immediate hit, running for 462 performances.

The rather rudimentary plot involves three sailors on shore leave in the wartime city, and the relationships they form with women (and with the city itself) during a 24-hour period. The show introduced a number of popular and classic songs.

"New York, New York" is perhaps the most famous of the excerpts on tonight's programme. The indolence of the opening gives way to the driving syncopation which depicts the newcomer's excitement and expectation (the show opens in the stillness of dawn, and then the 6 AM whistle blows, and the sailors on leave pour off the ship to start their day-leave). The headlong rush to explore and enjoy the city is continued in the duet "Come up to my place", which establishes a comic rivalry for the sailor's attention between the woman and the city. The rhythmic "squareness" of the vocal lines contrasts with the more sophisticated movement of the accompaniment. The final excerpt, "Lonely Town", is more lyrical, and more melancholy – a meditation on the loneliness of being anonymous in a big city, with longer-breathed instrumental figures and an almost recitativo vocal style.

Tommaso Giordani (1738-1806): Addio di Londra, for voice, violin, viola, and continuo (1772). Text by Giovanni Gualberto Bottarelli.

The Neapolitan composer Tommaso Giordani moved with his family to London in 1752, and his musical career – as organist, composer, conductor, and (unsuccessful) operatic impresario – was divided between that city and Dublin. His works included operas, oratorios, and a substantial body of vocal and instrumental chamber music. The cantata Addio di Londra was dedicated to "Signora Heinel", the German-born and French-trained dancer Anna Fredrike Heinel, who performed at the King's Theatre in London in 1771-1773, to considerable acclaim. Biographical recitatives alternate with affetuoso arias of praise, in a gentle stylistic parody of heroic opera, tinged with genuine affection and respect.

Wienerlieder, by various composers (late 19th / early 20th century): for voice, clarinet, and strings, arr. L. Jones.

Wienerlieder (literally Viennese songs) are a unique musical and socio-cultural phenomenon, which has developed over centuries in the Austrian capital. There are an estimated 60,000-70,000 Wienerlieder, of which only a few hundred are still sung today. Their roots lie in Alpine and Bavarian folk music, street songs, classical art song, operetta and vaudeville, and they are almost invariably sung in Viennese, an Austro-Bavarian dialect unique to the city. They constitute a psychograph of the Viennese way of life, described as "a mix of idealism, joie de vivre and desperation."

The Wienerlieder had their heyday in the 19th century, with the rise of the inns and restaurants in the Prater gardens, nightclubs, Singspiel halls, and "Heuriger" wine taverns. All of the selections on tonight's programme date from this period. The four composers were all active in the musical and theatrical life of Vienna in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In a style typical of the genre, all four songs employ the rhythm of the Viennese waltz, with subtle and elegant variation, and all are unabashed paeans to the city and its inhabitants.

Clément Janequin (ca 1485-1558): Les cris de Paris, for four voices and strings (1530).

Janequin was one of the most popular and prolific exponents of the 16th-century Parisian chanson, a genre with incisive rhythms, clear chordal structures, and simple but effective use of imitation, thought to have been an important influence on such composers of early baroque instrumental music as Giovanni Gabrieli. Many of these chansons were programmatic, echoing natural sounds – bird calls, for example, or the signals and clamour of battle.

Les cris de Paris takes the cityscape of Renaissance Paris as its canvas, weaving the simple, repetitive calls of street vendors into a sophisticated, harmonious whole. Following a short introduction, in which the singers ask the listeners if they wish to "hear the cries of Paris," Janequin introduces some forty shouts from traders and traveling salesmen, sequential but overlapping. It is polyphony at its most playful, and an outstanding example of "artifice" in music.

Erik Ross (1972- ): Concrete Toronto, for soprano and tenor saxophone (2008). Poetry by Carl Wilson and Darrell O'Donnell.

Toronto composer Erik Ross writes for a variety of musical media, including electronics, theatre, film, and dance. His 2012 choral work Icarus in the Sea, for the Canadian Chamber Choir, has recently toured Canada three times, and the chamber opera Northern Lights, Eastern Fire, for which he was also the pianist and music director, was premiered in February 2013 by the Canadian Sinfonietta.

Concrete Toronto was first performed by Carla Huhtanen and Wallace Halladay at the Music Gallery's SoundaXis Festival, in a concert of music inspired by the book of the same name, which catalogued Toronto's iconic concrete buildings of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s – City Hall, the Ontario Science Centre, and many more "that pay tribute to Toronto's concrete legacy, experiment with concrete's mutability and explore these buildings' role in the city's psycho-geography". As the composer explains,

"Concrete ConcerT.O." plays with the letters themselves, and this inspired a riff-filled piece that is topsy-turvy and quite unsure of itself, and uses each sentence as the motivation for musical material.  "I Am Concrete" is a straight-up psycho tale about cement that is begging for injuries upon her surface, which she finds quite erotic. The soprano personifies the cement and sings about its desire for blood... wooing her victims down onto her lovely hard surface. 

Jacques Blumenthal (1829-1908): Venetian Boat Song, for mezzo soprano, viola and piano (1883). Verse by Herman C. Merivale.

Blumenthal was a German composer and pianist who settled in London in 1848 and attracted the patronage of Queen Victoria. His popular output consisted primarily of short, charming, piano solos and vocal pieces, of which the Venetian Boat Song, or Varcarola Veneziana, is a classic example. The text is light and superficial, with a languid playfulness reminiscent of Anthony Trollope's Signora Madeline Vesey Neroni, in Barchester Towers: a very English take on "exotic" Italianate style. The swinging 6/8 rhythm of the barcarolle underpins a neatly elegant melody, moving irresistibly forward, but without the slightest hint of anxiety. The song also circulated as a duet, but we present the original solo version.

Andrew Ager (1962- ): Excerpts from Ellis Portal, for mezzo-soprano, baritone, clarinet, and string quartet (2002). Libretto by Rex Deverell.

Ellis Portal is a suite of songs based on a libretto by Rex Deverell, described by the composer as "...vignettes that describe the city, in all its beauty and squalour". The complete set was commissioned by the Talisker Players, and first performed in February of 2002.

"The David Dunlap Observatory", a duet, lifts our eyes upward in an effort to glimpse the seemingly eternal stars – an effort frustrated by the haze of the city's more transitory lights. (Richmond Hill's David Dunlap Observatory, though it has one of the largest telescopes in the world, has had a chequered history, due to the encroachment of light pollution from Toronto. It still operates educational and outreach programmes under the auspices of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.) The sustained figures of the instrumental parts – particularly the bass clarinet – against the rapidly declaimed vocal lines remind us of the infinitely vast space the stars inhabit.

"The Queen Car at Night" depicts a ride "across the midnight city", and the odd, isolated figures who populate the self-contained universe of the streetcar. The accompaniment alternates steady, almost mechanical, movement with sudden lurches and inexplicable stops – just like a ride on Toronto's longest east-west streetcar route.
In "Toronto in Winter", the instrumental figuration creates an overall ambience which is static – almost frozen – and inward-looking. Another duet, entitled "3 AM", conveys the broad expanse of the city as well as the particularity of one trudging pedestrian's journey. Most of the accompaniment is steadily, inexorably rhythmic (more enervated than energetic), but its forward impetus finally slows and dissipates with the coming of dawn.

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