​​Review by David Richards

​Oakville ON March 4th 2018

The Toronto Consort has for a long time stretched beyond its Euopean roots in medieval and renaissance music to embrace a wide range of cultures. It was just a year ago that it presented a program of early Canadian music of indigenous and French origins. In December, its Christmas concert was themed on music from Central and South America. It shouldn’t have been at all surprising that in researching the manuscripts of medieval and renaissance eras that Artistic Director David Fallis went far beyond central Europe to include those of Persia for the concert entitled Illuminations.

It was in the concluding segment of last night’s concert at Trinity-St.Paul’s Centre that Fallis talked about a particular manuscript which had travelled through 750 years of its existence and across borders from France to Italy, Poland, Persia, Egypt and eventually ending up in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York where it resides today. At each stop in its travels, notations and translations were added in the local language. The resulting manuscript that was shown on the overhead screen was a testament to the oneness within the diversity of our world. The indelible influences of each culture on this one universally relevant document were undeniable, thus demonstrating that we are all one. 

So it was that the concert presented music and projected images derived from manuscripts from the earliest days of books. The images had profound beauty of colour and complexity of design. Both the music and manuscripts were inspired by the seasons of the year, historical legends, and religious miracle stories. There was humour in the thirteenth century A Virgen mui groriosa, a story of a man giving his betrothal ring to a statue of Mary which appears to come to life to inspire him to leave his wife on their wedding night. There were horrific images of the Apocalypse, many of which were almost Picasso-like, inspiring the "cantiga" El Cant de la Sibilla with soloist Katherine Hill singing from on high (in the balcony). This was not the music of European cathedrals. Instead, it was the religious and secular music of the people. Persian images and the associated inspired music gave the concert a universal dimension.

The three special guests who brought their Persian-inspired music and virtuosity were the highlight of the evening. Naghmeh Farahmand, a percussionist, performed on a variety of eastern drums using just her fingers and hands to beat amazingly complex rhythms. Pehman Zahedian performed on a setar, sang and composed music from ancient Persian melodies (goushes). Demetrios Pestsalakis performed on a lute-like instrument called an oud. Sitting on a raised Persian carpet, their sounds and rhythms captivated the audience.

The consort had its own bevy of both exotic and familiar instruments including a hurdy-gurdy, nyckelharpa, medieval harp, flute and recorder. When all the voices and instruments came together in the final set, the effect was as inspiring as it was energizing. 

David Fallis and Pejaman Zahedian curated a wonderful display of projected images for this concert. Nicholas Herman from the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies gave a fascinating pre-concert lecture on the creation of manuscripts from animal hides using ink, dyes and minerals from all parts of the known world to create the magnificent art contained within. 

Coming next in The Toronto Consort’s 45th Anniversary season is the virtuosic guest ensemble Quicksilver presenting FANTASTICUS with extravagant music from the 17th-century Italy and Germany for violins, sackbut, dulcian and continuo, with works by Buxtehude, Bertali, Weckmann and Schmeltzer. It will take place at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre on April 13 and 14 at 8pm.

The Toronto Consort; Photo: courtesy of The Toronto Consort

Toronto Consort: Illuminations across a millenium and several cultures demonstrates we are all one!

The Toronto Consort and Guest Artists; Photo: Courtesy of Toronto Consort


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