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Review by David Richards
Toronto ON February 4th 2017
A performing ensemble that focuses on medieval, renaissance and early baroque European music is not expected to depart from its comfort zone to cross the Atlantic waters and search for the early music of first nations and early European settlers. Leave it to David Fallis and the Toronto Consort to do just that. With his customary exhaustive research and creativity, he put together a program that was as much about today and tomorrow as it was about our musical ancestors.
Fallis teamed up with the Huron-Wendat Georges Sioui and Canada’s elder-statesman composer, John Beckwith. Sioui is a poet, essayist, songwriter and world-renowned speaker on the history, philosophy, spirituality and education of Aboriginal peoples. It was Sioui who welcomed the audience to be a part of an inclusive experience of a 21st century re-look at our history through music.
In a spirit of reconciliation, performers from different musical traditions converged to create a program of inclusion. Through poetry and music, it presented Canada’s history from the perspective of a people who greeted the first Europeans on its lands. Through the story of the Great Peace of 1701 in Montreal, the program captured the struggle of all that led to this historical event including the initial meeting, the virtual extinction of many of the First Nations peoples, and the desire for conciliation.
Such a program can only work with compelling music. Right from the outset, the resonating voice of Jeremy Dutcher rang out through the hall in an Honour Song. His voice immediately captured the hearts of the audience and never let go. His three songs were sourced from recordings by anthropologists to which he added his own piano accompaniments and improvisational expansions.
Georges Sioui, Artistic Director David Fallis, Guest Artists and The Toronto Consort
Photo credit: John-Marc Hamilton
Jeremy Dutcher; Photo credit: John-Marc Hamilton
Marilyn George and Shirley Hay; Photo credit: John-Marc Hamilton
Marilyn George, an Ojibway,and Shirley Hay of the Wahta Mohawk First Nation, added their own deep throated voices and traditional drumming in three songs beginning with Migizi Honour Song to welcome the audience. Their rhythmic drumming accompaniments were hypnotic and they sang with authentic warmth.
Throughout the first half of the concert, the Toronto Consort interspersed solos by Fallis, mezzo soprano Laura Pudwell, soprano Katherine Hill, and soprano Michele DeBoer. Instrumentally, Alison Melville added solos on recorder and flute. It was all accompanied by an array of period instruments including lute, mandolin, guitar, hurdy gurdy, viola da gamba and various percussion.
The first half concluded with Etsondénon ni Atakwensung by Georges Sioui, a song of thankfulness and hope despite the heavy load, the cold, and the frozen lakes.
In the second half, John Beckwith’s six movement choral work Wendake/Huronia told the story of the arrival of the first European settlers. The thirty-minute work was complete with the sound of trudging Raquettes (snowshoes) and Le Canotage (canoeing). It carried through La Grande Fête des Âmes (The Festival of Souls), and the Lamentation of 1642 following the epidemics and deaths that virtually wiped out the Huron people. It concluded with À l’avenir, a hopeful look to the future. The Toronto Consort was joined for this work by the Toronto Chamber Choir, Lucas Harris, Director and by Members of the Brookside Music Association, John French, artistic Director, as well as Marilyn George, Shirley Hay and Georges Sioui.
Beckwith’s music and the powerful story left this listener breathless. It had an impact beyond that of a wonderful performance. It was affirming of the notion that we are all one. There is no ‘we’ and ‘they’ in this world. Adoption and inclusion are words that we need to be using. Following the performance, the audience didn’t want to stop applauding. The concert clearly touched the hearts and minds of everyone in attendance.
There is a repeat performance tonight at 8pm at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity St. Paul's Centre. The performance deserves a wider audience. All Canadians need to hear and feel its messages.
Coming up next for Toronto Consort is Triptych, The Musical World of Hieronymous Bosch on March 3 and 4 at 8pm in Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity St. Paul's Centre. This concert will take the audience back to Europe and to the Netherlands at the turn of the sixteenth century.
TORONTO CONSORT searches out early Canadian music in an inspiring programme of reconciliation!