The Whole Note | World Music – Music in Focus at the Aga Khan Museum (AKM)

Amir Alibhai led me directly to the 336-seat auditorium, the primary venue for music performances. With teak floors and stage, graced with a high, multifaceted white dome, it’s one of the architectural focal points of the AKM.

“It’s an ideal site to present an intimate and powerful experience for audiences,” he says, where they can look forward to “varied and innovative cultural programs throughout the year, including music, dance, theatre, book readings and films.”

– Andrew Timar, Toronto musician and music writer for The Whole Note

The beautiful auditorium of the Aga Khan Museum - Music in Focus (Image: The Whole Note)
Image: The Whole Note

Written by Andrew Timar. Published on 31 October 2014

In my last column I briefly introduced the new museum in town, one which is positioning itself to be a significant world music venue and curator: the Aga Khan Museum. Having opened its doors only in the third week of September, its inaugural music festival featured the renowned Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, a group which has collaborated since 2000 with the Aga Khan Music Initiative in concerts elsewhere.

Music is one of the prime “focus areas” of the Aga Khan Development Network, the larger entity behind the museum: the proof is that five groups are being presented in November and four in December. But is the museum really positioned to “become both major cultural destination and player in very short order” as touted by James Adams of The Globe and Mail, or “a vital new addition to Toronto’s cultural landscape” as augured by David Dacks of the Music Gallery?

Coming face to face for the first time with the imposing white stone-clad AKM building, the new museum on the block’s standards of architectural excellence are self-evident.

To ward off the early fall chill we sat down for the interview with invigorating cups of dark hot chocolate strengthened with a shot of espresso. The museum’s small café is right next to a square glassed-in courtyard through which sunlight (and reputedly moonlight) filters through Arabic-inflected mashrabiya patterns etched in the glass.

Alibhai has already vetted the courtyard as an alternative performance venue, though with five very hard surfaces it’s undoubtedly a reverberant one. He related that a recent performance of Sufi whirling and its accompanying music “worked very well in the glass-walled courtyard, granting both an effective personal ritual space for the performers, as well as allowing the audience to see the performance thorough the glass walls, if they so wished.”

The Whole Note on Amirali Alibhai

Prior to moving to Toronto to take his AKM position Alibhai was a 40-year Vancouver resident with an extensive career in arts administration – and significant for readers of The WholeNote, a lifetime background in music. He has worked as an exhibited artist, a curator, educator and facilitator of visual and community-based arts for over 20 years.

“I was part of the team that initially developed and ran the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre” he said, referring to the innovative arts-centric Yaletown, Vancouver organization whose mission is to “celebrate diversity … of people, values, ideas and activities.” He has also developed a national perspective, having served on national arts boards such as the Canada Council for the Arts and the Canadian Conference of the Arts. He has clearly had plenty of opportunity during his career to consider the place of the performing arts in public-access spaces.

It may not be obvious to the core identity of the museum that it may also serve as a venue for a series of live concerts and dance performances. But I’m at the table at every curatorial meeting working to closely integrate my programming with planned exhibits,” he says.

The Whole Note on Aga Khan Museum’s mission as it relates to the Performing Arts

The AKM is the first institution in North America “dedicated to the arts of Islamic civilizations.” It’s a goal clearly reflected in the exhibit halls. Visitors can see it in rare and exquisite editions of the Koran, in the sensuous paintings, illustrations, calligraphy, early scientific instruments, sumptuous silk clothing and carpets, as well as 21st-century artworks confronting and reinterpreting the traditions displayed in galleries closer to the entrance.

Its stated Toronto mission as an oasis of diversity and dialogue is, “to foster a greater understanding and appreciation of the contribution that Islamic civilizations have made to world heritage … through education, research, and collaboration.

I ask where live music fits in. “In terms of [our] music programming the vision is to bring the highest calibre of traditional and contemporary performing artists from the broad diaspora of Muslim cultures to audiences. Music is particularly well suited as a creative medium that inherently engages artists and audiences in cross-cultural understanding and dialogue.“

Discover, Explore and Learn more at The Whole Note | World Music – Music in Focus at the AKM

Written by Andrew Timar. Published on 31 October 2014
Parent Category: Beat Columns – Category: World Music – World Music – Music in Focus at the AKM

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at worldmusic@thewholenote.com


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