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What is drawing audiences to Vesuvius Ensemble’s sold out performances?

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Last year, Vesuvius Ensemble’s Christmas concert had 60 people standing in the cold outside the Heliconian Hall because they could not get in.

 

This year, they have two concert dates. The first is already sold out, and the second has only a handful of tickets left.

Their repertoire is perhaps not what you would expect: 16th century Neapolitan music. It’s not exactly the Baroque music commissioned by churches and high-powered patrons in Europe that are most popular among today’s audiences. Neapolitan music, by contrast, is a folk tradition specific to the region of Southern Italy centred around Naples. It continues to be transmitted orally from one person to another to this day.

While it isn’t a repertoire that you hear in concert halls very often,  it is a living tradition that Francesco Pellegrino, Artistic Director of the Vesuvius Ensemble, grew up listening to in Campania as sung by farmers and elders in their everyday life.

Vesuvius Ensemble

For Pellegrino, Neapolitan music is filled with memories of the people and places in his early life. More than a musical tradition, it is an integral part of who he is. So much so, that he decided to quit his career as a successful opera singer, in order to devote all his time to the preservation and performance of this musical tradition.

“I used to love opera. I still do. But when I play the guitar and sing, I feel a different kind of joy.” He continues, “In opera, you are in a box. You have to follow the conductor, the orchestra, and you are not completely free. In this repertoire, I can be myself a hundred percent. A real interpreter, expressing my feelings, emotions, and memories.”

When he moved to Toronto in 2001, he noticed that the city had a vibrant folk and baroque music scene. It was the kind of city that carved out a space for the preservation and performance of musical practices from different times and places, which was exactly where he wanted to be.

The stars aligned when he met Marco Cera 10 years ago.  They immediately recognized in each other the shared passion for this music. When Cera introduced Lucas Harris into the mix, Harris was almost overwhelmed with excitement with the artistic possibilities. Together, they founded the Vesuvius Ensemble as we know it today.

Their unwavering commitment to the preservation and performance of Neapolitan music certainly makes Vesuvius an artistic force to be reckoned with. But what is drawing audiences out to their sold out concerts, the majority of whom have no personal connection with the music or the region?

Prof. Catherine Moore from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music offers this insight:

“What they collect into a concert is more than just music. It’s a tradition, a heritage, a way of thinking of music as part of a fabric of a particular part in the world.”

The Vesuvius Ensemble’s passion for the music of this region and period comes through in the care and attention to details that goes into each program—from the ethnomusicological research, the restoration and care of instruments, and the unexpected insights that put what audiences might already know about Baroque music in a different light.

The Tarantella, for example, is a popular musical form from Italy that is often used by baroque and classical composers as a dance. In 2017, Vesuvius spent months meticulously developing an entire program entitled “Le Tarantelle” devoted to exploring its social and cultural history.

From the program description: “In the countrysides of Southern Italy, the Tarantella is much more than a purification dance—it is part of an entire medical and spiritual philosophy known as Tarantism. The musicians become healers charged with the task of finding just the right rhythm that will make the tarantata (bite victim) get up and dance away the venom in her veins.”

Early this season, their program ‘Tale of Tales’ featured early versions of popular fairy tales—such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty—written in the Neapolitan dialect by Giambattista Basile. After the concert, numerous audiences inquired about obtaining English translations of Basile’s stories. Pellegrino was more than happy to point them in the right direction.

The revelation that comes from realizing the Baroque musical tradition we have always known might not be the whole story, and the curiosity that their programs inspire, are perhaps the magical elements that consistently brings out curious audiences.

The effort involved in each program is truly a labour of love. The breadth and depth of each member’s experience, and their genuine passion for this musical tradition, is what takes it over the top to create one unforgettable musical concert.

As Moore describes it:

“Traditional music tends to be thought of as old music, but it is living music with lots of similarities for centuries. How to bring that into the modern world, and make people excited? Part of it is in a vibrant and energetic performance, taking down barriers of formal music, improvised music. You can see before you [at a Vesunius concert] it is all those things.”

The secret of Vesuvius is getting out, and it is bitter sweet for the loyal fans who have discovered such a musical gem. However, if Vesuvius has figured out a formula for engaging modern audiences with music that has stood the test of time, perhaps it might be a secret worth sharing.

Find Vesuvius’ upcoming concerts on BeMused Network. Check out other groups that the artists perform with like Ensemble Polaris.

Rose Cora Perry on Resilience and Confidence as a Female Artist

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“It’s really a scary thing to start all over again, from the bottom up and re-define everything that was your reality.”

I just got off the phone with Rose Cora Perry. She is coming off two hours sleep and a “performer’s high” from singing the Canadian National Anthem to a full house at Budweiser Gardens in London for “Monster Jam,” the Monster Truck event featuring someone or something called “The Grave Digger…”

This classically trained rocker, whose childhood dream of being Sarah Brightman, talked to me about the November release of her sophomore album, Onto The Floor; what inspires her writing; challenges within the industry and feminism. She is also slated to perform at the Hard Rock Cafe on March 5th, for Women’s Day, with her partner from The Truth Untold, Tyler Randall. Read on…

Music In the Barns brings Bolton’s “Song of Extinction” to Luminato

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Carol truly is a creative power house, and it is so apropos that her newest adventure will take place at The Hearn Generating Plant.

The entire story was cloaked in secrecy. There were no hard facts; no idea what the piece was actually about. Just a note asking if I’d be interested in writing a story. Slowly, it unfolded; Carol Gimbel, Girl At The Barns, an incredibly talented violist. A few days later, The Luminato Festival. A week later, arranging to meet. Clues dropped here and there, a tease for what was to come. The interview itself, almost a disaster. The busy Kensington Market coffee shop was packed; a cacophony of noises, impossible to single out any one voice. The recording device conked out (damn cell phone), so Carol was whisked away (to her consternation) to an unfamiliar backyard – the Photo Booth application running on the computer. We had a half hour to get this done. Read on…

Symphronica an Ever Evolving Series

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“I’m evolving as an artist. The best part of getting older is that we become more honest.”

Ron Davis, one of Toronto’s most vibrant jazz pianists, has been presenting his SymphRonica concerts at the Lula Lounge for nearly three years. His upcoming concert on May 31st, SymphRonica Meets the Dazzling Dancing Lombard Twins, is part of Lula’s 10th annual LulaWorld Festival, taking place this month, is one you don’t want to miss. Read on…

“I equal I” Breaks Musical Ground for Israeli-Iranian Dialogue

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Their chance meeting set in motion what would become the I = I collective’s mandate; that music can break down barriers that generations of propaganda and palpable threat of war had cemented.

The Concert Hall had lost power.  And while many producers might not have kept their cool, especially first timers, Dan Deutsch, founding member of the Israeli-Iranian Musical Initiative, came out on stage and created an intimate and informal environment.  As if at a dinner party, the audience reacted accordingly.  Toronto’s Alliance Francaise hosted this very special evening, the inaugural concert of the Israeli-Iranian Musical Initiative, on March 31st.  The Toronto Symphony’s Shalom Bard conducted.  Three new pieces written by the I = I Collective were the foundation of the concert.  Guest appearances by noted Persians, kamanche player Saeed Kamjoo and tar player Shahin Fayaz punctuated the Converging Paths concert.  Iranian Parisa Sabet, Israeli Dan Deutsch and Canadian Noam Lemish created I = I in 2013.  But the seed germinated in a synchronistic meeting at a University of Toronto social for new students, in the doctorate program for musical composition, a year earlier. Read on…

WMCT Career Development Award Concert

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The WMCT’s Career Development Award prizes of $20,000, $10,000 and $5,000 – among the highest awards for classical music in Canada.

On Sunday April 26, I had the pleasure of attending the tenth presentation of the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto (WMCT)’s Career Development Award (CDA). Established 25 years ago and presented every 3 years, the CDA aims to assist “exceptional young Canadian musicians who are already engaged in a professional performing career.” This year’s finalists were chosen from 10 nominees by CBC producers over the past year. The live competition held in Water Hall featured the top three finalists, Pianist-Author Pierre-André Doucet, pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin, and cellist Stéphane Tétreault for prizes of $20,000, $10,000 and $5,000 – among the highest awards for classical music in Canada. Our gracious host for the afternoon was Julie Nesrallah of CBC Radio 2, who was absolutely delightful. Read on…

Meet Dana Michel, resident artist at Dancemakers

BLOG_header_meet_dana_mitchel_2015(Credits: Photo by Natalie Logan / “1976″ choreographed and performed by Dana Michel)

“…there is this contract written somewhere, whereby people will come and (witness) whatever it is you are after.”

Dana Michel is curled up in the corner of an old couch, one knee up, protective, like armour. She is a dancer and choreographer and the first year Resident Artist at Dancemakers Centre For Creation. Dana has already given one interview and I think would prefer to chill out before rehearsing for her revamp of 1976. We are in the rehearsal space at The Distillery District. The period building’s high ceilings and bright light from the massive windows are perfect to magnify the energy of this intense woman. We had a chance to chat about how she journeyed from the practical world of accounting and her job as a medical secretary. But the turning point in which she began dancing, choreographing and performing professionally, in what would be considered late in a dancer’s career, was seminal. Read on…

The creative family behind “Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf?”

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This is the beauty of independent theatre. It is vibrant and alive and on the edge.

Red One Theatre Collective cordially invites you to George and Martha’s home for an intimate evening of soul wrenching mayhem. Cocktails will have been served throughout the day, including perhaps some rubbing alcohol. Follow them into the wee hours of the following morning as you witness the alcoholic fuelled demise of a damaged marriage. Disappointment and disillusionment will be served as appetizers. Edward Albee’s iconic play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf breaks down the doors of the Storefront Theatre, whose curtains rise at 7 pm. Get ready for a wild ride, baby! Read on…

A Return to the Classics at Music In The Barns

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All the audience needs to do is let the music settle and move them.

Saturday, November 29th, at 8 pm, marks the newest concert for Music In The Barns. Stepping away from the New Canadian Music featured in last season’s series, Artistic Director Carol Gimbel has chosen a deeply traditional programme. Elegantly featuring the talents of pianist Cullan Bryant and violinist Moshe Hammer, New York City artist Lana Jean Israel adds to the multi-disciplinary event with her modernistic projection designs at the post performance reception. Read on…

Award-Winning Dover Quartet makes Toronto debut

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“There was also something you can’t put your finger on that’s intuitive about the way that we responded to one another’s playing. I don’t even know how to put it into words. It’s chemistry, like in any relationship.” ~ Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt

In 2013, the Dover Quartet’s sensational performance earned them the top and special prizes at the String Quartet Competition in Banff. They have been in high demand ever since on the performance circuit.

As part of their breakneck touring pace throughout the US and Canada, they will be performing in Toronto this Thursday afternoon in the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto’s 117th series, and at Jeffery Concerts on Friday at 8 pm in London, Ontario. Read on…

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