Black classical music comes to Toronto – Ébène makes debut


By Stephen Weir

From Left: Eldred Marshall, Sean Sutherland,
and David Bontemps

Pianist Sean Sutherland thinks the time is right to show Canadians that not only are there Black classical musicians in this country who perform at the highest level of the art-form, but that there are Black classical composers creating enthralling music that deserve to be heard.  Sutherland has put it all together – Black performers, Black composers and, he hopes, Black audiences, for three concert performances in downtown Toronto, North York and Oakville.

“I have been thinking about this for a long time,” Sutherland told the Caribbean Camera. “I finally realised that I couldn’t put this off for another year.  I reached out to two fellow pianists and violinist Tanya Charles and her Odin String Quartet, to put together a concert programme that has a standard repertoire that is heavily Black influenced.  We will be playing Haitian Classical Music and two of Beethoven’s piano concertos.”

The eight performers – three pianists, the quartet and a guest bass violinist will perform under the umbrella name Ébène (Ebony) for three two-hour shows in the GTA on February 4th, 6th and 7th.

“Ébène used to manufacture precious objects, such as piano keys, and slave ships used to carry human cargo torn from Africa during the transatlantic slave trade,”explained Sutherland. “To us, a trio of pianists of African descent, Ébène encapsulates the nobility of our heritage, the many musical traditions whose traces can be found in the classical music written for their instrument, and the strength of our resolve to bring this music and our stories to a wider audience.”

The Odin String Quartet

Toronto’s Sean Sutherland began playing the piano as a children growing up in St Vincent and the Grenadines. He considers himself an amateur, not because of the level of his playing skills but because he needs a full time job to pay the bills! Sutherland practices many hours every day and has performed solo recitals in Canada, Germany, throughout the Caribbean and most recently in California.

The two other pianists in Ébène are Haitian Canadian David Bontemps and Dr. Eldred Marshall.  Bontemps will be performing his own composition Le Marron Inconnu (Unknown Maroon), in E flat minor. Dr. Marshall and Sutherland will be performing concertos by Beethoven with accompaniment by fellow Vincentian Canadian Tanya Charles.

The three evening concerts – all called Un Voyage Audacieux – will be performed in small venues. A Different Booklist Cultural Centre on Bathurst south of Bloor Street on the 6th, The Church of the Incarnation in Oakville on the 6th and at the Lawrence Park Community Church in Toronto on the 7th.  These are ticketed events (available at the door and on eventbrite.ca) ranging in price from $15 to $40.