Get to know Brandon Chui, viola

This season, violist Brandon Chui takes up his position as the newest core member of the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. Brandon had a busy freelance career on modern viola when his interest in period playing inspired him to attend the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer and Winter Institutes. We are thrilled to welcome him aboard!

 

We know you as a violist, but you first studied violin. What drew you to the violin?

Brandon Chui, violist

It was actually through my love of the trombone that I discovered the violin. I’d already been playing trombone for a couple of years in band class at school. I discovered a bunch of orchestral VHS videotapes my dad had recorded off PBS. I was watching all the trombone bits but soon fell in love with the violin. After a year of begging, my parents let me have my first violin lesson at the age of thirteen. They didn’t want to commit to anything because of a previously failed experiment with piano lessons. I remember my first lesson like it was yesterday — my teacher Zheng Zhong He came to our house and opened up the case to my violin. Words can’t describe the excitement I felt!

What was your first music gig?

Two friends from high school and I set up a group that played at weddings and other community events. With a configuration of two violins and keyboard, our group — called Strings of Joy — charged $150 for a wedding. Fifty bucks for a fifteen-year old was still a decent chunk of money twenty years ago. By that time I had also picked up the trumpet in high school and occasionally belted out Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary on the namesake’s instrument. Man, those brides got more than they bargained for; I pity the poor souls who were subject to my shenanigans!!

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

My primary teacher in university, Mark Skazinetsky, really made me think of phrasing, line, colour, the impact of different types of articulation and how it affects musical characterization — he was the one who really fostered my love for music as an art form, not just playing the violin, and I think that’s one of the greatest gifts a music student can receive.

What is your favourite music to listen to?

I spend a lot of time on the road, and along with blaring Handel as I cruise the mean streets of Toronto, hip hop and R&B often make appearances on the car stereo. It’s 99% classical at home though, and I go through periods of composer obsession. Bach always hits once a year where I simply can’t get enough. Right now, I’m coming off of a month-long Bruckner craze.

What are the last three pieces you’ve listened to?

  • Bruckner Symphony No.8, with Bavarian Radio Symphony and Mariss Jansons
  • The Spinner’s I’ll Be Around
  • John Legend’s album Get Lifted, the last thing blasted in the car

What is your favourite thing to do in Toronto during your free time?

Laughing loudly with friends while eating food. A lot of food.

What’s your favourite restaurant in Toronto?

It’s not the most glamorous place, but Roti Cuisine of India up at Spadina/Dupont holds a real special place in my heart. Special shout-out to their Baigan Burtha and Lamb Korma!

You have a night off — what do you do?

During basketball season, I always check in advance to see if there’s a Toronto Raptors game happening during our nights off. If there is, you’ll find me glued to the TV. With the addition of Kawhi Leonard to the roster this season, you can expect more of the same from me. Another activity I am known for is eating. If it’s tasty, I eat it.

What words of wisdom would you pass to budding musicians?

Be realistic: the majority of musicians don’t win an orchestral job right out of school. Most will have to live the life of a freelancer. Be prepared: it’s a tough business, with too many people fighting for too few jobs, and there are always bills to pay. You better love the hell outta music to do this.

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Get to know Susan Suchard, soprano

Soprano Susan Suchard has been a member of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir since 2003. She teaches voice in her private studio at Trinity-St. Paul’s, and conducts the Preparatory Chorus of the VIVA! Youth Singers of Toronto, for whom she also serves as General Manager. 

How did you come to be a singer?
I grew up singing in church. When I was young my family attended a Brethren church in London, Ontario. There was no piano or organ played in services. One of the elders, always a man, would stand up and “call out” a hymn. He would then proceed to sing the first line and everyone would join in. My brother, sister, and I would giggle when the singing got into dangerously high or low ranges, which it often did.

Then, in elementary school, I was inspired by Mrs. Sheila Schaus, the itinerant music teacher. I loved when she came into the classroom. Her perfume was exotic and she wore bangles that jangled when she conducted.

In high school, there was no vocal music program, so I took up the French horn, an instrument that allowed me to create lovely lyric singing lines (when I wasn’t required to play off-beat quarter notes!).

I became a horn major at Western University and began studying voice on the side. I did as much playing as I could in large ensembles and quintets, but each year I also sang in one of the Faculty of Music’s choirs. In my fourth year, I joined the Opera Workshop, and after singing Pamina in The Magic Flute and Blanche in The Dialogues of the Carmelites, I gave up the French horn to concentrate solely on singing. [Editor’s note: Tafelmusik Chamber Choir Director Ivars Taurins was playing viola in the orchestra for those operas at Western!]

What was your first music gig?
My first paid gig was as a horn player in the London Musicians’ Union Marching Band at the Western Fair in London, Ontario. I suppose my first unpaid gig was as the student music director of a high school musical for children called The Lion Who Wouldn’t starring Tom McCamus, now of Stratford Festival fame, and Nancy Palk, one of the founding members of Soulpepper Theatre.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?
Both of my parents played piano very well by ear. I learned to play too, and I read well enough to accompany my voice students, but sadly I did not inherit their skill at just sitting down and rattling off a tune. At any party or event, one of my parents could often be found leading a sing-along. To this day, my dad can’t pass a piano, in an airport, restaurant, or on the street in Huntsville, without sitting down to show off his party pieces.

What is your favourite music to listen to?
I am a sucker for a sad beautiful tune. I love the ballads from musicals and standards. I’ve always wanted to put together a cabaret show, but, because the songs I love are all sad, I’m not sure anyone would want to sit through them! 

What are the last 3 recordings you’ve listened to?
In trying to help one of my students find repertoire for a grade 9 Royal Conservatory examination: Bach’s “Ich nehme mein Leiden mit Freuden auf mich,” Fauré’s Au bord de l’eau, and Jean Coulthard’s Quiet.

What is your favourite thing to do in Toronto during your free time?
During my daily 45-minute drive to Trinity-St. Paul’s, I like to listen to audio books, with a decaf latte in the cup holder.

What’s your favourite restaurant in Toronto?

I like to try a new restaurant every time I go out downtown, but a trusty standby in the east end is The Real Jerk on Kingston Road.

Where is your own, personal, oasis in Toronto?
I’m fortunate enough to have a lovely, leafy back garden with lots of shady space. Last summer, my husband built a swanky new deck, so I’m looking forward to getting out there again in the spring. Otherwise, my daughter and I like to have a spa day every now and then at the Elmwood.

Are you involved with any other organizations?
When I’m not singing or teaching in my studio at Trinity-St. Paul’s, you’ll find me in the basement, also at Trinity-St. Paul’s, in the office of the VIVA! Youth Singers of Toronto with my general manager’s hat on.

Where do you see yourself ten years in the future?
I’m itching to be in front of an adult choir as a conductor. I enjoy working with children’s choirs, and have done all my life, but I am really feeling the urge to work with an SATB or SSA group. I have a church soloist job and, when the organist is away, I step in as conductor. Each time I do it, I realize how much I enjoy the experience.


Hear Susan sing with Tafelmusik Chamber Choir and Baroque Orchestra in BACH B-MINOR MASS, from April 5–8, at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, and on April 10 at George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts. Tickets are available here.

Get to know Patrick Jordan, viola

Patrick Jordan has been a violist with Tafelmusik since 1995. He hails from Texas, and is also a member of the Eybler Quartet, based here in Toronto.

Patrick Jordan, viola. Image: Sian Richards

How did you come to choose your instrument?
Great story here. The Grade 6 orchestra teacher gave all the Grade 5 students a music aptitude test. I’d never had any real music instruction, but did very well (despite consistently mixing up the major and minor modes). We were told that one could choose the violin, viola, or cello for the next year. I had never heard of the viola, so that’s the one I chose!

What was your first music gig?
The first time I received cash for playing was excerpts of Messiah at some church in Lubbock, TX.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?
That’s a brutal one. My teacher in Lubbock, TX, Susan Schoenfeld, basically saved my life as an adolescent — she gave me work to do, a home away from home at times, and a carefully considered socialistic outlook on the world. Tick the inspiration box there! Another of my great teachers was Eugene Lehner, who taught me how to relate music emotionally and structurally, but also about why we teach. Tick the inspiration box there! Bruno Weil has been an inspiration. Jeanne Lamon has also been one. So have my Eybler Quartet colleagues Aisslinn Nosky and Julia Wedman. Perhaps the greatest of them all has been my treasured wife, Margaret Gay (also cellist of the Eybler Quartet). 

What is your “guilty pleasure” music to listen to?
There’s really just music; I think I did all my “guilty” time as a kid growing up on the buckle of the Bible Belt in Texas. What might be unexpected in my listening is Top-40 pop, R&B, and Ravel! My go-to comfort piece, about once a year, is Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel. If you haven’t heard that, do yourself a favour, and devote the 24-26 minutes to a profound experience. 

What are the last 3 recordings you’ve listened to?
Well, I’m in the middle of editing a new Eybler Quartet CD, so movements 2, 3, and 4 of Beethoven’s Op. 18, no. 6. (Editor’s note: the album is now available.) If you’d like a less navel-gazing answer, I can offer The Seven Last Words of Christ by Haydn, Build a Rocket Boys by Elbow, and Senesce by Nick Storring.

What is your favourite thing to do in Toronto during your free time?
Modesty forbids answering that directly. I do love cooking, however.

What’s your favourite restaurant in Toronto?
See the answer to the previous question — I don’t eat out a lot. Chiado, however, has never disappointed me.

 Where is your own, personal, oasis in Toronto?
About 40 cm to the right of my stove, where I do most of my kitchen time.

You have a night off — what do you do?
Between April and September I might go to a baseball game (Blue Jays, Toronto Maple Leafs of the Intercounty Baseball League, or more likely the Toronto Cardinals, my son’s elite-level team); as often as not, cook for a bunch of people!!

What is your great ambition?
To keep working and recording with the Eybler Quartet until the energy or money runs out.

Where do you see yourself ten years in the future?
In many professional fields, I’d be expected to have retired in the next ten years. Playing the viola means I might be able to squeeze another two or three decades out of it.

What words of wisdom would you pass to budding musicians?
Make your own fun. Whatever is being presented to you as “the way to do music” is a tiny slice of the whole picture. Play music that turns your crank, and you’ll almost certainly turn someone else’s!

Get to Know Cory Knight, tenor

bach-tapestry-coryknight

Tenor Cory Knight first joined the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir in the fall of 2010, shortly after participating in the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute. In 2012 he moved to Switzerland to pursue a Master’s degree in Historical Performance Practice at the prestigious Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. He rejoined the Choir upon returning to Toronto, and balances his career in Canada with engagements in Europe. He was recently featured as the Sailor in Opera Atelier’s production of Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas.

How did you come to decide to sing?
I’ve always been interested in music and fortunately I have parents who are very supportive of that. They signed me up for piano and voice lessons and drove me to all kinds of rehearsals when I was a child. My plan was to be a high school music teacher, but after I finished my teaching degree I thought I’d give this singing thing a try. So I auditioned at the Glenn Gould School and was accepted into the vocal program that year. I met some important professional contacts and mentors through that experience and haven’t looked back since.

What was your first music gig?
I played a sailor at my Kindergarten graduation. It was a big deal. But my first professional gig was with Opera Atelier. I was cast as Telemaco in Monteverdi’s The Return of Ulysses.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?
Probably my grandfather, who taught me that no job is as difficult as picking tomatoes. [Cory comes from Leamington, the Tomato Capital of Canada.]

What is your ‘guilty pleasure’ music to listen to?
My grandmother recently gave me her old LPs and I’m currently making my way through them. There’s a Patsy Cline album in there that I just can’t get enough of.

What is your favourite thing to do in Toronto during your free time?
I love walking around the city and discovering little places that I’ve never seen before.

What is your favourite restaurant in Toronto?
Smoke’s Poutinerie.

Where is your own personal oasis in Toronto?
I really enjoy my apartment in the Village. The neighbourhood is so vibrant, and I love the mix of people and general energy. But when I’m not at home, I love Kensington Market, Toronto Island, and wandering the paths in Don Valley.

Are you involved with any clubs/charities in your off-time?
I volunteer as a Youth Mentor through Catholic Children’s Aid Society. Basically I get to hang out with a really cool kid who keeps me up to date on the latest Nerf toys and video games. I’ve also spent most of the past 20 summers working at camp.

You have a night off—what do you do?
I get cozy on my couch with some yummy snacks and watch movies.

Where do you see yourself ten years in the future?
In my 40s.

What words of wisdom would you pass to budding musicians?
Practise, practise, practise. Find joy in everything you do. Follow your instincts. Be patient. And when things get tough just remember that you could be picking tomatoes.

Lightning Roundlightning-bolt

Apple or PC? PC
Starbucks or Tim Hortons? I’m faithful to my small town roots on this one: Timmies.
Cat or dog? Dog
City or country life? A healthy amount of both.
Hockey or baseball? Hockey
Batman or Superman? Depends on which nephew I’m hanging out with.
TTC or “anything else that gets me to my destination”? TTC
Favourite season? Summer
Favourite instrument? I played trombone in high school and university. So, trombone. But I’ve always loved the viola.
Old or new? Old
Tidy or cluttered desk? Tidy


Join us for A Bach Tapestry at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre and George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts. Tickets are available here.

Get to know the Messiah soloists

Our Messiah and Sing-Along Messiah concerts will feature an amazing cast of soloists with soprano Amanda Forsythe and mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó making their Tafelmusik debut, and Tafelmusik favourites tenor Colin Balzer, and baritone Tyler Duncan. We sent them a few questions and here is what they had to say:

Amanda Forsythe (soprano), Krisztina Szabó (mezzo-soprano), Colin Balzer (tenor), and Tyler Duncan (baritone)
Amanda Forsythe (soprano), Krisztina Szabó (mezzo-soprano), Colin Balzer (tenor), and Tyler Duncan (baritone)

How did you come to decide to sing?

Amanda Forsythe
Amanda Forsythe

Amanda Forsythe: I’ve enjoyed singing since I was a child, when I sang in choirs and local theatrical productions. I studied voice and piano in high school, and began college as a biology major with a strong interest in music. It turns out I was better at singing than science!

Krisztina Szabó: I started singing as a child, spending six years in the Toronto Children’s Chorus, and loved it, but never considered it a “career choice” when deciding what to major in at university.  So, I entered the University of Western Ontario with aspirations of being a music teacher, as a piano major. But I wanted to keep singing, so I started taking voice lessons on the side with Dr. Darryl Edwards, who now teaches at the University of Toronto. The more I sang, the more I loved it—it felt natural, like the truest expression of who I am. Then I got a couple of roles—in the Gilbert & Sullivan Society, as well as the opera that the university put on, and I caught the performing bug. So, I ditched the Education track and decided to pursue post-graduate programs in Voice Performance … and the rest is history.

Colin Balzer: When I entered grade 11, I had the good fortune to have a choir director who had just returned from finishing his masters in conducting. He was burning with inspiration and ideas, and it was contagious. Up until then I had never sung in a choir but had played various instruments. Under his direction and encouragement, I began to realize that I might have more to say musically as a vocalist than an instrumentalist.

Tyler Duncan: When I was little I would make up songs while playing with Lego. My Nana, who was a big fan of Sibelius, noticed that I made up some lovely songs and was usually in tune. She suggested I join a choir. From then on, there really wasn’t much else in life that I wanted to do.

What was your first music gig?

AF: My first paid job was singing backup vocals to Joey Lawrence on a Romper Room record when I was eight years old. I got $40 for that gig!

KS: My first paid music gig ever was as soloist/section leader for a church choir in London while going to school. But my “big break” was being accepted into the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio programme. My first role at the COC was playing “Clothilde” in Norma. At the time, everyone kept telling me that it was Joan Sutherland’s first role, too … no pressure there!

CB: Oddly enough, my first professional job as a soloist was a Sing-along Messiah with a community choir in Fort Langley, BC.

TD: Playing trombone in a Brass Quintet. We played Christmas carols in Victoria BC. We were TERRIBLE. My first professional singing gig was Monteverdi madrigals for Early Music Vancouver. Colin Balzer was the tenor soloist.  It is wonderful that we are still singing together a couple of decades later.

What is your “guilty pleasure” music to listen to?

AF: I really enjoy listening to Broadway musicals, and my 6-year-old is keeping me current on today’s pop music.

KS: Some of my friends make fun of me, but I listen to pop music—the latest hits—and can sing along with most of the songs on the radio. I listen until the fact that they are mindless and repetitive starts to get to me, at which point I put on CBC Radio.

Colin Balzer
Colin Balzer

CB: Take 6. I finally had the opportunity to hear them live after being a fan for many years. They are as stunning live as they are on their recordings.

TD: Jazz, funk, and (intelligent) rap music.

What are the last three recordings you’ve listened to?

AF: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Handel’s Aci e Galatea, and Alison Krauss singing I’ll Fly Away.

KS: Well, I was preparing for a concert, so I was listening to a Hungarian singer, Magda Kalmár, singing some Lehár operetta. Also, Katalin Karády singing some ‘50s Hungarian lounge music.

CB: Nature Boy, Lucky Luke, and Bad (sung by The Real Group, live from Japan)

TD: The Rainbow Connection, The Bare Necessities, and the theme song from Paw Patrol — I have a toddler …

Krisztina Szabó
Krisztina Szabó

What is your favourite thing to do on a day off?

AF: I’ve got two small boys at home, so there aren’t really any “days off.”  When I’m travelling without them, I enjoy being a tourist in new cities and catching up on reading.

KS: Sleep and Netflix. And sleep. And more Netflix. And then sleep again.

CB: Living in Germany, the opportunity to see a movie without subtitles or overdubbing is sometimes hard to pass up. I also love finding local independent coffee roasters and cafés.

TD: Spend time with my son: he is very cute.

What is the most challenging aspect of singing Messiah for you?  

AF: Technically, “Rejoice greatly” is the only tricky piece for soprano—the rest is just about spinning your most gorgeous sound and connecting with the moving texts. But every conductor likes to allocate the arias differently, and sometimes you get to sing something new—this year I get to take a crack at the arioso “Behold and see,” which is a first for me!

KS: For me, “But who may abide” is the most challenging aria of the night, because of where the coloratura lies. It’s a great aria and I want to do it justice!

CB: The challenge (which I love) is to try and make it fresh every time. Can I go deeper into the text? Does a particular ornament still make sense both musically and rhetorically? My interpretation needs to be a living, breathing, and growing thing, to leave no room for auto pilot or routine.

TD: Trying not to sing along with the choir the whole time! The most wonderful challenging aspect is keeping the music fresh each year, not relying on the way it was sung last season, but finding new things in the music to bring out.

What Messiah part do you especially look forward to?

Tyler Duncan
Tyler Duncan

AF: I love the silence just before the final two “amens,” after you’ve been somewhat hypnotized by the extended “Amen” fugue. It always comes as a shock.

KS: It may sound cliché, but I absolutely love when the “Hallelujah” chorus is sung, particularly when the soloists and audience get to join in the fun. There is nothing quite like a room full of people raising their voices together singing that chorus!

CB: I always love the passion sequence of recitatives and arias. It’s a huge turning point in the piece. This is the Messiah at its most serious, its most accusatory, until that wonderful moment where the music and text shifts to “But thou didst not leave his soul in hell.” From there on out it’s a wonderful and celebratory rising action that continues to gain momentum right up until the end of the piece.

TD: The viola part.


Hear our wonderful guest soloists perform in Messiah at Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre, from Dec 14-17, 2016. Tickets are available here. Join in the singing at the 30th anniversary of Sing-Along Messiah at Massey Hall, Dec 18.