Marimbas and harps and singers oh my!

This has been quite a couple of weeks. Where to begin?

On April 10th at The Rex, a standing-room-only crowd took in the third annual Israeli Jazz Showcase, at which Roni Eytan amazed on harmonica and trumpeter Avishai Cohen, along with his quartet, created a magical musical experience. The rest of last week, when I wasn't out seeing shows by the O'Pears, Rachel Cardiello and Fred Hersch, was spent preparing for our big lineup announcement this past Tuesday - there's more to come, but we now have a fantastic slate of concerts on sale. Yesterday, in the culmination of more than a year's work, my colleagues from Continuum Contemporary Music - my other gig - left for British Columbia to start a 17-day tour with Ballet Kelowna (I'll be joining them on Tuesday); then came the news that Prince had died. It's been a lot to take in and a lot to balance, with emotions running high on both ends of the spectrum.

I feel I may have achieved peak stress as we seek to finalize the upcoming festival, so I'm looking forward to a musical oasis of sorts with this Sunday's presentation of David Occhipinti's Art Song Concert, the third in our series of Special Projects presentations.

I had the opportunity to hear a concert of David's music in a similar chamber setting a few years back at Glenn Gould Studio. The performance was sublime. The writing, orchestration and playing was excellent; the use of voice was particularly effective (and particularly well-handled by Robin Dann). I was excited therefore to see David's application come through for the Special Projects, and equally as excited when the panel chose his project as one of four deserving support.

I had the chance to chat with David recently about the project. We met at his house at the end of what had been a long day; his living room had been turned into an ad hoc rehearsal space, with a five-octave marimba (which is huge), a vibraphone and a double-bass taking up most of the space. Despite the long day, David spoke enthusiastically about Sunday's concert. I asked him what was different this time, mentioning my attendance at Glenn Gould Studio a few years back. He explained that for this concert, he's drawing on a wider variety of texts; he's also exploring new instrumentation: the aforementioned vibraphone and marimba (and the combination thereof), but also harp - the repertoire for Sunday's concert represents his first-ever foray into composing for harp.

Also new this time around are some of the musicians - percussionist Beverly Johnston, harpist Erica Goodman, and a few of the vocalists. David's approach to personnel seems to reflect his approach to music in general: he's not too worried about labels or musical silos; he just wants to create great music, and choose great musicians to help him do so. He spoke fondly of how these musicians, from various parts of Toronto's musical community, have come together to help bring the project to life. Given whose involved - the musicians and the leader - I think the audience on Sunday will be in very good hands. (Oh and - you'll notice in the list of personnel mention of The Cookie Choir. I'm not going to give anything away, but I can tell you the concept is adorable...)

David Occhipinti's Art Song Concert is this Sunday afternoon, August 24, 3 pm, at the Alliance Francaise Spadina Theatre. Complete details are on the concert page.

And, after Sunday, we've got one Special Projects presentation left for this round - it features Nick Fraser in two formats (quartet and trio); the quartet's new release was just chosen as Album of the Week by NOW Magazine. So, you know, that's going to be good...

Hope to see you on Sunday!



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