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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Dec. 3 concert celebrates the hard work of getting Canadian musicians recognized here and abroad

By John Terauds on November 30, 2013

Kornel Wolak and Chris Donnelly in action in Swift Current last spring (Elizabeth Dowson photo).
Kornel Wolak and Chris Donnelly in action in Swift Current last spring (Elizabeth Dowson photo).

On Tuesday night at Lula Lounge, Toronto-based clarinetist Kornel Wolak joins a clutch of Canadian musicians recreating a celebratory concert held in Rome last July. There such is a circle of ironies behind the event that you have to laugh as well as cheer their success.

The local irony is an old one: We all know you can’t be a true Canadian star unless you have made it big somewhere else.

The international irony is that all our governments save Quebec do little to raise awareness of our artists beyond our borders. So when people discover that our writers, painters, actors and musicians are as good or better than anyone else, eyebrows rise in surprise.

Hewers of wood and drawers of water (what else can you do when your factories have closed?) can, in fact, sing or play the piano.

I want to fold a third irony into this little equation: of an immigrant who actually knows how great this place is and how much cultural potential it has arriving to discover that he will find more work outside Canada, leading him — and us — straight back to Irony Number One.

Anne Summers Dossena, who divides her time between Canada and Italy, has for more than 20 years run the non-profit, Toronto-based International Resource Centre for Performing Artists. She managed to get a roster of Canadians together last for a July 5 concert in Rome celebrating this country as part of a larger international musical event.

It exposed Romans and visitors to a small but potent slice of Canadian talent, including Montreal soprano Jana Miller, Edmonton violinist Guillaume Tardif, Toronto-area pop-world-jazz ensemble, the Dominic Mancuso Group, and clarinet player Kornel Wolak.

Summers Dossena had to raise the money and work out the logistics to make this all happen, so Tuesday evening’s concert at Lula Lounge is primarily a fundraiser to help defray the summer’s costs. Admission is pay-what-you-can, with the option of having dinner at Lula, as well.

The only change from July is that original pianist Jordan Da Souza couldn’t make it, so has been replaced by Younggun Kim.

The first half of the programme focuses on art music. It’s a mix of canonic pieces — such a Johannes Brahms’ Op. 120 Sonata for Clarinet and Piano and Franz Schubert’s Shepherd on the Rock, for piano, soprano and clarinet, with Canadian works by living Torontonian Colin Eatock and dead Montrealer Jean Papineau-Couture. The second half of the evening belongs to the Dominic Mancuso Group.

The concert helps us celebrate the music we end up making, rather than the struggles of getting there.

Wolak’s big, sleepy eyes open wider and he laughs as he realises he is getting more work in his native Poland now that he lives in Canada. “Isn’t that funny; I had to leave so that I could get work there,” he says of an adventure that began nearly 10 years ago.

Back in Poland, Wolak has been asked to play solo, in ensembles, as well as act with his clarinet in a play about Witold Lutoslawski, the Polish conductor and composer whose 100th birth anniversary fell at the start of this year.

The High Park-area resident has also made a significant foray into Central and South America, giving orchestral and solo concerts as well as masterclasses in Ecuador and Chile earlier this fall.

In Canada, he continues to tour with Toronto jazz pianist Chris Donnelly, boosted by their excellent recent album, Common Ground. And, on February 15, he is soloist with the Ontario Philharmonic in an all-Mozart programme.

The touring not only re-energized Wolak, it introduced him to a clarinet maker in Chile who has just made a new set of instruments for him.

“It’s like getting a new life,” Wolak beams. He has been looking for years for a handmade clarinet that has more character in its sound than one can get from a mass-produced instrument. “It’s so important to be able to talk to the maker himself and to explore his philosophy of sound,” says Wolak.

The musician, who is still in his early 30s, says that solo-concert options are pretty limited no matter how great you are, so he has also started something he calls the Wolak Clarinet Extravaganza, which extends his genre-busting duo work into quartet form — with accordion or piano, a vocalist and guitar.

So the Brahms, Schubert, Rossini and Eatock-playing clarinetist we’ll hear on Tuesday represents only one side of an artist trying to find every available opportunity to make music — and make a living.

You’ll find the details of Tuesday night’s programme as well as all sorts of other related information here.

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Wolak, ever resourceful, is also discovering the value of YouTube. He has experimented with different types of videos and has, to no one’s surprise, discovered that pyrotechnics attract eyeballs.

Wolak adapted Niccolò Paganini’s Moto perpetuo for violin for his clarinet, and posted a performance from Ecuador on YouTube. “It would take years to get as many hits with Mozart as I got with this in a few days,” he smiles wryly.

Here it is:

John Terauds

 

 

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