Music Notes – May 2015

Valentina Lisitsa

Craven TSO cancels Valentina Lisitsa

Toronto Symphony Orchestra CEO Jeffrey Melanson’s decision to cancel April performances by Ukrainian-born concert pianist Valentina Lisitsa, because of her tweets on the civil war in that country, is a dangerous precedent and another sign of the erosion of democratic rights in Canada. While the head of the cash-strapped TSO was apparently responding to the pressure of pro-Kiev Ukrainian-Canadian patrons, he may also have been reflecting the political line of another influential and meddlesome patron, the Harper Government. The affair is an unsettling reminder of the McCarthy era in the fifties, when six members of the TSO were blacklisted for their left-wing views. Valentina Lisitsa is a talented and popular performer whose concerts are invariably sold out and whose YouTube videos have been viewed more than 50,000,000 times. Her “deeply offensive” comments are directed against atrocities committed in the Ukrainian civil war, perpetrated mostly by the Kiev regime against the Russian-speaking minority in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk. Lisitsa’s ‘crime’ is to advocate a peaceful solution to the conflict based upon the principles agreed upon at the recent Minsk Summit attended by the presidents of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine. Fortunately her fundamental decency shines through the calumny. This, combined with her talent and popularity, is what her opponents fear. For more info:

Wynton Marsalis cancels Venezuela shows

One of the side-effects of the U.S. government’s egregious hostility to the government of Venezuela was the recent cancellation of several shows and workshops in that country by jazz musician Wynton Marsalis. The renowned trumpeter and band leader had been scheduled to perform three concerts of his Swing Symphony in Caracas beginning March 13th with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra. Marsalis and his Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra were also scheduled to give a series of workshops with Venezuela’s world-famous El Sistema network of youth ensembles. The engagements would have been part of a twelve-city tour of Latin America. A spokesperson for Marsalis blamed “recent political turmoil” and promised to reschedule, adding that neither the U.S. nor Venezuelan government had intervened to influence the decision. Marsalis last visited the Bolivarian republic in 2005. In 2010 he spent a week in Havana jamming with Cuban music students. One can only speculate of course, but it’s hard not to think that Obama’s absurd March 8th declaration that Venezuela represents a “national security threat” to the USA has raised fears of reprisal among artists who depend, as does Marsalis, upon the patronage of the corporate elite.

Buena Vista Social Club says ‘Adiós’

It’s been said that they’re more a brand than a band, but for the surviving members of Buena Vista Social Club the music they lovingly preserve is a living tradition and they’re keepers of the flame. In 1997 Buena Vista Social Club became a worldwide sensation when the mostly elderly and forgotten Cuban musicians recorded their eponymous Grammy-winning album with American musician Ry Cooder. That led to an Oscar-nominated documentary by German director Wim Wenders and a host of solo albums by the band’s members. Since then several artists have passed on, including guitarist-vocalist Compay Segundo, pianist Ruben Gonzalez, and vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer. The current band has been on a worldwide “Adiós” tour since mid-2014. This summer and fall they’ll be touring North America, before giving a final show in October at Havana’s Karl Marx Theatre. With the tour comes a new Cd. “Lost and Found” is a compilation of previously unreleased studio recordings and live performances. Is this really the last hurrah for the Buena Vista Social Club? Why not carry on? The Preservation Hall Jazz Band has been keeping New Orleans jazz alive for generations. For more info:

Ceilidh Friends: Northern Remembrance

People’s Voice readers in western Canada may be better acquainted with folk trio Ceilidh Friends than their counterparts in the east. Among the latter I must include myself – at least until a month ago when a reader sent me the group’s 2014 album, Northern Remembrance. Hailing from Yellowknife, Ceilidh Friends performs traditional, modern, and northern music, featuring vocal harmonies and a variety of acoustic instruments, including guitar, dulcimer, recorder, percussion and auto-harp. They’ve been singing together since they first met at an anti-Gulf War protest in Yellowknife in 1990. Along the way they’ve released three albums and been profiled in folk music publications such as Sing Out! and Dirty Linen. The album title Northern Remembrance may have a dual meaning. On one hand it’s a musical Remembrance Day project, full of songs that express the horrors and illusions of war, some traditional, and some by well-known songwriters. On the other hand it might be seen as the trio’s homage to departed band member Steve Goff, who died in 2009. For more info visit or write to Moira, Dawn and Steve at

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