Tafelmusik Orchestra’s series brings together DJs and baroque

The next instalment of Haus Musik takes place February 1

Tafelmusik Orchestra’s series brings together DJs and baroque

Tafelmusik, the critically acclaimed Canadian baroque orchestra best known for its thrilling yearly sing-along of Handel’s Messiah, is widely appreciated for its classical style, flawless choir ensemble, and enchanting period instrumentation.

On February 1, however, Tafelmusik’s Haus Musik series will return, targeting a different demographic by removing its formal attire and rows of seats in favour of DJs and a bar. The immersive concert, boasting music that defies genre, will feature a rare combination of baroque style and DJ sets from Noble Oak, a fitting name given the event’s advertised theme of “bringing the great outdoors inside.” 

The Varsity corresponded with Anna Theodosakis, U of T alumna and a guest director for Haus Musik, about the upcoming event.

The Varsity (TV): Haus Musik events are described as “atmospheric” and “immersive.” Can you elaborate on what this means and what people should expect from this event? How does this differ from other Tafelmusik events?

Anna Theodosakis (AT): Haus Musik strives to provide audiences with an immersive experience that enhances the music presented. All the added visuals like sets, lighting, and movement are directly inspired by the music thus creating a cohesive journey for the audience.

Unlike other more traditional Tafelmusik concerts, the audience is encouraged to wander through the space, relax at the bar, and interact with the actors and set installations. There is no separation between the performers and audience like a stage, the entire space is part of the show and so are you.

TV: In addition to excellent music, this event promises aesthetic appeal, including “imagery and dance” and an exploration of the theme of “bringing the great outdoors inside.” How is this visual aspect woven into the rest of the event, and what does it add to the overall effectiveness of the evening? Is there a set, or is the atmosphere more evocative of a bar?

AT: We are creating a mystical forest within the Longboat Hall complete with an interactive, majestic tree. There will be a series of video projections and we’ve paired the musical numbers with nature soundscapes. Our dancer is a deer/human hybrid who will interpret both baroque pieces and electronic music, bridging the two musical worlds.

There is still a bar, of course, and the audience is encouraged to compare the contrasts and similarities between indoors/outdoors, music/nature, and baroque/contemporary.

TV: The music at this Haus Musik event features both baroque and DJ music; how will these different forms of music complement one another? Is the music still played on traditional period instruments, or does it take a more modern form?

AT: Noble Oak, our DJ and electronic music composer, has a background in classical piano and understands what to pair with the baroque sound. In both the baroque and electronic set there’s an emphasis on long lines soaring over atmospheric ensembles. It’s amazing that when compared with contemporary music the baroque pieces can somehow seem just as radical and progressive. The baroque set will be performed on traditional instruments including the rare Viola d’amore.

TV: The target demographic of this event is clearly younger than that of other Tafelmusik events. What makes Haus Musik appealing to a young adult crowd? Is the ultimate goal to draw younger people to more traditional Tafelmusik concerts, or it is simply to expose younger audiences to classical music and different concert experiences?

AT: Haus Musik draws in younger audience members who maybe aren’t as familiar with baroque music as they are with the contemporary offering. The hope is after being exposed to the baroque genre they may choose to attend a more traditional concert or continue to attend the Haus Musik series. Regular Tafelmusik goers are also being exposed to something new with the addition of the electronic artist and visual impact. Whether someone attending is new to baroque music or an expert, the real goal is to provide a new and exciting concert going experience that will enrich their listening experience.

Tim Crouch, Senior Manager of Marketing & Audience Engagement, told The Varsity that Thursday’s event is the sixth Haus Musik event, with the next one planned for April 26. Each one will showcase unique DJs and artistic directors and thus offer a different experience from the last.

Advance tickets are $20, with $25 tickets offered at the door. Doors open at 8:00 pm at The Great Hall at 1087 Queen Street West. Be sure to check out what promises to be a concert unlike any you’ve been to before.

Researchers identify key player in cell metabolism

Protein influences aging, development, and metabolism on a cellular level

Researchers identify key player in cell metabolism

In a collaborative study between U of T and several institutions around the globe, researchers have discovered that a molecule called EXD2 plays a significant role in the metabolic processes that occur in mitochondria. Prior to this study, EXD2’s function and location within a cell were unclear.

Mitochondria are mini organ-like structures in our cells that produce the daily energy we need to survive through a variety of metabolic processes. Often called the powerhouse of the cell, the proteins that are made by the mitochondria to provide this daily energy are crucial to human growth and longevity.

Previous studies reported that EXD2 plays a role in DNA damage and thus would likely be found in the nucleus, where DNA is also located.

However, the researchers from this study compared EXD2’s genome to others in a database and discovered a segment that resembled a mitochondrial target sequence — these sequences direct proteins to the mitochondria. They tagged EXD2 with a fluorescent marker and found that it primarily localized to the mitochondria rather than to the nucleus.

Using nuclear magnetic resonance, a technique that allows researchers to study the structure of molecules, the researchers discovered that depleting EXD2 levels causes aberrations in several metabolic processes, such as limiting the incorporation of glucose-derived carbon into several molecules involved in metabolism.

They also found that EXD2 affects mitochondrial translation, a process that cells use to make proteins. The researchers used a method called metabolic pulse labeling to determine that mitochondrial translation rates are lower in cells that lack EXD2.

The researchers also studied the effects of EXD2 in Drosophila melanogaster, otherwise known as the common fruit fly. Flies deficient in the Drosophila version of EXD2, called dEXD2, exhibited impaired metabolic processes such as cellular respiration, decreased body size, developmental delays, decreased germ stem cell numbers, and increased lifespan.

Without EXD2, the mitochondria cannot effectively synthesize the proteins needed to provide energy for the cell. This collaborative study has opened up a new window of opportunities in the field of cellular metabolism by providing a new perspective on aging, development, and metabolism.

A Taste of Syria with The New York Times

NYT Food Editor Sam Sifton sat down with Syrian chefs who have brought their culture to Toronto

A Taste of Syria with <i>The New York Times </i>

U of T welcomed New York Times Food Editor Sam Sifton and a panel of Syrian chefs and restaurant owners to the Isabel Bader Theatre on January 15 for “A Toronto Tasting with The New York Times,” which showcased Syrian contributions to Toronto’s food scene.

Joining Sifton were Jala Alsoufi, who immigrated to Canada in 2012 to attend U of T and is now a co-owner of Soufi’s, a Syrian restaurant and cafe on Queen Street West; Rahaf Alakbani, a Syrian refugee and co-founder of Newcomer Kitchen, a non-profit group which brings female Syrian refugees to cook and sell meals, the proceeds of which are split between the cooks; and Rasoul Salha, who immigrated to Toronto in 2009 and opened Crown Pastries in Scarborough with his brother in 2015.

Also sitting on the panel was David Sax, a Toronto-based food journalist who has written for The New York Times on Syrian food in the city, for which he interviewed Alsoufi, Alakbani, and Salha.

Sax lives near Soufi’s, and told the audience that, during the summer of 2017, he had walked across a stretch of Queen Street West and noticed that a storefront was boarded up. On it was a sign that read, “Coming Soon: Soufi’s, a Syrian restaurant.”

The thing that really struck me about it was that the way they said ‘a Syrian restaurant.’ It was so different from the other Middle Eastern restaurants, Lebanese restaurants, even Saudi restaurants that I’ve written about, are generally called Middle Eastern or Mediterranean,” said Sax. “Especially at the time, given what was going on in the news with Syria and the war, to have them sort of proudly proclaiming it showed that it was something different.”

Alsoufi described how the rest of her family — her mother, father, and two brothers — immigrated to Canada two years ago, and that the idea to open a restaurant that was specifically Syrian came to them a year ago. Soufi’s has a deliberate Syrian atmosphere, whether in its music or its staff, who are all Syrian, said Alsoufi.

“Of course everyone knows about the events happening in Syria. First it’s really unfortunate, and we wanted to shed a positive light on the Syrian culture and show people that we’re still a vibrant culture and that should still be celebrated,” Alsoufi added.

Newcomer Kitchen, run by Alakbani, is completely self-sufficient. 60 women, rotating in groups of eight, come in each week to make 50 three-course takeout dinners, costing $20 each. Newcomer Kitchen has recently faced an indefinite future, with its hopes for government funding to cover administrative costs not panning out. Alakbani has “appealed to the public for donations.”

Sifton remarked that showcasing Syrian cuisine in Canada was important for an understanding Canadian and Torontonian culture. “The question of Syrian food in Toronto is of course interesting because of Toronto’s, and Canada’s, relationship with displaced Syrians,” he told The Varsity. “Canada welcomed 50,000 Syrians with open arms and with these sponsorship programs, there are more than 10,000 of them in Toronto and talking about the food businesses that they’ve started is a pretty good way of understanding their place within this melting pot of a city.”

Sifton further described how how patterns of immigration often reflect themselves through restaurants and food. Sifton says that half of Toronto residents were born elsewhere, and Toronto’s various neighbourhoods, such as Chinatown, Greektown, and Little Korea, reflect the city’s cultural relationship with immigrant communities via food.

U of T withdraws mandatory leave policy following Ontario Human Rights Commission request

Policy to be reworked, reintroduced at later date

U of T withdraws mandatory leave policy following Ontario Human Rights Commission request

U of T has withdrawn the proposed policy that would allow the university to put students with mental health issues on a mandatory leave of absence. The decision comes after the Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) sent a letter to the university asking it to delay the policy’s approval.

Vice-Provost Students Sandy Welsh revealed the reason for the decision, announced by Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr on January 30, at Governing Council’s University Affairs Board (UAB) meeting this afternoon.

“The university continues to be confident that the proposed policy and its implementation is compliant with the Ontario Human Rights Code,” said Welsh.

The decision to delay the policy came on the day that the UAB was set to recommend the final draft of the policy to the Executive Committee for endorsement and forwarding to Governing Council, and days after the Academic Board did the same.

The OHRC is an arms-length agency of the provincial government whose mandate is to prevent discrimination and promote human rights in the province.

The policy was intended to allow the university to place students on a non-punitive leave of absence in situations where their mental health posed a danger to themselves or others or negatively affected their education. A policy currently exists that allows the university to put students with mental health issues on a mandatory leave of absence, but it is currently done by way of the Code of Student Conduct and is a technically punitive measure.

“Even though the university stands by this policy,” said Welsh during the meeting, “out of respect to the commissioner and to ensure that the best interest of our students continue to be addressed, the university will take additional time to consider her comments and to provide thorough and thoughtful response.”

According to Welsh, the communication from the OHRC came on January 29, a day before it was made public. The crux of the commissioner’s concern was, according to Welsh, “in the context of the duty to accommodate.”

“We were concerned because obviously the harm to a student of a mandatory leave is not just academic,” Mandhane told The Varsity. “It impacts things like their housing, their access to services, and we felt that those kinds of interests were sufficient and important enough that the university had to make clear that it understood that it had human rights obligations to students.”

Mandhane said that the OHRC was first made aware of the policy by the ARCH Disability Law Centre, a legal clinic that specializes in helping people with disabilities. After being alerted to the policy, the OHRC contacted the university about their concerns in December 2017.

Vice-Provost Students Sandy Welsh claimed that the updated draft is wholly compliant with the Ontario Human Rights Code. “We really do want to ensure that it fully incorporates the relevant legal factors in a way that can be easily seen and understood by all, including our students,” said Welsh.

The policy will be reworked and reintroduced to Governing Council at a later, unspecified time. According to Welsh, the university will take Mandhane’s concerns into consideration when undertaking its review of the policy.

Welsh highlighted the university’s other mental health initiatives, including increasing the number of embedded counselors in academic divisions. “The policy is one piece of our approach to mental health,” said Welsh. “But until we have this policy, we will be limited and we will still have to rely on the Code of Student Conduct, which is a disciplinary code.”

Student members of the UAB and Governing Council responded positively to the decision.

“I think it’s great that they stepped in, and that the policy has been withdrawn,” Julian Oliveira, a student member of the UAB, told The Varsity. “But I think it’s just a first step.”

Amanda Harvey-Sánchez, a student Governor, said that “this should be a wake-up call for the university that we need to take seriously the concern of students.”

The general response from stakeholder groups is that they are optimistic about the withdrawal of the policy, but they are concerned that it was due to the OHRC’s intervention. All are waiting to see what the university will do next.

Aidan Swirsky, a former University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Director who has been involved in organizing community consultations on the policy, said that he’s “glad the OHRC got involved, although I’m disappointed that didn’t happen earlier.” He also said that he wished the university had taken concerns like those of the OHRC into account earlier.

Prior to the meeting, former UAB member Nathan Chan released a statement to the board asking them to strike a special committee to examine the policy and start a public consultation process. When asked about the OHRC’s intervention, Chan described it as “an embarrassment.”

“The administration’s willingness to go down this path should not be taken lightly,” said Chan. “The policy is a liability that has the potential to damage the reputation and good standing of the university.”

Current UAB member Zhenglin Liu said that it is clear that “neither the specific recommendations of the Ombudsperson nor the concerns expressed both by Governing Council board members and members of the student body have been addressed.”

“I think that the administration is cognizant of that and it’s up to them to do something now that really makes sense for once,” said Liu.

Adrian Huntelar, University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Vice-President University Affairs, said that the union will continue to be open to meeting with the administration to discuss concerns about the policy, which include the involvement of medical professionals and the right to legal counsel.

“Our line has always been the same: our support of the policy’s contingent on it taking a form that meets our concerns and meets the concerns of our members,” said Huntelar. “Until it does that, we will not support the policy.”

UTSU Vice-President Equity Chimwemwe Alao said that “the policy definitely doesn’t go far enough in accommodating students faced with mental health problems.”

“The students who the policy would be applied to may be state of crisis and providing them with the support and accommodation they need during this difficult time is paramount,” said Alao. “If the university is only meeting the absolute minimum requirement legally for ‘the duty to accommodate’ then it is clear the policy is not doing enough to support students.”

The Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU), a strong opponent of the policy, reacted positively to the news that the university is withdrawing the policy for now.

“It’s shameful that it required the involvement of the Ontario Human Rights Commissioner for the university to withdraw the policy in the face of concerns voiced by student leaders, faculty, staff and disability justice advocates alike,” said ASSU Executive Nooria Alam.

“We hope that the withdrawal of this policy is a step towards university administrators addressing our demands of prioritizing increasing funding to the chronically underfunded mental health and accessibility resources on campus,” said Alam. “And to address these issues through a student-oriented, disability justice framework.”

Once in a Super Blue Blood Moon

Rare astronomical event will be an incredible sight — for those who wake up early enough to see it

Once in a Super Blue Blood Moon

Astronomy enthusiasts should set their alarms early this Wednesday, as a rare trifecta of lunar phenomena — a supermoon, a blue moon, and a lunar eclipse — will be briefly visible in Toronto before the sun rises.

The ‘Super Blue Blood Moon,’ as NASA calls it, is the result of three separate events coinciding early in the morning on January 31, 2018.

A supermoon — which occurs when the Moon is at its perigee, or its closest point to the Earth in its orbit — occurs a handful of times each year. Despite the familiar idiom, the blue moon — the second full moon in a month — can be seen about once every three years. A blood moon is a lunar eclipse and occurs when the Moon passes directly into the Earth’s shadow. A reddish colour tints the Moon when the sun’s light is scattered towards it, hence its name.

While each of these events occurs relatively often, the chances of them occurring on the same day are slim. This is the first time in over 150 years that a Super Blue Blood Moon has been visible from North America.

“The biggest difference in this eclipse compared to other ones is that it will also be a supermoon,” said Ayushi Singh, a graduate student in U of T’s Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. “The reason I am excited is that the Moon will be close to the horizon. So, due to an illusion, the Moon will look even larger.”

While the best view of the Super Blue Blood Moon will be from the west coast, where the eclipse will be total, skywatchers in Toronto will still get a chance to witness the lunar spectacle between about 6:00 and 7:30 am. Maximum visibility will be at 7:30 am, and the Moon will set just four minutes after.

“I would try to get to a higher ground so tall [buildings] won’t be an issue,” advised Singh. The Moon will be very close to the horizon at the maximum point of eclipse in Toronto, so interested viewers should make sure to find an area where the horizon won’t be blocked.

For anyone unable to find a suitable viewing location — or anyone who just doesn’t want to wake up before the Sun rises — NASA will be offering an online livestream of the Moon’s passage through totality starting at 5:30 am EST and lasting for the full five hours and 17 minutes of the entire eclipse.

The next lunar eclipse visible in Toronto will occur in January 2019. Unlike Wednesday’s spectacle, the 2019 eclipse will reach totality in Toronto and across most of North America. It won’t, however, coincide with a supermoon or a blue moon — space enthusiasts will have to wait until January 2037 to witness this rare lunar trifecta for a second time.