All Things Must Pass: Art of Time Ensemble Bids Farewell After 25 Years

Steven Page. Hawksley Workman. Margaret Atwood. Barbara Hannigan. Don McKellar. Seán Cullen. Peggy Baker. Martha Burns. Michael Ondaatje.

These are just some of the extraordinary artists who have collaborated with Andrew Burashko and the Art of Time Ensemble over the past quarter-century. With Art of Time now wrapping up its final, “coda” season, we’re seizing the opportunity to take a fond look back on its remarkable tenure.

All Things Must Pass: Art of Time Ensemble Bids Farewell After 25 Years
Sarah Slean performs with Art of Time

Founded in 1999, Art of Time has been home to some of Toronto’s most exciting and innovative performances of recent decades, weaving between – and weaving together – disparate genres and media, from classical to jazz to pop, theatre to dance to film. Burashko is far too young to be retiring – one assumes he has another project already cooking up – but the end of Art of Time is still a profound loss for the Toronto arts scene.

A classically trained pianist, Burashko established Art of Time as a way to introduce new audiences to classical music, while also doubling as a hangout for his (very impressive roster of) art world buddies. With an initial emphasis on the more challenging modern composers – Schoenberg and Schnittke proving to be perennial AoT favourites – the ensemble soon expanded to feature stage plays, jazz-classical fusions, and, most notably, a series of highly-acclaimed popular music tribute concerts showcasing the songs of Leonard Cohen, The Beatles, and, just this month, Joni Mitchell.

Your Toronto Guardian was there in 2008 when Steven Page of Barenaked Ladies fame (and oh so much more) performed an eclectic songbook of Cohen, Radiohead, and Rufus Wainwright, among others. We were there again a decade later when Page, Tom Wilson, Sarah Slean, and others collaborated on “Songs of Leonard Cohen” in 2018. (Both, incidentally, recorded and available for sale on the Art of Time website.)

We were there too for the ridiculously entertaining staged performance of Orson Welles’s 1938 radio drama War of the Worlds, this time starring a who’s-who of Canadian acting talent including Don “Last Night” McKellar and Nicholas “da Vinci” Campbell. War of the Worlds, first staged in 2011, was part of a wave of AoT productions that blended traditional theatre with musical performance and other art forms. When Margaret Atwood showed up in 2014 for “The Poem/The Song”, the evening combined poetry readings, classical compositions, and Broadway showtunes. (Those who know Atwood will not be surprised that Cats featured heavily.)

Other major shows over the years have included a solo showcase for legendary dancer Peggy Baker, an evening of words and music with Michael Ondaatje reading selections from his works, and a couple of “what the heck, let’s just do a full Beatles album live” performances of Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Though the ensemble’s twentieth anniversary season in 2019-2020 was sadly cut short by, well, y’know, AoT has maintained an impressively consistent presence in the Canadian arts scene, both out of its home base at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre, and on tour to the Stratford Festival and beyond. While the coda season recently wrapped up with “Both Sides Now: A Tribute to Joni Mitchell”, AoT recently announced one last, post-coda performance for later this year: “Sankofa: A Soldier’s Tale Retold“, a reimagining of Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat (1918). Art of Time is dead. Long live Art of Time!

For more on Art of Time Ensemble, click here.
For a trip down memory lane of past AoT performances, click here.