By a happy coincidence, today marks two orchestral events in Toronto that bridge the usual divide between classical and jazz. They are the launch of Ron Davis’s Symphronica CD featuring his original compositions performed by the Windsor Symphony Orchestra, and Sneak Peek Orchestra’s “Coltrane Ballade” concert this evening at the Al Green Theatre featuring Daniel Jamieson’s DanJam Orchestra.
The most exciting concerts in our city make a genuine effort to connect musical genres and art forms. Some use this as a foundation for their entire season (as is the case with the Talisker Players); others explore the possibilities as opportunities arise (see previous articles on Musical Toronto about Eybler Quartet and Ensemble Polaris.)
Jazz pianist and composer Ron Davis may not be familiar to fans of classical music, but his roots are firmly planted in classical music with his early studies under Darwyn Aitken — a student of Oscar Peterson and classical great David Saperton — at the Royal Conservatory of Music.
If you saw Davis perform recently at Paul Hahn & Co. as they celebrated their 100th birthday, or at the launch of Alliance Francaise’s 2013-2014 cultural season, you will no doubt recall his entertaining and virtuosic style.
Davis moves between the jazz and classical genre with unassuming ease. He once was an assistant professor of French linguistics at the University of Toronto, he trained as a lawyer, and he boasts a melange of other pursuits that you wouldn’t expect a performer to have under their belt. (Or perhaps most simply don’t flaunt their non-musical accomplishments enough.)
Knowing a little more about Davis makes listening to the Symphronica CD all the more satisfying. The six original tunes harken back to the origins of today’s jazz standards. The Windsor Symphony Orchestra shines in the recording under the direction of John Morris Russell, performing Davis works arranged for his jazz trio and orchestra.
Watching Davis at the piano is also a joy. There is a rare “no holds barred” honesty in his performances that audiences are drawn to. We rely on music to express what words cannot convey, and Davis certainly has a lot to tell us through his compositions.
Forging deep connections between composers, performing artists and audiences is a cornerstone for Sneak Peek Orchestra’s concerts. Their “Coltrane Ballade” concert this evening is their first all-jazz program, with maestro Victor Cheng showing off his jazz chops at the piano, giving way to his New-York-based Canadian collaborator and friend Daniel Jamieson to lead at the podium.
True to Sneak Peek Orchestra’s mandate, original works are on the programme along with the classics. This ensemble’s often thrilling interpretation of orchestral works holds the promise that tonight’s concert will be a memorable and exciting one for both performers and audiences.
There is a thirst from our young and emerging orchestral players for such genre-bending concerts, as exemplified by the growing interest in Simon Capet’s Classical Socials every Sunday at Fionn MacCool’s on Adelaide St W. His monthly Euphonia concerts at Lula Lounge — the last place you might expect to see a classical orchestra — is the same venue in which Davis has chosen to celebrate the launch of Symphronica over three Sundays, starting Oct. 27.
Euphonia violinist Tanya Charles and cellist Samuel Bisson frequently appear as Sneak Peek Orchestra’s concertmaster and principal cellist, respectively.
These young musicians are driven by a desire to revitalize classical music, agreeing to perform with only the promise of splitting the box office receipts, in the hope that the noise they are making collectively will shake the dormant audiences awake to start noticing the music around them.
A lot of conventional wisdom about what it means to be a classical performer is being questioned. For many young artists, it is increasingly the norm to engage in their artistic pursuits in parallel with other means of making a living. They are much more opened about trying different artistic involvements, casting their nets wide as there is no longer, and perhaps never was, any one formula for success.
It is inspiring to see a seasoned artist like Ron Davis continuing to break new ground, while a new generation of musicians is out to forge new rules of engagement for themselves. As they cultivate a new kind of audience, they are contributing to a movement that is larger than any one of them can bring about individually.
There is a symphony being orchestrated in the truest sense of the word: a harmony, a union of sound, different voices expressing the same sentiment in concert with each other.
is the founder of BeMused Network, and an occasional contributor to Musical Toronto. You can learn more about her at margism.com