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Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Electifying Korngold and Bach with Gil Shaham/Austin Symphony

Liszt: Les Préludes
Korngold: Violin Concerto
Dvořák: Symphony No. 7 in d Minor Op. 70

Gil Shaham, violin
Austin Symphony/Peter Bay

Austin, Texas

When the still boyish Gil Shaham comes bounding on stage, violin in hand, with a huge smile on his face, you know you are in for a special kind of music-making. Shaham, now 43, still seems the charming prodigy he was when he first came to international attention. Before playing so much as a note, he has the audience in the palm of his hand. This is clearly a young man who loves music and can’t wait to share it with everyone he meets. He shook concertmaster Jessica Mathaes’ hand so long and so hard I was afraid she might have to claim disability. Maestro Peter Bay also got the full Shaham treatment - before, during and after the performance. At one point during the performance, Shaham got so close to the podium, I thought a referee might have to be summoned to call a penalty for soloist interference.

There are soloists who take the stage with the measured pace we associate with royalty, and give the audience the merest nod of the head to acknowledge their applause. Such self-important folks are seldom seen to crack a smile; for example, Jascha Heifetz, one of the greatest violinists of his era, totally deserved his nickname, “The Great Stone Face”.

Soloist Gil Shaham
Shaham will have none of that. He knows as well as anyone that “serious music” is a serious business, and doing justice to Bach, Brahms and Beethoven and all the rest requires blood, sweat and tears; that said, he clearly subscribes to the notion that even “serious music” performers, are entertainers. Some – and he appears to fall into this category - even want to gift the audience with more than superb musicianship!

Standing Ovation/ Exquisite Bach
On this occasion, Gil Shaham played the Violin Concerto by Erich Korngold. The piece was written in 1945 for the afore-mentioned Heifetz but it is only in the last ten years or so that it has become truly popular; today, virtually all the leading soloists play the piece, with good reason. In addition to good tunes, many of them recalling scores that Korngold wrote for Hollywood films such as The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk and Deception, this concerto also has moments so funny that one could be forgiven for laughing out loud. It also supplies a virtuoso violinist with many opportunities to “strut” his stuff.

A recording of the Korngold Concerto 20 years ago featuring Shaham, Andre Previn and the London Symphony, remains one of the best readings on record of the piece. Shaham obviously still loves to play it - only last month he performed it in New York with Mehta and the Vienna Philharmonic.

On this occasion, Shaham and his “Countess Polignac” Stradivarius (c.1699) gave us a passionate and authoritative Korngold Concerto with Peter Bay and the Austin Symphony supplying fastidious support. Balances were, for the most part, ideal and ensemble precision was excellent. Three “in-and-out” standing ovations brought Shaham back for an encore: unaccompanied Bach with beauty of tone, joyous rhythms and vivid ornamentation.

Antonín Leopold Dvořák
Melodies from Singing Winds 
Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 also got careful treatment from Maestro Bay. This approach paid dividends in the many pages of touching lyricism in the symphony. The Austin Symphony winds took turns making the most of their many opportunities to “sing” Dvořák’s inspired melodies. The symphony, however, also has moments of raw power and intensity, and these passages were often underplayed in this performance. A case in point is the great climax toward the end of the first movement, in which Dvořák builds the excitement bar by bar into a ferocious fortissimo for the full orchestra. The key to building the climax here is increasing the tempo at exactly the right moments. For whatever reason, Maestro Bay appeared to totally ignore Dvořák’s marking “poco a poco accelerando,” and failed to summon anything close to the volume that building the climax bar by bar to its shattering conclusion requires.

The same could be said of the closing bars of the last movement, except that here the conductor needs to hold back the tempo to fully realize the spirit of Dvořák’s “Molto maestoso” marking.

The last ten bars of the symphony have another problem that each conductor must solve for him/herself. As written, the melody is given to the second violins and doubled by oboes, clarinets and bassoons. With the rest of the orchestra playing mostly fortissimo long notes, the melody can scarcely be heard. One solution is to have the louder instruments – trumpets, trombones and timpani - back off in volume to let the melody come through; this solution, however, drains most of the excitement out of these closing bars. Maestro George Szell, an authoritative interpreter of the music of Dvořák, solved the problem by having the trumpets play the melody along with second violins, etc. - a very effective solution, which many conductors have adopted. Maestro  Bay chose a middle course - horns doubling the melody - which worked rather well.

On this occasion, Peter Bay and the Austin Symphony gave us a Dvořák Seventh that was carefully prepared, but to my taste, much too polite for the essence of the piece.

For something more…
While on exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon, Gil Shaham recorded most of the major violin concertos in the repertoire. Today, nearly everything has changed in the record business and few artists are under either exclusive or long-term contracts.

Shaham now records mostly for Canary Classics. His latest release has the unusual title “Music to Drive Away Loiterers,” a title which refers to the recent discovery that if classical music is played in subway stations or shopping malls, people don’t hang around (i.e. “loiter”) and so there is less crime in such places. The CD includes some of the most beautiful music ever written.

For more about Erich Korngold visit; this website keeps close track of performances and recordings of Korngold’s music.

Paul Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar, and Sir Georg Solti: His Life and Music. For friends: The Art of the Conductor podcast, “Classical Airs.”

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Monday, 14 April 2014

Cette semaine à Montréal : le 14 au 20 avril

Dans son effort pour préparer la relève musicale, le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, sous la direction de Lorraine Vaillancourt, propose en tournée Les Chemins de traverse, incluant la pièce Mutation de Denis Gougeon. Avec Noam Bierstone (percussions) et les musiciens du NEM. Maison de la culture Frontenac (14 avril dans le cadre des Lundis d'Edgar), Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur (23 avril) et Maison de la culture Côte-des-Neiges (24 avril). 
La Société de musique contemporaine du Québec réunit sur scène de grands solistes pour interpréter les dix mouvements du célèbre cycle des planètes de Gougeon. Une immersion cosmique proposée par Walter Boudreau et animée par Yannick Villedieu. Aussi au programme : Simon Bertrand, Pierre Michaud et une création d’Analia Llugdar. salle Pierre-Mercure, 17 avril, 19 h.
- Renée Banville

Miklós Takács
Miklós Takács dirigera le chœur d’UQÀM et celui de l’école Jean-François Perreault avec l’orchestre de la Société Philarmonique. Quatre cents chanteurs et musiciens réunis le 18 avril 2014, à 20 h 00, à l’église Saint-Jean Baptiste pour le traditionnel concert du Vendredi Saint. Au programme, le Requiem de Verdi.

Jean Marchand reviendra avec la comédienne Françoise Faucher pour le traditionnel concert du Vendredi saint Via Crucis de Liszt. Le 18 avril, 20 h.
- Renée Banville

L’Orchestre Métropolitain, sous la direction de Maestro Nézet-Séguin, présentera en avril un autre grand oratorio de Bach. Après l’Oratorio de Noël en 2012 à l’église Saint-Jean-Baptiste, l’OM interprétera La Passion selon saint Matthieu à la Maison symphonique. Plusieurs solistes de renommée internationale sont à l’affiche, notamment la soprano Hélène Guilmette, la mezzo Julie Boulianne et le baryton-basse Philippe Sly. Les ténors Lawrence Wiliford et Isaiah Bell ainsi que le baryton Alexander Dobson complètent cette distribution prestigieuse. Ils seront accompagnés par le Chœur de l’Orchestre Métropolitain. Maison symphonique, 19 avril.
- Justin Bernard

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Sunday, 13 April 2014

This Week in Toronto (Apr. 14 - 20)

This Week in Toronto (Apr. 14 - 20)

My concert picks this week - Joseph So

Pianist Helene Grimaud (Photo: Robert Schultze/Mat Hennek/DG)

Toronto Symphony Orchestra  The charismatic French pianist Helene Grimaud makes a welcomed return to Toronto, as soloist in the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1. Also on the program are two works to do with Easter - Rimsky-Korsakov's Russian Easter Festival Overture, and Messiaen's L'Ascension.  Andrey Boreyko returns to the TSO to conduct. Performances on April 17 and 19 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall.

Director Peter Sellars

Canadian Opera Company's Hercules continues this week.  I saw this show twice - the dress rehearsal and opening night, and I must say Peter Sellars' re-imagining of this baroque piece works well. It is one of the most successful examples of Regieoper attempts undertaken by the COC.  The five principals are first rate, as is the orchestra under the inspired direction of Harry Bicket. Hercules is bass-baritone Eric Owens; mezzo Alice Coote sings Dejanira; countertenor David Daniels is Lichas; tenor Richard Croft sings Hyllus, and soprano Lucy Crowe is Iole. This show is an auspicious start to the COC spring season. Performances this week on April 15 and 19 7:30 pm at the Four Seasons Centre. There are also two noon hour concerts of note at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre - a piano recital by Philip Chiu on April 15. Billed as Music in the Time of War, it includes two pieces, by Bach and Pavel Haas, arranged by the pianist, plus  Prokofiev's Sonata No. 7, known as the Stalingrad, and Le Tombeau de Couperin by Ravel. Details at  The other event features well known violinist Jacques Israelievitch and pianist Valentina Sadovski in a program of exquisite Russian violin gems, thus the concert title of Violin Caviar. and

This being Easter week, there is a plethora of concerts celebrating this important religious holiday. Several caught my eye. One is Toronto Mendelssohn Choir's pairing of Durufle's Requiem with Vierne's Messe Solennelle on Good Friday 7:30 pm at St. Paul's Basilica on Power Street. There is something to be said about experiencing great church music - in a great church! Here's a clip of the Durufle with the Mendelssohn Choir under the direction of Noel Edison - Quite a different kettle of fish - and very intriguing - is a "jazz-infused homage to Bach's St. Matthew Passion" put on by Soundstreams. On Good Friday at the Trinity St. Paul Centre. The Music at Metropolitan series of the Metropolitan United Church is presenting Bach's St. John Passion, with soloists Lesley Bouza, Daniel Taylor, Christopher Mayell, James Baldwin, Charles Davidson, and Clarence Frazer. Metropolitan Festival Choir and Orchestra conducted by Dr. Patricia Wright. 

Pianist Andre Laplante

If religious programming isn't your thing, you may want to try a piano concerto. Well known Canadian pianist Andre Laplante is playing Beethoven's Emperor Concerto No. 5 with the Kindred Spirits Orchestra under the baton of its music director Kristian Alexander. The concert takes places also on Good Friday April 18 8 pm, at the Markham Theatre north of the city.
Alternately, Opera Belcanto is presenting the ever popular Carmen. Performances on April 17 and 19 7:30 pm at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts.  Their website seems to be undergoing renovation -

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Friday, 11 April 2014

Théâtre du Nouveau Monde/saison 2014-2015 - Shakespeare, Beckett, Wilde et… Catherine Frot !

Par Hassan Laghcha

11 500 abonnés dont 500 jeunes (-35 ans) lors de la saison 2013-2014. La directrice artistique et générale du  Théâtre du Nouveau Monde (TNM), Lorraine Pintal, s’est réjouie de ces « chiffres prometteurs » avant d’annoncer « une saison 2014-2015 vertigineuse » avec, au menu, du Shakespeare, du Beckett, du Wilde mais surtout la première visite de la vedette française : Catherine Frot.

La saison débutera avec la pièce Being at home with Claude de René Daniel Dubois, une intrigue policière créée il y a 30 ans par Fréderic Blanchette. Suivra en novembre l’œuvre d’Oscar Wilde L’importance d’être constant avec une mise en scène de Yves Desgagnés. En février, le TNM accueillera la star française Catherine Frot qui interprétera la pièce à succès retentissant Oh les beaux jours de Samuel Beckett, mise en scène par Marc Paquien.

Également à l’affiche, l’adaptation théâtrale du Journal d’Anne Frank par le romancier Eric-Emmanuel Schmidt avec une mise en scène de Lorraine Pintal. Le rôle principal sera assuré par la jeune comédienne Mylène St-Sauveur qui fait ainsi ses débuts sur les planches.  Parallèlement, une exposition  sur les souvenirs de l’Holocauste sera organisée par le Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal en collaboration avec le musée de La Maison d'Anne Frank d'Amsterdam.

En mars, le TNM présentera Richard III  de Shakespeare dans une mise en scène de Brigitte Haentjens sur une traduction de Jean Marc Dalpé. Pour conclure la saison, la compagnie Théâtre Tout à Trac présentera une adaptation de l’œuvre de Jules Verne Le Tour du monde en 80 jours, mise en scène par Hugo Bélanger.

Signalons que Lorraine Pintal qui dirige le TNM depuis 22 ans rencontrera très prochainement les médias pour faire le point sur son avenir à la tête de cette institution. Cette grande dame du théâtre vient de vivre une brève expérience politico-électorale comme candidate du Parti Québécois à Montréal (Verdun).

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Monday, 7 April 2014

Cette semaine à Montréal : le 7 au 13 avril

Une occasion d’entendre des musiciens de l'OSM en formation intimiste. Andrew Wan, violoniste, Neal Gripp, altiste et Anna Burden, violoncelliste dans le Trio opus 8 de Beethoven et la Sérénade en do majeur, opus 10 de Dohnányi. Le 10 avril, 20 h.
À la mémoire du pianiste Dale Bartlett, décédé récemment, Jean Marchand présentera un récital d'œuvres de Bach, Chopin, Marchand et Reger. Le 13 avril, 15 h 30.
- Renée Banville

Les membres de l’Atelier lyrique offriront un récital où les couples d’opéra seront à l’honneur. À travers le répertoire lyrique, amants et amantes déclinent sur tous les tons toute la gamme des émois que suscite le sentiment amoureux. Sur des airs et duos d’opéras de Mozart, Gounod, Bizet, Donizetti et Massenet, nous pourrons entendre les jeunes artistes Florie Valiquette et France Bellemare, sopranos, Rachèle Tremblay, mezzo-soprano, Josh Whelan, baryton, et Jean-Michel Richer, ténor. Une mise en scène a été conçue par Marie-Lou Dion avec décors et costumes. L’accompagnement au piano est assuré par Jennifer Szeto. Maison de la culture Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie, 13 avril.
- Justin Bernard

En avril, le SMAM offrira un concert de chant choral au pays de Jean-Sébastien Bach. Les nombreux chorals et motets composés par le Cantor de Leipzig ont été une source d’inspiration pour plusieurs compositeurs allemands du XIXe siècle. Le concert soulignera cette grande tradition contrapuntique adaptée, un siècle plus tard, à l’esprit du romantisme. Au programme, des œuvres pour chœur et orgue de Bach, Brahms, Bruckner et Mendelssohn. Église Saint-Léon de Westmount, 13 avril.
- Justin Bernard

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Sunday, 6 April 2014

This Week in Toronto (Apr. 7 - 13)

This Week in Toronto (April 7 - 13)

My concert picks this week - Joseph So

Hercules with Alice Coote (Dejanira), Richard Croft (Hyllus) and Chorus (Photo: Michael Cooper)

Canadian Opera Company's spring season opened with a triumphant Handel's Hercules last Saturday. By re-imagining the work to the time of the Iraqi conflict, American stage director Peter Sellars' vision gives this baroque oratorio powerful contemporary resonance. He demonstrates that by focusing on the human toll of war, a piece from as long ago as 1744 can speak to modern day audiences, because the emotions of the characters transcend time and space.  The set by George Tsypin - and in particular the lighting by James Ingalls - is beautifully evocative, with extremely effective use of projections. The singing was first rate in every way. British mezzo Alice Coote's as Dejanira, the frustrated wife of Hercules, was a complete triumph.  American bass-baritone Eric Owens was a physically and vocally imposing Hercules.  Making a welcome return to the COC after 22 years, American tenor Richard Croft remains a model of vocal grace as Hyllus. Equally impressive was American countertenor David Daniels as the herald Lichas. Incidentally you can hear these two singers in their respective roles in the Archiv recording of Hercules with Anne Sofie von Otter in the title role. Making her COC debut was British soprano Lucy Crowe whose soaring soprano was an absolute delight. COC frequent guest Harry Bicket returns to lead a lyrical and deeply moving reading of the divine score. And I would be remiss in not mentioning the excellent COC chorus, so important in Handel. (A full review will appear in La Scena Musicale and at in a future print issue of Opera in London, UK.) This is a show not to be missed. Performance this week on Friday April 11 7:30 pm at the Four Seasons Centre.

American pianist Richard Goode (Photo: Steve Riskind)

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Richard Strauss, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is presenting the ever-popular Ein Heldenleben. It's paired with Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 17 K. 453 played by American pianist Richard Goode.  Also on the program is Aqua, a piece by Canadian composer Vivian Fung receiving its Canadian premiere here. Peter Oundjian conducts. Friday 7:30 pm and Saturday 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall.

Soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian 

Tafelmusik is presenting this week The Rival Queens, a vocal concert of arias by Handel, Bononcini and Hasse, plus orchestral works by Handel, Zelenka, Vivaldi, and Telemann. Soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian is the soloist. Performances on April 9, 10, 12, and 13 at Koerner Hall. Details at

Parker Quartet (Photo:

Music Toronto is presenting the Parker Quartet in a chamber music recital of works by Beethoven, Dvorak, and Thomas Ades.   Thursday April 10 8 pm at the Jane Mallett Theatre.

Lydia Adams of Amadeus Choir

Given Easter is just around the corner, the Amadeus Choir of Greater Toronto under the direction of Lydia Adams, in collaboration with the Elmer Iseler Singers, is presenting Bach's Mass in B Minor, with soloists soprano Meredith Hall, mezzo Catherine Wyn-Rogers, tenor Colin Ainsworth and bass-baritone Nathaniel Watson. Performance on Saturday April 12 7:30 pm at the Metropolitan United Church at the corner of Queen and Bond Streets.

Art of Time Ensemble's poster for I Send You This Cadmium Red

The musically and artistically adventurous Art of Time Ensemble, under the directorship of Andrew Burashko, is presenting I Send You This Cadmium Red, with original music by Gavin Bryars at the Enwave Theatre in Toronto's Harbourfront. Under the direction of Daniel Brooks, the baton of Burashko, and the visual projections by Vancouver video artist Bruce Alcock, it is a "meditation on colour and sound" according to description on their website.  The show goes from April 9 to 12 at 8 pm at the Enwave Theatre.  For more information, go to their website at

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Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Les découvertes du maestro pour la 34e saison de l'Orchestre Métropolitain

Par Renée Banville

Yannick Nézet-Séguin était sur place pour présenter la programmation 2014-2015 de l'OM qu'il a intitulée : « La saison des découvertes ». Pour sa 15e année à titre de directeur artistique et de chef principal de l'Orchestre Métropolitain, le maestro a choisi d'offrir aux mélomanes dix programmes, présentant les plus beaux talents canadiens, ainsi que de la grande visite du monde entier. Ce sont des cadeaux qu'il veut partager pour le plaisir de la découverte, sous le signe de l'amitié.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin dirigera en concert d'ouverture la Symphonie no 10 de Mahler (3 et 4 octobre), le programme scandinave (30 novembre) et le programme anglais (17 avril), avec les solistes Patrice Richer (trombone solo de l'OM) en novembre et Stéphane Tétreault en avril. Le jeune et talentueux violoncelliste a été choisi comme artiste en résidence cette année. Il fera aussi partie du concert du 19 décembre, où il interprétera Les Variations sur un thème rococo de Tchaikovski. De plus, il participera à un événement spécial à la salle Bourgie : Carte blanche à Yannick Nézet-Séguin, un concert de musique de chambre avec le chef et des musiciens de l'OM (12 avril). D'autres musiciens de l'Orchestre prendront eux aussi le devant de la scène durant la saison : Marcelle Mallette (violon), Nancy Ricard (violon), Christopher Best (violoncelle), Michel Bettez (basson) et Marjorie Tremblay (hautbois).

Deux Concerts Prestige seront aussi sous la baguette du maestro : le Stabat mater de Dvorak, œuvre très rarement entendue à Montréal (29 mars) et le concert mettant en vedette le célèbre ténor Rolando Villazon, dont c'est la première visite en sol québécois (21 juin). 

Julian Kuerti revient à titre de chef invité principal. Il dirigera le programme viennois, avec la soliste Yukari Cousineau, violon solo de l'OM (24 octobre) et Pelléas et Mélisande, en compagnie des comédiens Sophie Desmarais et Benoît McGinnis (30 janvier).

Tout le long de la saison, le public aura l'occasion de découvrir de jeunes chefs talentueux et dynamiques : Jean-Michel Malouf, chef en résidence à l'Orchestre de chambre I Musici (30 octobre), le Français Alexander Bloch, lauréat du concours de direction Donatella Flick du London Symphony Orchestra, ce qui lui a valu le titre de chef adjoint du même orchestre (19 décembre), le Roumain Christian Macelaru, chef associé de l'Orchestre de Philadelphie (1er mars), et Jean-François Rivest, directeur artistique du Centre d'arts Orford depuis 2009 (8 mai).

L'Orchestre présentera également trois Concerts hors série :
Misteur Valaire symphonique. Un concert-événement à l'église Saint-Jean-Baptiste, réunissant l'OM et le groupe électro-jazz Misteur Valaire, sous la direction de Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Une rencontre inusitée.
Airs de jeunesse Hydro-Québec – L'Apprenti sorcier et autres Diableries. Une façon pour les familles de célébrer l'Halloween de façon originale, en écoutant des œuvres que le film Fantasia de Disney a rendues populaires. Un concert dirigé par le chef Jean-Michel Malouf (Théâtre Outremont, 1er avril).
• Concert du Choeur Métropolitain : Opus 2. Un programme des plus belles oeuvres pour choeur et quintette de cuivres de la Ranaissance à aujourd'hui (salle Marguerite-Bourgeoys, 5 décembre).

En avril 2015, l'Orchestre Métropolitain, Yannick Nézet-Séguin et Stéphane Tétreault seront en tournée en Ontario : au Centre national des Arts d'Ottawa (lundi 20) et au Royal Conservatory of Music de Toronto (vendredi 24).

Il ne faut pas manquer de surveiller la vingtaine de concerts de l'OM en arrondissements, en collaboration avec le Conseil des arts de Montréal en tournée. En attendant le début de la saison, noter aussi le programme estival de l'Orchestre qui sera dévoilé en mai.

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Monday, 31 March 2014

Cette semaine à Montréal : le 1 au 6 avril

Le baryton québécois et le Quatuor Claudel-Canimex présenteront en avril un concert inédit, des trésors méconnus de la musique de chambre pour voix et quatuor à cordes. Au programme, des œuvres de Ralph Vaughan Williams, Samuel Barber, Geoffrey Bush et George Butterworth. Acclamé sur les grandes scènes européennes, notamment à Paris et à Berlin, Étienne Dupuis a aussi triomphé à l’Opéra de Montréal la saison dernière dans Dead Man Walking où il jouait le rôle d’un condamné à mort. Salle Bourgie, 6 avril.
- Justin Bernard

Invités pour la première fois au Ladies Morning Musical Club, les musiciens du Doric String Quartet sont décrits par la revue Gramophone comme des « musiciens ayant des choses fascinantes à exprimer ». Formé en 1988, le jeune quatuor éveille la curiosité et reçoit d'éclatantes réponses du public et de la critique. Au programme : Haydn, Korngold et Beethoven (6 avril).
- Renée Banville

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This Week in Toronto (Mar. 31 - Apr. 6)

This Week in Toronto (Mar. 31 - Apr. 6)

-Joseph So

Bass-baritone Eric Owens (Photo: Dario Acosta)

Canadian Opera Company's spring season opens this week with Handel's Hercules, a work not performed all that often. It was last heard locally in a concert performance at Koerner Hall about two years ago, so it's good to finally see it staged by none other than American director Peter Sellars. You can be sure Sellars will put his unique spin on this piece!  I understand there is a strong anti-war message in this production, as well as a sociopolitical commentary on the human cost of war. To delve deeper into his vision, be sure to read and watch all the material posted on the COC website. The cast is absolutely top flight, the same one that sang in Chicago in 2011. It is headed by American bass-baritone Eric Owens in the title role. Opera fans may be familiar with his recent outing as Alberich in the Robert Lepage Ring at the Met. It's quite a vocal leap from Wagner to Handel, and I for one am really looking forward to hearing Mr.Owens in Baroque. Mezzo Alice Coote, last heard locally as the Komponist in Ariadne auf Naxos, is Dejanira. The great American countertenor David Daniels, absent from the COC stage since Xerxes in 1999, makes a long awaited return as Lichas. (Incidentally I saw Daniels gave a supremely moving performance in the title role of Oscar in Santa Fe last season)  An even longer absence is that of American tenor Richard Croft whose last appearance was a sweet toned Ferrando in Cosi fan tutte in 1991, a good twenty-three years ago! His "Ich baue ganz" from Abduction was one of the most beautiful piece of Mozart singing I've ever heard. Croft has since moved on to more dramatic roles like Idomeneo, Captain Vere, and even Loge in Das Rheingold.  Finally, the lovely British soprano Lucy Crowe makes her COC debut as Iole. I vividly recall her absolutely wonderful Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier in Munich two summers ago.  The great Baroque specialist Harry Bicket returns to conduct. This Hercules is definitely not to be missed!  It premieres on Saturday April 5 at the unusual time of 4:30 pm at the Four Seasons Centre.

Johannes Brahms

An intriguing event is the free noon hour concert on April 3 with four members of the COC Ensemble Studio performing Brahms' Liebeslieder Walzer. This cycle is unusual in that it's for a quartet of soloists (or a choir) and piano four hands, a bit of a novelty in Brahms' creative output.  One can just imagine during the composer's time, musicians (maybe family and friends) would gather in the evening for a little after dinner entertainment in the salon. The songs are all short and pithy, and one can definitely hear Schubert's influence. It's always lovely to hear this cycle which is still performed with some regularity. Soloists are soprano Claire de Sevigne, mezzo Charlotte Burrage, tenor Andrew Haji and baritone Gordon Bintner. Michael Shannon and Liz Upchurch are the two collaborative pianists. Also featured is Canadian composer John Greer's Liebesleid Lieder set to text by Dorothy Parker. Program details at  Be sure to show up an hour ahead of time to secure a seat in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

Violinist Alexander Da Costa (Photo: Bo Huang)

Music Toronto is presenting Canadian virtuoso violinist Alexandre Da Costa as part of its Discovery Series. If I were to allow myself a little editorializing, Mr. Da Costa is far beyond that of an artist waiting to be discovered, but never mind. He is playing Brahms, Beethoven and Manuel de Falla with pianist Helene Mercier. April 3 8 pm at the Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre on Front Street.

The Toronto Consort (Photo:

For Early Music fans, the Toronto Consort is presenting Cavalli's masterpiece Giasone on April 4, 5, and 6 at Trinity St. Paul's Centre. Contralto Laura Pudwell sings the title role, and David Fallis conducts. For details, go to 

Pianist Khatia Buniatishvili

Georgian virtuoso pianist Khatia Buniatishvili is at Koerner Hall on Sunday April 6 3 pm for a recital of Liszt, Chopin, Stravinsky, and Ravel, including the famous La valse in piano transcription. We are more familiar with this as an orchestral piece, and I have to say I personally prefer the orchestral version. But it'll be interesting to hear Buniatishvili bringing out all the sonorities with the piano. A famous version by Glenn Gould is on Youtube -

Nana Mouskouri's PR poster (Photo:

I don't usually cover pop music, but I have to mention Nana Mouskouri, the venerable folk-pop icon of the 60s and 70s, and she is still going strong!  She is in town as part of her Birthday Tour, appearing in Roy Thomson Hall on Wednesday April 2 8 pm.

There are two presentations by concert opera organizations this week on the same day! Essential Opera, founded by sopranos Erin Bardua and Maureen Batt, is presenting a triple bill of new Canadian works with the intriguing titles of Etiquette, Regina, and Heather. The first piece has a libretto by none other than organist-music critic John Terauds. Saturday 8 pm at Heliconian Hall in Yorkville.

The other presentation is by Opera By Request, and the opera is the most daunting Siegfried! Tenor Lenard Whiting takes on the title role, with former COC Ensemble Studio baritone Andrew Tees singing the Wanderer. Margarete von Vaight is Brunnhilde. William Shookhoff is the pianist. Saturday April 5th 6:30 pm at the College Street United Church.

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Thursday, 27 March 2014

"Copland and Mexico" in Austin, Texas

Maestro Peter Bay
Copland: Two Mexican Pieces
Copland: El Salón México
Chavez: Chapultepec (Three Famous Mexican Pieces)
Revueltas: Redes (complete with film)

Joseph Horowitz, scriptwriter and producer
Austin Symphony/Peter Bay

Long Center for the Performing Arts
Austin, Texas
Saturday, March 22, 2014

Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas (a student at St. Edward’s College in Austin [1917-18]) and American composer Aaron Copland were born within months of each other - in December (1899) and November (1900), respectively. Both enjoyed considerable success in the 1930s, but while Copland went on to become one of the iconic figures in American music, Revueltas died of pneumonia, alcoholism, poverty and heartbreak, at the early age of 40; had he lived, Revueltas may well have become the Mexican Copland.

Composer Aaron Copland
This evening’s concert in Austin was part of a larger festival, “Copland and Mexico”, conceived by Joseph Horowitz, and presented last year by five different orchestras, music schools and galleries in the United States. Austin’s version of the festival involved the Austin Symphony, the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas and Danzonera Sierre Madre, a danzón orchestra from Monterrey, Mexico.

Copland's "Epiphany" 
The point of departure for “Copland and Mexico” was Aaron Copland’s visit to Mexico in 1932. According to Horowitz, Copland “had an epiphany” on this sojourn. Mexico, in the throes of the same depression that had brought the United States to its knees, was bubbling with revolutionary fervor, at the forefront of which were renowned artists and composers, including Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Jose Orozco, David Siqueiros, Carlos Chavez and Silvestre Revueltas. These artists seized on the Marxist analysis of the plight of their country and worked to give the oppressed masses their fair share of power and wealth. Capitalist owners and managers, they argued through their art, had made a mess of things and it was time to give the working people a chance.

One example of what Mexican artists were doing can be seen in the 1936 film Redes. It tells the story of exploited fishermen in Veracruz and how they began to organize to fight back. Directed by Emilio Gomez Muriel and Fred Zinnemann with cinematography by Paul Strand and music by Revueltas, Redes, on the one hand, could be rejected as purely leftist propaganda; on the other, it might be seen as a worthy historical reminder that the Great Depression was real and it was devastating for many around the world. The work of Revueltas, Rivera and the others in Mexico, for example, was paralleled by some in the United States as F.D.R. attempted to lift the country out of despair. Largely through the WPA (Works Progress Administration), artists composers and film-makers were given the means to create works which expressed the mood of the times and hope for the future. Films such as The Plow That Broke the Plains, The River, The City (score by Copland), and Grapes of Wrath mirrored the mission of Redes in Mexico.  

Artists as Documentarists of the Human Condition
Although Copland himself never joined the Communist Party, he was an ardent progressive. He had initially been attracted to a group of like-minded artists, led by Alfred Stieglitz, whose members embraced the idea that artists needed to find a way to speak to the common man rather than merely to fellow artists and elites. American photographer Paul Strand was a member of this group. Invited by composer Carlos Chavez to form a team to make the film, he helped initiate the Redes project in Mexico.

Composer Silvestre Revueltas
Revueltas’ score for Redes is by no means simple folkloric material. From the opening bars it is uncompromising in its dissonance – a style well-suited to the material. While the performances in the film - by real fishermen rather than actors - are somewhat wooden, the honesty of the scenes portrayed, the starkness of the cinematography and the power of the music all combine to create a riveting experience.

The difficulty of synching live music performance to film footage cannot be underestimated - at one point the orchestra jumped in too early and completely drowned out a key line of dialogue – but Peter Bay and the Austin Symphony gave Revueltas’ music a fine performance. This live performance of the movie score added enormous depth and breadth to the film.

Unhappily, once again, patrons in the balcony had trouble seeing the images and the subtitles on the screen. I have passed on this complaint after similar ASO concerts in the past but management doesn’t seem to care.

These criticisms aside, Redes was definitely worth seeing.

An American Classic: "El Salón México" 
The highlight of the first half of the concert was the Austin Symphony performance of Copland’s El Salón México (a memento of his visit there in 1932), which draws on three Mexican popular songs. Copland retains the popular character of the songs but complicates them rhythmically and alters and combines them with great ingenuity. While principal Robert Cannon played his trumpet solos with panache, albeit with a somewhat heavy-handed vibrato, and the e-flat clarinet solos were far too timid for the spirit of the piece, this performance of El Salón México, nevertheless, confirmed its reputation as an American classic.

Composer Carlos Chavez
I wish I could be as enthusiastic about the rest of the concert. Neither of the other works by Copland and Chavez on the program were from either composer’s top drawer; Chavez’ Sinfonia India would have been far more representative and made a stronger impression. Revueltas’ Sensemayá would also have been a better choice. A piece by a living Mexican composer, or by an American composer of Mexican heritage might have been better yet.

The first half of the concert also included some scripted material presented by Peter Bay and Robert Rowley, in conjunction with a screen backdrop of some washed-out, mostly black and white, historic photographs. This part of the program was all very superficial and in no significant way illuminated the theme - “Copland and Mexico”.

"Redes" and Revueltas Horowitz Highlight
One might conclude that this was yet another Joseph Horowitz project that proved less interesting in practice than in theory, were it not for Redes. Bay and the ASO deserve a good deal of credit for having the courage to present this neglected piece of history, which not only teaches us about our own history and the history of our closest neighbor, but also about what it means to be poor and robbed of basic human dignity.

Paul Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar, and Sir Georg Solti: His Life and Music. For friends: The Art of the Conductor podcast, “Classical Airs.”

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