A unique group on the North American music scene, Ensemble Polaris was founded in the spring of 1997 to explore the ‘idea of North’ in music. Their innovative and genre-bending artistry and style, nicknamed ‘Arctic fusion’ by a fan, has won Polaris international rave reviews of all kinds, from an Amazon.com customer’s “I dare you not to love this music!” to a Disc of the Month award from Britain’s Classic CD magazine.
Comprised of expert performers from a variety of musical traditions and backgrounds, Polaris incorporates an eclectic palette of musical influences, colours and techniques in their sound – early, folk, Klezmer, Hot Club of Paris, middle Eastern and southeast Asian, traditional Scandinavian, Celtic, Cape Breton, eastern European, classical, improvisatory, and avant-garde. Their music evolves through the processes of improvisation, collaborative arrangement and composition.
Marco Cera, guitars
Kirk Elliott, violin, folk harp, mandolin, accordion, bagpipe, etc.
Margaret Gay, 'cello
Ben Grossman, hurdy gurdy
Katherine Hill, voice, nyckelharpa (keyed fiddle)
Alison Melville, baroque flute, recorders, seljefløyte (willow flute)
Colin Savage, clarinet, bass clarinet, recorders
Debashis Sinha, percussion
Ensemble Polaris first performed at Toronto’s Northern Encounters Festival in June of 1997 and subsequent concerts have been heard across Canada in numerous broadcasts on CBC-Radio 2 and Radio-Canada. Their Montréal début for Radio-Canada at the Salle Pierre Mercure in 2004 met with enthusiastic audience response, as have other performances across southern Ontario. All their shows on tours across Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in summer 2009 and Alberta/British Columbia in winter 2011 met with standing ovations. The group established its own concert series in Toronto in 2006 with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario and Toronto Arts Councils.
Frequently heard on Canadian radio, Polaris’s recordings have also been in regular rotation on the ABC (Australia), NPR (USA), NRK (Norway), BBC (Britain) and other European radio networks. Their first CD Midnight Sun (Dorian) was released in 2000 and received glowing praise in folk, classical and alternative music publications from Canada, the USA, Holland, Norway, England and elsewhere, including a Disc of the Month award in August 2000. Not Much is Worse than a Troll (2005) included new arrangements and original tunes which evolved through a grant for repertoire development from the Canada Council. The band’s third recording, Vikings on Vacation, was released in August 2009, and a fourth disc is projected for release in 2011.
Polaris’s recordings are distributed worldwide by Naxos of America.
Polaris’s music has also been part of various diverse collaborative events. Choreographer Carol Anderson used several tracks from Midnight Sun for her creation Shore, performed by the Canadian Children’s Dance Theatre; a lecture on medieval Norse poetry was followed by a Polaris concert as part of the University of Toronto’s Jackman Series; and Polaris has played at benefit concerts for numerous community organizations.
Since her first CBC recording gig at the age of 20, Alison’s career as a player of recorder and historical flutes has taken her across Canada and to the USA, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand and Europe. A member of Toronto Consort and a frequent performer with Tafelmusik, she has appeared with many other ensembles and festivals across North America including Opera Atelier, Boston Early Music Festival, Aradia Ensemble, I Furiosi, la Nouvele Sinfonie, Early Music Vancouver, Canadian Opera Company, Festival of the Sound, etc. She has appeared as a soloist with Tafelmusik, the Toronto Symphony, Orchestra London, Aradia, and the Niagara and Mississauga Symphonies; has played contemporary repertoire for Soundstreams, New Music Concerts and ArrayMusic; and can be heard on over 45 CDs, including several critically-acclaimed solo recordings. Her work in music for film and television includes CBC’s beloved Friendly Giant, films by Atom Egoyan, Amnon Buchbinder and Ang Lee, and the TV series The Tudors and The Borgias, and her own music has been heard in 999 Years of Music, the Post-Medieval Syndrome project, Amherst Early Music and the Oberlin Conservatory
She is also Artistic Director of The Bird Project, a mixed-media ensemble combining music from the 12th to 21st centuries with spoken word, video and live visuals. For many years Alison was also co-Artistic Director, with Colin Savage, of Baroque Music beside the Grange. Alison taught at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music from 1999 to 2010 and is currently on faculty at the University of Toronto. With Polaris she also plays the seljefløyte or willow flute, a traditional overtone flute from Norway.
Ben Grossman is a vielle à roue (hurdy gurdy/Drehleier/zanfoña) player, percussionist, composer and improviser based in Guelph, Ontario. He grew up playing electric guitar, listening to a wide variety of music, and building homemade synthesizers, tape loops and effects in his parent’s suburban basement. He later became interested, at various times, in traditional Irish, Balkan, French, Turkish and Arabic music. Ben has studied Turkish music in Istanbul where he focussed on ud and percussion.
Since taking up the vielle, he has done workshops and lessons with Valentin Clastrier, Matthias Loibner, Maxou Heintzan and Simon Wascher. A busy session musician, his playing can be heard on over 80 CDs, film and television soundtracks, and performing live with the Toronto Consort, Ensemble Polaris, BT, Loreena McKennitt, (amongst others) and in various solo and ensemble improvisational events. Ben’s first solo album, Macrophone was released in 2007 and features a unique two CD form for simultaneous, aleatoric playback
Colin has performed on recorder and clarinets with ensembles in Canada, the USA and Japan, including Artek, New York Collegium, Tafelmusik, Canadian Opera Company, Opera Atelier, la Nouvele Sinfonie, Aradia Ensemble, Apollo’s Fire, les Boréades and the Toronto Consort. In 2006 he appeared as soloist in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto with the American Virtuosi for their collaboration with the Jose Limon Dance Company in "Concerto Six Twenty-two” in Washington, D.C. Colin is principal clarinetist with the Mississauga Symphony Orchestra, and frequently performs chamber and orchestral music on period clarinets and basset horn. He is regularly heard on CBC Radio, and has recorded for Sony Classical, ebs, Naxos, Atma, Analekta and Dorian.
Colin's interest in analog photographic processes finds him in well-lit and very dark places, and his images of abandoned spaces, shot with a vintage twin lens reflex camera, are included in the forthcoming book “Modern Canadian Interiors”.
Deb is a Toronto based percussionist who specializes in the drums of the Arab world, Greece, and Turkey. His ability to uncover the rhythmic threads in a wide variety of musical styles have earned him a place in the forefront of Canada’s new generation of traditional musicians, appearing with such acts as autorickshaw, Maryem Tollar, Minor Empire, Leela Gilday, the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, Trichy Sankaran and others. A founding member of Juno nominated world music ensemble Maza Mezé, Deb has performed with them and other ensembles on stages across Canada, the US and as far away as Cairo.
Equally at home in world music and free improvised contexts, Deb’s approach to percussion ranges from the deeply traditional to the cutting edge of modern sensibility. He has studied South Indian rhythmic theory with Trichy Sankaran, Arabic tambourine and doumbeck at the Helwan University Faculty of Music in Cairo, and has traveled to the US to take lessons from tombak master Pejman Hadadi. A fixture on Toronto’s dance scene, Deb has collaborated and performed with Peggy Baker, Dancemakers, Hari Krishnan, and Winnipeg’s Fusion Dance Theatre.
Jeff Wilson has a wide range of experience as a musician. He has worked extensively as a percussionist/ multi-instrumentalist in a variety of genres. He presently co-leads a “new world music” project known as The Liquidaires. He also works with Maza Meze, David Buchbinder’s Brass Band, Autorickshaw, Sultan’s of String and numerous others. Jeff’s proficiency with a variety of instruments has also made him a popular accompanist for ballet and modern dance classes in Toronto. The National Ballet School, Dancemakers, the School of Toronto Dance Theatre, and the Toronto Dance Theatre Company are all clients. Jeff has also accompanied classes for Claude Watson School and Etobicoke School of the Arts as well as at various locations around Toronto. His extensive experience and down home instrument array have made him a favourite of teachers across Toronto and Ontario.
Branching out more and more into composition and production he has written music for modern dance, composed songs and written arrangements for projects he co-leads and is currently working on a series of percussion pieces and pieces for solo saw. Finally, there is STUDIO98 where Jeff records, edits, mixes his own projects as well as those of other artists.
Captivated by early European text and music from a young age, singer and nyckelharpist Katherine has pursued study and work in this field here in Canada and all across Europe. A particular focus of her work since 2003 has been the music of women's communities of Medieval and Renaissance Europe, directing and performing in projects in Toronto, the Netherlands, and Italy, and in Germany with the acclaimed sequentia ensemble for medieval music. More recently she has been investigating the presence of folk music in late-medieval polyphony.
A long-time lover of Swedish traditional music, Katherine began playing nyckelharpa (Swedish keyed fiddle) in 2008, travelling to Sweden to study at the Eric Sahlström Institute. The following year, she undertook a research project investigating iconographical evidence of the instrument in 15th century Siena, while working toward her M.A. at the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto. She has been a proud member of the Centre's softball team, the Papal Bulls, since 2009.
Kirk Elliott has been called ‘the Leonardo da Vinci of Canadian music’ (Max Ferguson, CBC Radio). He lives in Toronto, where he composes and performs music for film, concerts, theatre, dance and television. Working with over 60 instruments in his recording studio, he has produced scores for the Toronto Dance Theatre, the National Ballet of Canada, CTV, YTV, the Discovery Channel, Oscar winning film director Chris Landreth, and the National Film Board of Canada. Kirk's first band won a Juno Award, and a recent children's CD received an Indie Award.
As a performer, Kirk has played Renaissance music with the Toronto Consort; toured across North America from St. John’s to Honolulu with Sharon, Lois and Bram's Elephant Show; finished in the top ten fiddlers at the Canadian Old Time Fiddle contest in Shelburne, Ontario; and introduced children to Celtic, jazz, rock, old-time fiddle and Elizabethan music as a guest with the Victoria and Kingston Symphony Orchestras. Kirk has released over a dozen CDs of original music for adults and children.
Marco is a guitarist, composer and arranger with Ensemble Polaris – a big change from his regular gig as an oboist with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. Originally from Italy, Marco studied at the Padua Conservatory of Music (Italy) and at the Musikhochschule der Stadt Basel (Switzerland). In 1996 he became first oboe for the European Union Baroque Orchestra, with which he performed in Denmark, Portugal, Germany, Great Britain and South Africa. He has collaborated as a soloist with many leading baroque orchestras including Il Giardino Armonico, Concerto Italiano, I Sonatori della Gioiosa Marca, les Talens Lyriques, Europa Galante, Accademia Bizantina, La Cappella della Pietà dei Turchini, Apollo’s Fire, I Barocchisti, and Academia Montis Regalis.
In 2007 Marco moved to Toronto with his family to take his position as oboist with Tafelmusik, with whom he has played across Canada and throughout the world, and made many recordings. Marco can be heard on Ensemble Polaris’s Vikings on Vacation. His original tune Terengue will be included on their next CD. In 2010 Marco founded Ensemble Vesuvius, a band dedicated to the performance and preservation of traditional folk music from Naples and Southern Italy.
Margaret plays both modern and baroque ‘cello. She began her career as a freelance cellist after completing a Master’s degree at the University of Toronto. Besides Ensemble Polaris, she performs regularly with Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony, Opera Atelier, Esprit Orchestra, Baroque Music Beside The Grange, and the Eybler Quartet. She was for many years a member of Modern Quartet, a string quartet dedicated to the performance of new works; the Burdocks, a foursome specializing in works of the 20th century; and Critical Band. In the summers she has performed at the Carmel Bach Festival, Ottawa Chamber Festival, Stratford, Elora, Parry Sound, Grand River Baroque, and Lameque Baroque Music festivals, as well as teaching ‘cello and coaching chamber music at the Toronto Board of Education Music Camp, and the University of New Brunswick Summer Music Camp.
Margaret can be heard on many CD’s; three from Ensemble Polaris, the world premier recording of Joseph Leopold Eybler’s Op. 1 string quartets on Analekta with the Eybler Quartet (2006), Quintets by Mozart and Backofen with Jane Booth and the Eybler Quartet (2010), Canadian Oboe Quartets with the Gallery Players (2009), O Bali from New Music Concerts, A Curious Collection for the Common Flute, and Steven Page’s recent solo CD A Singer Must Die. In addition to her performing activities, Margaret is the Artistic Director of the Gallery Players of Niagara, an organization that presents chamber music primarily in the Niagara Region.