SONGBOOK 8: BRENT CARVER finds Rachel Mercer “grooving with a different kind of music”

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.

Actor-singer Brent Carver

Let’s face it. Most of us would line up to see hear Tony-Award and Governor-General-Award-winning Brent Carver read the phone book on a street corner. To hear him sing a dozen self-selected songs, spanning musical theatre, the American Songbook, jazz standards and contemporary pop? Now that’s a sublime prospect! It’s no wonder, then, that Songbook 8: Brent Carver, Art of Time Ensemble’s final concert of this season is nearly sold out.

In the Songbook series, Andrew Burashko, Art-of-Time-Ensemble’s artistic director, invites a singer to choose contemporary songs for a unique program. Master composers/arrangers then create inventive arrangements — not only for the featured singer, but also to showcase the 6-member ensemble (3 classical and 3 pop/jazz musicians) who share the stage. Over its 13-year history, the Songbook series has featured singers Sarah Slean, Gregory Hoskins and Steven Page, and will be welcoming Canadian indie rocker Hawksley Workman next May.

Andrew Burashko, pianist and artistic director of Art of Time Ensemble

Andrew Burashko, pianist and artistic director of Art of Time Ensemble

Sharing the stage with Carver for Songbook 8: Brent Carver will be 6 sought-after Canadian musicians from across musical genres: Andrew Burashko (piano), Phil Dwyer (saxophone), Amanda Goodburn (violin), Rachel Mercer (cello), Joseph Phillips (bass) and Rob Piltch (guitar). Arrangers include Jonathan Goldsmith (Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz and Away From Her), Bryden Baird (previously music director for Feist), Kevin Fox and Jim McGrath (Degrassi, Republic of Doyle). “This is the most ambitious Songbook program we’ve ever done.” says Burashko. “The arrangers have taken the project to a new level and created very grand, beautiful arrangements.”

Toronto-based cellist Rachel Mercer has returned from a musical tour in Western Canada, just in time to rejoin Art of Time ensemble for these shows. Though she doesn’t know the exact details of the origin of this particular concert, she credits Burashko’s “mastermind” for its genesis. “He loves music possibly even more than I do, and he has the most broad range of taste and knowledge that I know of. He creates these collaborations with artists in so many different fields, with such different personalities, yet the results are organic and natural, as if all of these elements were always meant to be combined.”

Cellist Rachel Mercer (photo by Nikki Wesley)

Cellist Rachel Mercer (photo by Nikki Wesley)

The appeal for Mercer, a classically trained cellist, is the chance to collaborate with musicians and artists outside the classical-music world, “grooving with a different kind of music,” and being inspired by the “artistry and expression of so many incredible people, from the players, dancers, visual artists, arrangers, composers to the singers.” The scope and ambition of this program inspire her: “Knowing Andrew, I kind of take this for granted, that all of the elements will work, but it is an incredible feat — thanks to an amazing vision and his love of music.”

She expects Songbook 8: Brent Carver to be a much-lauded, much-discussed event. “I think people will be talking about the honesty and truth in everything Brent Carver does,” she muses. “Having finished an 8-hour day of rehearsing, he was still there, embodying all of these different characters, stories and voices with all of his soul.” And beyond Carver’s deep commitment to his art lies the unique artistry of each of the musicians with whom she shares the stage. She marvels “to discover the subtle aesthetic tastes of each artist and find that they have vision so far beyond simply the music. And that they care so deeply. I believe people will also be talking about a couple of amazing sax solos by Phil Dwyer!”

Rachel Mercer (photo by David Leyes)

Rachel Mercer (photo by David Leyes)

Without a doubt, we will also be talking about her – and not just for Songbook 8: Brent Carver! As an award-winning and popular cellist, she is constantly on the go. When she isn’t teaching at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music, she is performing in venues worldwide. May 30 will mark the final concert in her “5 at the First” Chamber Music Series at the First Unitarian Church in Hamilton. The series has garnered a regular loyal audience over its 6 seasons, which means that “‘5 at the First’ can continue to present diverse chamber music in a friendly and welcoming setting for years to come.”

The concert will open with a young performer from the Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts, Chloe Hewitt. It will include the 2 most beloved clarinet quintets by Mozart and Brahms, performed by Mercer as well as soloist Yehonatan Berick, Canadian Opera Company concertmaster Marie Bérard, Toronto Symphony principal violist Teng Li, and Toronto Symphony Associate Principal clarinet Yao Guang Zhai.

June will usher in a busy summer, with Mercer in Ottawa for a month playing with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, followed by 2 weeks at a festival in Brazil. She then returns to Canada for festivals in Hamilton, Burlington, Ottawa, Parry Sound, Mont-Tremblant and Amherst Island. She’ll cap off the the summer with a recording with the Mercer-Park Duo  . . . to enjoy her final month with 1769 Joannes Guillami Filius cello loaned to her from the Canada Council Musical Instrument Bank.

Those of us lucky enough to catch Songbook 8: Brent Carver and hear Mercer and the Art of Time Ensemble can anticipate the transformative experience that comes of sharing live music. And Mercer feels this especially keenly. “Music feeds my soul,” she reflects, “and I live for sharing it with people. I hope your readers will go out and enjoy live music — it’s one of the most amazing ways to connect with another human being — through playing or listening together.”

News You Can Use

What: Art of Time Ensemble presents Songbook 8: Brent Carver, featuring Andrew Burashko (piano), Phil Dwyer (saxophone), Amanda Goodburn (violin), Rachel Mercer (cello), Joseph Phillips (bass) and Rob Piltch (guitar)

When: Friday May 22 and Saturday May 23, 2015, 8:00 PM

Where: Harbourfront Centre Theatre, 231 Queen’s Quay W, Toronto, ON

Who: Audiences 13 years of age and older

FYI: artoftimeensemble.com

© 2015 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya

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