Telemania Heats up the Night

ScaramellaHeader-image-StephenBy Robert K Stephen

(TORONTO, ON) – I was rather surprised to hear from Joëlle Morton, the heart and soul of Scaramella, during the concert at Victoria College Chapel, at the University of Toronto, on March 7. She mentioned that it was only due to some last minute crowd funding effort, and a small governmental grant, that the season finale concert occurred.

Scaramella was on the edge of financial collapse. Any artistic organization seems always on the edge in North America.

While the money may flow in a little more easily to the Canadian Opera Company or The Canadian Ballet, smaller company groups like Scaramella or the Toronto Consort live on the edge perpetually.


They have limited audience, hence limited revenue, hence a lower profile in the grant and donation panhandling game.

What crime has Scaramella committed to relegate it to being perpetually on the edge? The crime, it would seem, is to play early music of which few are aware.

Where do the factors of historical preservation and public education stand? Looking at New York, the Verdi Square Festival, in Verdi Square Park, gives young student performers an opportunity to perform in public, in front of several hundred people and thousands walking by the park, and listening to the performance.

The ability to perform in front of a small audience creates the self-worth and confidence beyond measurable finances. These young students are given a moral boost beyond a balance sheet.

Has classical music become a commodity? Does it have to stoop to the big hits or can it focus on some little victories?

I will say that the Scaramella concert Telemania rather blew me away. And pardon me for saying, the reason was not so much the music but Morton’s determined persistence in presenting what you may call as obscure early music.

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) is perhaps known to many of us, but Jean-Pierre Guignon (1702-1774), Michel Blavet (1700-1768), and Jacques Duphly (1715-1789) are not household names. Yet, Scaramella, nonetheless, presented their works.

In many respects, Scaramella’s brilliance goes beyond its technical abilities to its tenacious attempt to survive.

Although we can review each segment of the concert, the performance of Sara-Anne Churchill, of La Boucon by Jacques Duphly, was the most impassioned and technically perfect harpsichord performance, let alone any musical performance, I have ever witnessed. She tore up the crowd and the harpsichord with such intensity, confidence, and excellence it was enthralling.

Many of the early music performances by Scaramella present the listener with technical excellence, but lack of a modern orchestral coherence. It is as if their selections focus on technical instrumentation, on which they consistently deliver.

However, as for any toe tapping and joyous music, it is rarely there. I think we can pin that on the composer and not Scaramella.

Morton certainly made her proficiency on the bass viol well known on the opening number, Concerto primo by Telemann. Her playing grounded both Kim Pineda and Edwin Huizinga.

It was light hearted with some playful back and forth by the more than capable Pineda on baroque flute and Huizinga on baroque violin. It was like duelling banjos between the two. Back and forth solos rather than a group-focused composition moving toward a single coherent finish.

Sonata II, by Jean-Pierre Guignon, was primarily punctuated by Huizinga’s mournful violin, which seemed to meander somewhat until it perked up and finally decisively took control of the piece.

There was more give and take between violin and flute in Telemann’s Deuxieme Quatuor. It was more of a back and forth exhibition of solid flute and violin playing, instead of creating a harmonious flow of music. However, at times, there was a brief bit of interdependent musicianship between them.

This leads me to believe that Telemann’s compositions are collections of individual playings rather than a pure instrument co-operative and inter-dependence.

It all came together in the last coulant movement which illustrated Telemann could compose interdependent music, if he so wanted. It came home to roost in, perhaps, my favourite Telemann piece of the evening Premier Quatuor, which was finally a coherent whole composition instead of choppiness.

And the audience loved it; thunderous applause.

It was a beautiful way to head out into the miserable, bone chilling, and sombre evening.

This may cause you to listen to later classical music in an entirely different way. Whether its Lawes or Telemann, I can say Scaramella has taught an uncouth, non-musician a fair bit about early classical music.

Scaramella is certainly not big hit radio. Long live Scaramella.

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About the Author

Robert Stephen (CSW)
Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he loves The Square. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."Email Robert Stephen
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