Toronto Consort presents Kanatha/Canada: First Encounters tonight at Trinity St. Paul’s Centre in Toronto.

I stepped out into the sub-zero temperatures last night to see the Toronto Consort’s stimulating new show. It features instruments from the time of Champlain, as well as some traditional music performed by First Nation’s People, who are keeping their own music alive and well.

What did it sound like, centuries ago, when the original inhabitants of our land encountered visiting Europeans? The concert conjures up this imaginary soundscape.

The programme is built around a new piece by John Beckwith who, at age 90, stands as an inspiration to all Canadians. His contribution to composition, scholarship and the general musical life of our country is measureless. He gives a talk before the show tonight at 7pm, and he is as lively, as witty, gracious and spunky as ever. His new work features the glorious, velvety tones of Laura Pudwell and the Toronto Chamber Choir, prepared for this performance by their conductor Lucas Harris. Beckwith uses a chant-like choral medium to express words derived from original documents, as well as text in French by the Huron-Wendat poet George Sioui who also performs. Included in the period instrument group (viola da gamba, recorder, chamber organ etc) are two First Nation’s drummers, Marilyn George and Shirley Hay, who also perform as soloists in the first half.

But my new idol is Jeremy Dutcher, a young man who has combined his inquisitive mind, his research skills and his creative spirit. Listening to original wax cylinder recordings housed in the National Archive preserving the voices of his own ancestors singing, and studying his own, endangered Maliseet language, he combines ancient elements with his own very contemporary style. His music is a dance with his ancestors; a powerful, respectful and moving offering that blossoms without boundaries. Jeremy came up to York University to perform last month and the kids went wild. One of my students called the experience “low-level life changing.” The older, more sophisticated audience around me last night in downtown Toronto was equally enthusiastic.

The whole concert is an enlightenment, and I encourage you to step out into the Canadian winter to hear the last performance tonight at 8pm. David Fallis is in charge, so you know it’s going to be not only intellectually stimulating, but also full of lively historical tunes that skirt the boundaries of classical/folk/pop music.

toronto consort canoe

toronto consort canoe

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