October 2007

Milton Barnes
(1931 – 2001)
photo courtesy www

A Tribute to Milton Barnes
October 22, 2007 Al Green Theatre Toronto

Celebrating the Life, Times and Music of Milton Barnes
by Ori Dagan with photos by Roger Humbert

Championed as one of Canada’s most innovative composers of the 20th century, Milton Barnes (1931-2001) was posthumously honoured with a heartfelt tribute at the Al Green Theatre in Toronto’s Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre. Barnes was born and raised in Toronto, living just two blocks away from the theatre, which made the event truly a community affair.

A highly interdisciplinary artist, Barnes composed, orchestrated and conducted music for radio, theatre, dance, film and television. He was known as a ‘fusion’ composer because he valued creativity over categorization, drawing inspiration from countless sources, notably the Romantic 19th century Western classical music, jazz, klezmer, Brazilian, Latin and traditional Hebraic music. Harpist Erica Goodman of Trio Lyra referred to Barnes as “Canada’s version of Leonard Bernstein”.

Two of the Barnes brothers, Micah (vocalist/pianist in the jazz/cabaret/singer-songwriter genre and former Nylon) and Daniel (award-winning and critically acclaimed jazz drummer and composer), charmingly hosted the celebration of their father’s life. The third brother, cellist Ariel Barnes, gave the night’s most mesmerizing musical experience: a magical excerpt from the Suite From Jewish Life, variations for solo cello that were introduced by Milton Barnes’ favourite cellist, William Findlay. The epic nature of this composition was expressed ideally by Ariel’s dazzling technique and personal connection.

Guitarist Brian Katz and vocalist Lenka Lichtenberg gave a brief performance of Yiddish song “Shpil Zhe Mir A Lidele” from Dos Naye Lid, translating to “The New Song”, a klezmer dance suite originally composed in five movements for chorus and instrumental clarinet, trumpet, violin, cello and piano. While this was in no way a weak performance, I would have loved to hear at least one more of Milton’s Yiddish songs by these two performers. Lichtenberg is a passionate, smoky-voiced cabaret chanteuse and tasteful arranger Katz is always an enchanting soloist.

Brian Katz

The three members of the classical chamber ensemble Trio Lyra are well known in Canada and internationally for their sophisticated musical expression. The trio served up the playful Harbord Suite, originally commissioned to Barnes by the Kosover family who owned the Harbord Bakery since the 1940’s. Composed in 1991, the suite was written specifically for Trio Lyra, who has been together since 1978. Trio Lyra is comprised of Erica Goodman on harp, Mark Childs on viola and Suzanne Shulman on flute.

Soprano Renée Bouthot, accompanied by Alice Malach on piano and Baird Knechtel on viola, performed an excerpt from Canciones Español, a song cycle commissioned to Barnes late in his life by Judith Lechter. The four songs illustrated that Barnes wrote sensitively for the human voice, which as Bouthot noted herself, not many modern composers can claim to do.

The final performance of the night featured the two hosts as part of The New Generation Band. Accompanying himself on the piano, Micah Barnes began The New Generation Suite (arranged by brother Daniel) with a romantic version of the famous jazz standard “Body and Soul”, which was very well-received by the loving audience. As soon as he hit his last note of longing, Daniel Barnes went into the fast and famous Gene Krupa licks of “Sing Sing Sing”, made famous by Benny Goodman’s big band in the swing era. These selections paid tribute to Milton not only as a jazz musician in his early career but also as a father and mentor to his sons, all of whom eventually joined “the family business”. The New Generation Band was rounded out by some of Toronto’s most beloved jazz musicians, including Marilyn Lerner on piano, Artie Roth on bass, Brian Katz on guitar and Martin Van de Ven on clarinet.
Daniel Barnes
The career of Milton Barnes was productive, to say the least. The very first composer-in-residence of the Toronto Dance Theater, he was cherished and admired by his peers in the fine arts communities and enjoyed great success and popularity amongst musicians, critics and audiences. In his life’s work he balanced innovation and tradition when translating the music from his mind’s ear to the score. If there was one golden thread that sewed this night together, it was that the man and his music were purely from the heart.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Ori Dagan
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Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report

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