Ensemble brings a playful, educational approach to performances
Alessandro Scarlatti is more interesting than George Frideric Handel.
That bold statement is made by Musicians in Ordinary soprano Hallie Fishel as she sits in a Victorian-style chair in a small behind-the-scenes room at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene on Manning Avenue.
It’s a few days before Christmas, and the 49-year-old singer is joined by lutenist John Edwards as the two prepare for a Sunday performance at the Bickford Park-area church.
The two banter back and forth, defending the honour of the Italian Baroque composer against the pomp of his German counterpart.
To add to the humour of the conversation, the couch Edwards is splayed across appears to be swallowing him.
It’s apparent they don’t favour Handel. Reading between the lines of their playful yet academic quips, one can discern that they prefer a more textured music from the 1680s to the 1750s.
“Is that because we’ve heard The Messiah at least once a year for the last 40 years?” Edwards, 50, remarks.
“Scarlotti wrote with more expression and colours through the music,” the Bedford Park resident retorts. “Handel was more about the power and the glory for the singer up there, and look at me and my tonsils.”
The two, along with violinists Christopher Verrette (Fishel’s husband), Patricia Ahern, harpsichordist Borys Medicky and cellist Felix Deak, will perform Jan. 1 and 2 at Heliconian Hall on Hazelton Avenue.
Also on the setlist with Scarlotti’s contata about maudlin shepherds will be sonatas by Alessandro Stradella, Arcangelo Corelli and Giovanni Zamboni.
Fishel perks up when she hears the last name.
“You’re riding the Zamboni?” she chides.
“Yeah, right in the middle of the cellos, I’ll come riding in,” he says, imitating the sound of the ice resurfacer.
Classical music certainly loses it’s textbook flatness with the playful auras that surround Fishel and Edwards, who admit they always add in a lecture about the time periods that the songs take place in.
Edwards jokes about the maudlin shepherds many Baroque composers wrote about.
“Real shepherds in those days worked pretty hard, but if you just got the impression from Baroque contatas, you’d think all they did was lie on the riverbank weeping about a chick,” he says.
After their New Year’s performance, Musicians in Ordinary, who are the resident ensemble at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto, will perform at Father Madden Auditorium in Carr Hall.
The theme for that show will predate the Baroque composers and tread lightly into the Elizabethan era, with works from John Dowland and his contemporaries.
With the end of the Tudor reign it was a period of uncertainty, notes Edwards.
“We went through that interregnum where, musically, things got really kicked to the curb,” Fishel says. “Nothing was getting published and everything was written very four-square, and very Protestant — not decorated.
“It’s hard to tell from here if that was a fashion statement — everybody being emo at the time — or if it was the diet at the time, because God knows they weren’t eating lots,” Edwards jokes.