Daniel Taylor In Flightby Wah Keung Chan
/ November 1, 2008
Ottawa native and Montreal resident Daniel Taylor has just released his debut CD on the Sony Classical BMG Label. The 38-year-old hopes that this new exclusive contract will reach out to new audiences all over the world. But being Canada’s most sought-after countertenor is only one part of Taylor’s life, and now he wants to make a difference. Whether in music education, the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival, board governance, government funding, political advocacy or his latest passion for choral conducting, Taylor is ready to take a stand.
No stranger to the recording studio, Taylor already has an extensive catalogue of more than 70 discs on all the major labels but this release marks Taylor’s choral conducting debut. “It’s the most pleasure I have making music,” said Taylor. “When I’m in front of a choir, I am inspired by the ideas and commitment that comes from the individuals.” Taylor started choral conducting two years ago, when he founded the Choir to complement his baroque ensemble, Theatre of Early Music (TEM). At the time, Taylor brought together 18 choral singers (both professionals and students) from Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto to the Festival des musiques sacrées in Quebec City. “The result was remarkable,” he says. From the Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal he invited Marie-Claude Arpin, Josee Lalonde, Michel Leonard and Normand Richard to lead the sections. “They are the best choral singers/soloists in the city and the students learn from and are guided by them.” Taylor also credits his mentor Christopher Jackson for the high standards he has set in choral music in Montreal. Eventually, Taylor dreams of touring the TEM choir in Cathedrals across North America and Europe.
Although Taylor had always conducted the TEM, going from 14 musicians to 34 musicians and singers has meant more responsibilities. Invitations from other North American choirs and orchestras to conduct has inspired Taylor to take private conducting lessons. “I see my role devoted to certain repertoire, music that speaks to us,” he says. “We have to stay focused on the words, the emotional intent and the stories we are telling, and then the voices will blend together.”
In the summer of 2001 Taylor brought together soprano Nancy Argenta and a few of his instrumental friends for a concert at the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival. The idea was create an ensemble where the musical interpretation would be a collaborative effort. At the time he was singing 20 recitals a year. “I found it difficult going to a different city and negotiating the interpretation with a new orchestra; it was time-consuming and it felt like ‘business’ rather than music making,” he says. “The sense of sacred was missing from the music.” The group’s following concert took place on September 12, 2001, at La Scena Musicale’s 5th Anniversary Benefit Gala. Shortly after, they formalized the ensemble with the name Theatre of Early Music.
TEM now involves instrumentalists from all over the world and singers such as Emma Kirkby, Suzie Leblanc, Carolyn Sampson, Karina Gauvin, Charles Daniels, Benjamin Butterfield and Daniel Lichti, performing 30 times a year, including a 4-concert series in Montreal.
Taylor, however, is disappointed by the way government agencies fund arts organizations, especially newer groups. TEM desperately needs an office and a full-time staff to answer calls, make bookings and organize projects. Until now, TEM has managed to balance its books, but that may change. This year the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (CALQ) changed its funding scheme to prioritize stable 3-year grants, which favours MORE established organizations. CALQ’s August 2008 press release proudly states that it is funding 20 per cent more organizations than in 2005, including many new groups. However, Taylor sees it differently. “We used to be able to apply for funding for 3 projects/concerts, but now, as a young organization, we are only allowed to receive funding for one concert,” he says. This has caused TEM to cancel one concert this year and will put the group in deficit for the year. TEM is increasing its fundraising efforts to make up the loss.
Taylor feels that there is real inequality in funding. “Larger, older organizations receive the greatest amounts from corporations, foundations and donors. According to the most recent studies prepared by fundraising consultants from the Canada Council, approximately 90 per cent of the largest donations are given to the groups that have already received the highest level of funding from the government,” he says. “My concern is that new groups have trouble getting off their feet and cannot attract help from the likes of Hydro-Quebec and Power Corporation. The government could make a slight reduction in the funding of the largest organizations, and use this to nourish the younger groups, such as the dynamic ‘Masques’ ensemble.”
Taylor’s concern goes further to the federal minority government’s attempt to marginalize the arts. “Stephen Harper’s view that ordinary Canadians do not care about the arts showed how little he understands about our society, especially his lack of understanding of Quebec culture.”
When LSM last featured Taylor (December 2000), he was just starting to give masterclasses at the University of Ottawa. Singing over 100 concerts a year didn’t seem to leave him much time for teaching. Nevertheless, when McGill conductor Julian Wachner asked Taylor two years ago to help prepare the school’s students for its production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, he became hooked. Wachner described Taylor as a “huge hit with the students”, admiring Taylor’s ability to improve a student’s vocalism by focusing on vowel placement and underlining the dramatic requirements of emotional intent. “As a successful international artist, he models the current trends and expectations of the field of historical performance and early music,” said Wachner.
Taylor has now accepted teaching positions at the University of Ottawa, joining a faculty led by Ingemar Korjus, including mezzo Sandra Graham and soprano Donna Brown, the University of Toronto, and the Banff Centre for the Arts. Taylor thinks that “universities should be a model for high ideals, serious creativity and a place where lifelong friendships begin.”
Taylor believes that schools should also provide opportunities for students to study with experienced professionals. “Unfortunately, some institutions let politics or budget override the needs of students,” he says. “He lauds the Banff Centre for encouraging students to structure their own study path, and the University of Ottawa for their open-minded Voice Faculty. He also admires the University of Toronto’s vision for their early music program (up to Master’s level) with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra led by Jeanne Lamon. “If U of T turns its attention to early music voice, it will pose a particular challenge to McGill,” says Taylor. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if McGill involved Christopher Jackson and the SMAM.”
Although he is listed as an adjunct professor at McGill, his alma mater, Taylor is not involved in this year’s activities. McGill is the only school in Canada with an Early Music program in voice, and although Taylor believes that led by Dean Don MacLean and Chair Douglas McNabney, McGill boasts some of North America’s finest educators, he is concerned by the lack of enrollment in that program. “My name doesn’t seem to be on the list of choices for students, but in a city where such artists as Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Suzie Leblanc, Nathaniel Watson and Karina Gauvin live, one wonders why McGill has not offered students the experience of these remarkable artists and fulfilled its potential among the premiere locales for early music voice instruction in North America,” he says. Taylor hopes the addition of Sanford Sylvan will help resurrect the program.
Last summer, Taylor noticed a gap in the summer educational and performance activities for students in Montreal, so he decided to start a program in the city, including providing scholarships. The faculty included Donna Brown, Mary Morrison, Michael Meraw and Daniel Lichti. At the end of the program, Taylor arranged concerts for students at Festival Saint-Sauveur and at the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival. Plans for a second program are under way.
Ottawa Chamber Music Festival
Taylor is equally passionate about the uncertainty at the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival since founder Julian Armour resigned two years ago. “I, along with supporters of the festival, including Angela Hewitt, were given assurances by previous Board president Colin Cooke that they would have discussions to bring back Julian,” says Taylor, who is upset that no significant efforts at talks have actually taken place. As an Ottawa native, Taylor is concerned about decreasing audiences and lagging participation by Ottawa-based musicians at the festival. “When I spoke out about this at the concerts at this year’s festival, the audience cheered. They also want Julian back,” Taylor mentions.
In a sense, Taylor’s new deal with Sony, one of the “major” labels, is a culmination of his prolific recording career. “When I was invited to join their artists, like Yo-Yo Ma and Joshua Bell, I was in a state of disbelief,” Taylor says. “The arts are key to our culture, our well-being and to the future of our society. We need to bring a focus back to our history and our humanity. There are neglected masterpieces that we are seeking to reveal and rediscover with our audience.” For Taylor, IT is now a worldwide audience.
Daniel Taylor looks forward to his debut this season with the New York Philharmonic, the Madrid Symphony and the Israel Philharmonic. He will return to the San Francisco and St. Louis symphonies, to Gothenburg, Lisbon and London’s Wigmore Hall, and tour across Canada. This year, he will record Handel for Deutsche Gramophon and Bach for Hyperion and he continues his exclusive solo contract with SONY/BMG.
REVIEW: The Voice of Bach
Daniel Taylor, countertenor/conductor; Agnes Zsigovics, soprano; Choir and Orchestra of The Theatre of Early Music
RCA Red Seal 88697290312 (52 min 3 s)
This is the debut disc of Canadian countertenor Daniel Taylor for Sony/BMG, where he has recently signed an exclusive recording contract. Only in his late 30s, Taylor has already amassed a lifetime of achievements that is the envy of singers decades his senior. One of the most sought after countertenors in the world, Taylor has performed at a very high level in some of the most prestigious venues and collaborated with the greatest musicians the likes of Cecilia Bartoli and Emma Kirkby, as well as our own Suzie Leblanc and Karina Gauvin. This recording contract with a major label bears testament to his exceptional gift as an artist and communicator. At 53 minutes, the disc isn’t overly generous in length, but every moment is memorable. Several of the cantatas on the disc have previously been recorded by Taylor – after all with over 70 recordings to his name, he is the most prolific Canadian classical recording artist of our generation. Now at full artistic maturity, his work here is stunning. His sound is pure, smooth, ethereal, and evocative, with excellent flexibility and perfectly placed – an ideal voice in Bach. He is well supported by his own Theatre of Early Music, an exemplary period-instrument group he founded. With everything so delectable, it’s hard to choose a favorite, but I have a soft spot for “Erbarme Dich” from St. Matthew Passion. I grew up listening to Kathleen Ferrier and Maureen Forrester, and it’s hard for me to listen to anyone else sing this. But Daniel Taylor’s rendition, with an altogether lighter and more ethereal sound, has its own rewards and comes as close to the heart of the piece as the two great ladies. I guarantee you that this is a disc you’ll want to savor again and again. JKS
› Upcoming Canadian Performances:
November 21 - Edmonton
Solo Concert at Winspear Centre
November 26 - Montreal
With the McGill Chamber Orchestra
December 6 and 7 – Kitchner
With the Grand Philharmonic Choir
December 8 – Ottawa
With the Theatre of Early Music Choir
December 10 – Montreal
With the Theatre of Early Music Choir
February 7 – Calgary
Faire is the Heaven with the Calgary Philharmonic
February 19 – Montreal
Handel’s Sacred Duets with Dame Emma Kirkby
February 26 – Montreal
Dido and Aeneas with Suzie Leblanc and Alexander Dobson