La Scena Musicale

Monday, 3 August 2015

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Revels at Bard on the Beach

Matt Hanson

Gerrard Gordon, conductor

Mozart isn’t exactly casino music. In 1788, it was. “So you can see how far we’ve come,” said Vancouver Symphony Orchestra conductor Gordon Gerrard, reminding a full house audience of how, at times, historical progress is truly linear.  

In an evening dedicated to Mozart, that unfathomable prodigy of Western music, the splendorous airs of Vanier Park ascended sky high under a soft dusk light. Solar crepuscules trickled into the outdoor theatre. The evening was set with a lofty ambiance under the illumined jade hue of the North Shore Mountain horizon. 

The calm flow of False Creek sped off in the visible expanse behind the tuxedoed performers, a respectable collection of brass, woodwinds, strings and a percussionist. The Impresario: Overture led people into the entrancing harmonies of a sound that has captivated the minds of the world for over two hundred years. 

The bygone classical era is nostalgic for the modern ear of the 21st century. Listening to Mozart, the public, whether consciously or not, is still swept away by a music that seems to speak, and not only briefly, or in monologue. The music of Mozart is conversational, an aural discourse of diverse musical traditions performed and heard. His music speaks as in multiple languages, various regional manners, styles and accents. Some statements are profound, others light, though, reflective of the human mind--all are complex and move through a development of pure emotional ideas. Every note speaks from the heart and dances in a dynamic call-and-response between many performers simultaneously. 


Jeanette Jonquil, clarinet

Clarinet soloist Jeanette Jonquil then stepped onstage, adorned in a sparkling indigo dress. Her performance poured original strength, and heartfelt soul into one of the most admired pieces of music ever written. Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major opens with a melancholic depth, though one not lost to the persevering optimism of the artist at work. As the movements changed hands, Jonquil performed the clarinet through its barrelling range with a solemn beauty. Her breath fed into the spiralling scales, as she edged into each tone, descending and ascending, and back, as spontaneous as gravity, and yet with a mindful strength. She intoned all of the classic verve of the clarinettist who achieves a spirited complexion of harmonic rhythms that move and speak with the rushing grace of natural grandeur. Her performance transcended acute technicality, and as a great performer at the height of her prime, she so elegantly hit that nerve, alleviating the need for lasting art that so stirs masses with the pure passionate intensity for life.

Jonquil’s clarinet gave life to what once edge music, contemporary, and on the fringes of society, where it could best earn a dying, original artist his dues. Now clearly music of the establishment, the question one must ask in every new context of long-standing compositional music, especially as a lover of classical music, is: How does this music speak to people now?  

Does Mozart still speak to the public? Or, is Mozart simply an icon for the public to set among the pantheon of Western culture in order to justify historical progress in the wake of the Industrial Age with quaint memories of a more pastoral Europe? If the unwavering exuberance of Jonquil’s virtuosity is any indication, Mozart still stands on firm ground in the heart of ensuing generations, as she performed the entire concerto from memory. 

The penultimate symphony of Mozart, Symphony No. 40 in G minor, concluded the evening. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra showed vigorous pride for the people and lands that have cultivated their popularity in British Columbia. Throughout, conductor Gordon Gerrard appeared a step ahead of the beat, swaying and dancing to the embedded rhythms like a silent prophet, omniscient amid the genius soundscapes.

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This Week in Montreal: August 3 to 9


Marianne Fiset (Photo: Maxime Tremblay)


This Week in Montreal: August 3 to 9

Carmen at OSM’s Classical Spree
A must-see event at the end of the summer, the 4th Classical Spree will begin on August 5 with a free outdoors concert conducted by Kent Nagano. This year, a shortened version of Bizet’s Carmen will be presented at the Olympic Park, featuring Michèle Losier, Joseph Kaiser and Marianne Fiset. As in previous years, 30 low-price 45-minute concerts and a variety of free activities will take place on August 7 and 8, to present the beauties of classical music to the public. In a highly-anticipated concert, Canadian violinist James Ehnes will perform Frank Zappa’s Envelopes. Kent Nagano will conduct Beethoven’s famous 5th Symphony, and organist Jean-Willy Kunz, in the company of animator Patrice Bélanger, will present Le Carnaval des animaux to children, using multimedia projections as well as the various sonorities of the Pierre-Béique organ. Jazz pianist Oliver Jones will be present, along with other celebrities of the classical music scene. August 5 to 8. www.vireeclassique.osm.ca

L’Orchestre Symphonique de Laval
The city of Laval turns 50 this year. In celebration, the Orchestre symphonique de Laval, under Alain Trudel’s baton, is giving free concerts in parks and public spaces throughout the city. On August 6, the concert in honour of Laval’s birthday will take place at the Centropolis and feature soprano Marie-Josée Lord. Two additional concerts will be held: August 13 at the Berge aux Quatre-Vents at 7:30 pm and August 16, 2 pm, on the grounds of the Hôpital de la Cité de la Santé. www.osl.qc.ca

McGill International String Quartet Academy (MISQA)
MISQA was established in 2010. The Academy invites emeritus professors annually who share their experience with four exceptional quartets and four emerging ones. The opening concert on August 9 will be with the Miró Quartet, and the Parker Quartet will perform at the closing concert on August 22. The Grands Concerts are at Pollack Hall on August 13,14, 20 and 21 at 7 pm and at Tanna Schulich Hall on August 15 and 22, 2 pm August 9 – 22. www.misqa.com

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Cette semaine à Montréal: du 3 au 9 août


Le violoniste James Ehnes


Cette semaine à Montréal: du 3 au 9 août

Carmen à la Virée classique
Rendez-vous incontournable de la fin de l’été, la 4e Virée classique prendra son envol le 5 août avec un grand concert extérieur gratuit dirigé par Kent Nagano. Cette année, c’est une version courte de Carmen, de Bizet, avec Michèle Losier, Joseph Kaiser et Marianne Fiset comme têtes d’affiche, qui sera présentée au Parc olympique. Comme par les années antérieures, 30 concerts de 45 minutes à petits prix et une foule d’activités gratuites présentées les 7 et 8 août feront découvrir au public la beauté de la musique classique. Dans un concert très attendu, le violoniste canadien James Ehnes présentera la pièce Enveloppes de Frank Zappa. Kent Nagano offrira la célébrissime 5e Symphonie de Beethoven et l’organiste Jean-Willy Kunz, en compagnie de l’animateur Patrice Bélanger, présentera aux enfants Le Carnaval des animaux, alliant projections multimédias et sonorités du Grand Orgue Pierre-Béique. Le pianiste de jazz Oliver Jones participera à la fête, en plus de grands noms de la scène musicale classique. Du 5 au 8 août. http://vireeclassique.osm.ca

L’Orchestre symphonique de Laval
La ville de Laval fête ses 50 ans cette année. Pour souligner cet anniversaire, l’Orchestre symphonique de Laval donnera des concerts gratuits dans les parcs et lieux publics de la ville sous la direction d’Alain Trudel. Ils seront au Centre de la nature le 4 juin, à la Berge Saint-Maxime le 11 juin et au parc des Prairies le 18 juin, toujours à 19 h 30. Le 6 août, le concert marquant la naissance de Laval aura lieu au Centropolis avec la soprano Marie-Josée Lord. Deux autres concerts auront lieu, soit le 13 août à la Berge aux Quatre-Vents à 19 h 30 et le 16 août à 14 h sur les terrains de l’Hôpital de la Cité de la santé. www.osl.qc.ca

Académie internationale de quatuor à cordes de McGill (MISQA)
MISQA a été fondée en 2010. L’Académie invite chaque année des professeurs émérites, qui partagent leur expérience avec quatre quatuors exceptionnels et quatre quatuors de la relève. Le Quatuor à cordes Miró est l’invité du concert d’ouverture le 9 août. Le concert de clôture présentera le 22 août le Quatuor à cordes Parker. Les grands concerts ont lieu à la salle Pollack les 13, 14, 20 et 21 à 19 h et les quatuors de la relève à la salle Tanna Schulich les 15 et 22 à 14 h. Du 9 au 22 août. www.misqa.com

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Next Great Art Song - Mia Bach's Favourite Art Song


The next submission to the "Next Great Art Song" survey is by Mia Bach. Share your choices at www.nextgreatartsong.com!





As a vocal coach and instructor at the University of Toronto for the past few decades, I have been fortunate to be able to spend my days exploring art songs of hundreds of composers. Initially I thought it was impossible to pick just three, but I realized there are certain songs that I have performed/coached countless times, yet each time feels like a fresh discovery.  As the collaborative pianist for the French Mélodie classes at the University, I couldn’t help but include two French composers. If the definition of great art song is the inseparable fusion of poetry and music, then Debussy’s cycle Trois Chanson de Bilitis is a perfect specimen. Within the first interval of the first song “La Flûte de Pan” one is immediately transported into the realm of the poem; the introductory two bars establish not only mood, but a sense of time and place. The imagery, the characters, their surroundings in the poem are miraculously captured with masterful vividness in the musical language by Debussy, and one cannot imagine the words being melodically  “spoken” in any other way.
Thank you for the opportunity to explore this question – it may be that on another day, I may have other choices (other Debussy, Faure, Poulenc, Schubert, Wolf, Britten, Barber….!), but it would be hard to get past Debussy’s incomparable ability to fuse text and music – the definition of art song.

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Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Next Great Art Song - Gerd Helssen's Favourite Art Song

Our next submission is from Gerd Helssen, from Hamburg. Share your vote at www.nextgreatartsong.com!

1. Widmung – Robert Schumann
The Art Song has been described as the marriage of music and poetry, as the basic ingredient of the lied is the text. The poem "Widmung" was written by Friedrich Rückert (1788 - 1866). The title (dedication) was Schumann's invention for the introductory lied of "Myrten", op. 25. Schumann presented it to his fiancée Clara for their wedding, and the song describes the ups and downs of a relationship. Unlike Franz Schubert, Schumann could frequently benefit of high-quality poems. His father owned a publishing house, and Robert consequently had an outstanding literary knowledge. He grew up with books and was able to look at the world through the eyes of the poets. The music and words of "Widmung" form an inspired symbiosis. This art song is one of the most magnificent love songs in the German Lied literature. It could also be exemplary for an explanation of the expression "Aufschwung" (impetus), which is used over and over in Robert Schumann's compositions.




“You my soul, you my heart,
you my bliss, o you my pain,
you the world in which I live,
you my heaven, in which I float,
o you my grave, into which
I eternally cast my grief.
You are rest, you are peace,
you are bestowed upon me from heaven.
That you love me makes me worthy of you;
your gaze transfigures me;
you raise me lovingly above myself,
my good spirit, my better self!”


 

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The XVIII Paloma O'Shea Santander International Piano Competition is Entering the Semi-Final Stage on Wednesday, 29 July

The Jury revealed the list of 12 pianists who will participate in the Semi-final from 29 July to 1 August inclusive in the Palace of Festivals of Cantabria

Santander, 28 July 2015. The first stage of the XVIII Paloma O’Shea Santander International Piano Competition concluded yesterday, Monday 27 July, having been sponsored by El Diario Montañés.
At midnight, the Jury led by pianist and professor Gary Graffman and composed of prominent international figures such as Jian LiTomás Marco, Luis Pereira Leal, Michel Béroff, Péter Csaba, Christopher Elton, Homero Francesch, Márta Gulyás, Klaus Hellwig, Eldar Nebolsin and Blanca Uribe, revealed the list of twelve participants who will continue to compete for the awards in the Semi-final.


12 SEMIFINALISTS OF THE XVIII PALOMA O’SHEA SANTANDER INTERNATIONAL PIANO COMPETITION
First name and Surname - Country - Age

Sr. D. Juan Barahona - Spain - 25
Sr. D. Albert Cano Smit - Spain / Netherlands - 18
Mr. David Jae-Weon Huh - Korea - 28
Mr. Jianing Kong - People’s Republic of China - 29
Ms. Ke Ma - People’s Republic of China - 20
Ms. Alexia Mouza - Greece / Venezuela - 25
Mr. Jinhyung Park - Korea - 18
Sr. D. Juan Pérez Floristán - Spain - 22
Mr. Kazuya Saito - Japan - 25
Mr. Akihiro Sakiya - Japan - 26
Mr. Alexey Sychev - Russia - 26
Mr. Andrey Yaroshinsky - Russia - 29

From 29 July to 1 August inclusive these 12 selected participants will offer another solo recital and will also undergo a chamber music exam where they will be performing alongside the Cuarteto Casals in the concerts that integrate the Semi-final, which are sponsored by Grupo Tirso, Textile Santanderina, Café Dromedary and Hoteles Santos.

The Final, which will take place on 3 and 4 August, features the six finalists performing complete concertos with a full orchestra. These performances will be part of the 64th Santander International Festival, festivalsantander.com. The Radio Televisión Española Symphony Orchestra will accompany the pianists under the baton of maestro Pablo González. These concerts will be sponsored by Viesgo and Fundación Banco Santander.

All phases of the Competition will be broadcast live on classicalplanet.com and rtve.es. The Final will also be broadcast live in the Classic Radio of National Radio of Spain and in the Chanel 2 of Spanish National Television. Likewise, the Awards Ceremony will be broadcast live by Chanel 2 of TVE.

The Santander Competition boasts substantial cash prizes totaling approximately 90,000 Euros. This includes First, Second and Third Prizes, the “Santander Grand Prix”, honorary prizes and diplomas. But perhaps most importantly, the Competition provides the winner and the finalists with the opportunity to perform in various key music venues throughout the world, which is a true kickstart to their music careers.

Canon provides the Audience Prize, which was given for the first time in 1998. It will be awarded on the basis of the voting cast by the public attending the concert in the Sala Argenta of the Palace of Festivals of Cantabria and also by the listeners of Classic Radio of RNE and spectators of Channel 2 of TVE, rtve.es and classicalplanet.com. The spectators will have the opportunity to choose the winner after each of the two concerts that integrate the Final of the Competition, on 3 and 4 August. In these cases the voting will be cast online on the sites www.classicalplanet.com and www.rtve.es.

The Piano Competition benefits from the collaboration of numerous public and private entities: Department of Education, Culture and Sport - INAEM; Government of Cantabria; Santander City Council; International Festival of Santander; Fundación Albéniz; Fundación Botín; University of Cantabria; Publishing House Cantabria, El Diario Montañés; Viesgo; Fundación Banco Santander; Café Dromedario, S.A.; Canon; Managerial Group SADISA, S.L.; Grupo Planeta; Grupo Tirso S.A.; Yamaha España; Hinves Pianos; Steinway and Sons, Hamburg; Hoteles Santos; Joyería Galán; Joyería Presmanes; Textil Santanderina, S.A.; Agua de Solares; Iberia; Alsa; Renfe; Volvo.


ACCESS TO THE CONCERTS and THE CLOSING AND AWARDS CEREMONY IN THE PALACE OF FESTIVALS OF CANTABRIA.
Semi-final (12 pianists)
Recital and Chamber music
Casals Quartet
29 July - 1 August
16:00 h - 22:30 h  (14:00h UTC – 20:30h UTC)
Pereda Hall, free entry up to the maximum capacity of the hall

The Final (6 pianists)
Symphonic Orchestra of Radiotelevisión Española
Pablo González, conductor
on 3 and 4 August
19:00 h (17:00 UTC)
Argent Hall, tickets on sale at the ticket windows of the Palace of Festivals of Cantabria, by telephone +34 902 22 34 34 and by e-mail taquilla@festivalsantander.com

The Closing  and Awards Ceremony
on 5 August
19:00 h (17:00 UTC)
Argenta Hall, free entry passes must be collected at the box office beforehand. Limited seating capacity.

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New Cliburn documentary on PBS this Friday

The Cliburn Logo







FORT WORTH, Texas, July 28, 2015Virtuosity, the story of the Fourteenth Cliburn Competition, directed by Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Christopher Wilkinson, will air nationally on PBS this Friday, July 31, 2015 at 9 p.m. ET (check your local listings).
Virtuosity features the 30 competitors, including Vadym Kholodenko (Ukraine), Beatrice Rana (Italy), Sean Chen (United States), Fei-Fei Dong (China), Nikita Mndoyants (Russia), Tomoki Sakata (Japan), Alessandro Deljavan (Italy), and Steven Lin (United States), as well as artistic collaborators Maestro Leonard Slatkin, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, and Brentano String Quartet.
It premiered in November 2014 at Bass Performance Hall (Fort Worth, Texas) in a special opening night screening for the Lone Star Film Festival and went on to screen at several international film festivals including Seattle, Palm Springs, and Minneapolis St. Paul.
ABOUT VIRTUOSITY
Virtuosity searches for the musical souls of some of the most gifted young pianists on the planet as they try to make a name for themselves at the 2013 Cliburn Competition. The pressure on these artists is overwhelming, because the stakes are so high: prize money, concert bookings, a recording contract, a career.
At the heart of this story is the courage it takes for a 20-year-old to go onstage alone before 2,000 people, and hundreds of thousands more online, and play a unique interpretation of one of the most difficult pieces ever written for the piano. The Competition requires not only a transcendent musical ability, but a mental toughness that must sustain the soloist through three straight weeks of performance. The Cliburn becomes as much a test of character as a musical proving ground.
And all of the onstage brilliance and backstage drama takes place in the year in which the inspiration and namesake of the competition, Van Cliburn, passed away. This film is a tribute to his memory, and to his particular genius.
But ultimately, the film focuses on this group of young pianists as they articulate their personalities through their music: brilliant, eccentric, tender, touching, dazzling, deadly serious, wildly entertaining. We share their secrets, their hopes, their humanity. As different as they are as people, these young musicians share a single reality: winning The Cliburn would change their lives overnight.
The Cliburn appreciates the support of the Fourteenth Competition Media Project from: Alcon, Forestar Oil & Gas, Jane and John Justin Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, The Burnett Foundation, and the Woodward Family Foundation. And in-kind support from: Canon, Technicolor, Lowel Lighting, and The Tiffen Company.
ABOUT CHRISTOPHER WILKINSON, DIRECTOR
Christopher Wilkinson was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Nixon (Touchstone). His writing credits include Ali (Columbia), Copying Beethoven (SKE/Myriad), which he also produced, and the upcoming Pawn Sacrifice. He is currently working on Mercury (GK Films/Paramount). Wilkinson has directed three second units, shooting principal sequences of The River (Universal), Intersection (Paramount), and For the Boys (Fox) on which he also served as a producer. Before working on feature films, he wrote, produced, and directed commercials and documentaries for EUE/Screen Gems, PBS, CBS Sports, and ESPN. His documentaries have won awards at the Chicago International Film Festival, The International Film Festival of New York, and CINE.
ABOUT LORI MILLER, PRODUCER
Lori Miller created and produced the multi-award-winning and New York Times Critics Pick documentary They Came to Play, which tells the inspirational stories of the participants in the Cliburn’s 2007 Amateur Competition. She just completed Shakespeare High, also an award-winning documentary about under-served teens in California whose immersion in arts education compels them to overcome difficulties and create better lives. Featuring Kevin Spacey and Richard Dreyfuss, the film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, Lincoln Center Film Society, and on Showtime. Ms. Miller has also produced several independent features including: Panic, starring William H. Macy and Donald Sutherland (Sundance Film Festival, HBO, and theatrical release); The Last Supper, starring Cameron Diaz and Bill Paxton (Toronto and Sundance Film Festivals, Sony); Perfect Opposites, starring Piper Perabo and Jennifer Tilly (USA Network); and Campfire Tales, starring Ron Livingston and Christine Taylor (New Line).
ABOUT THE CLIBURN
The Cliburn advances classical piano music throughout the world. Its international competitions, education programs, and concert series embody an enduring commitment to artistic excellence and the discovery of new artists. Established in 1962, the quadrennial Van Cliburn International Piano Competition is widely-recognized as “one of the world’s highest-visibility classical-music contests” (Dallas Morning News) and remains committed to its original ideals of supporting and launching the careers of young pianists, age 18 to 30 (fifteenth edition May 25June 10, 2017). It shares the transformative powers of music with a wide global audience, through fully-produced webcasts and by providing commission-free, comprehensive career management and concert bookings to its winners. Rounding out its mission, the Cliburn also produces the Cliburn International Junior Piano Competition and Festival for exceptional 13 to 17-year-old pianists (inaugural edition June 21–28, 2015) and the Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition for outstanding non-professional pianists age 35 and older (seventh edition June 1925, 2016).
Over a four-year cycle, the Cliburn contributes to North Texas’ cultural landscape with over 170 classical music performances for 150,000 attendees, through competitions, free community concerts, and its signature Cliburn Concerts series at Bass Performance Hall, the Kimbell Art Museum Piano Pavilion, and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. It presents 1,000 in-school, interactive music education programs for more than 200,000 area elementary students. During the same time period, it garners the world’s attention with over one million visits from 155 nations for live concert and competition webcasts; 300 concerts worldwide booked for competition winners; more than 5,000 news articles about the Cliburn and its winners; regular national radio broadcasts to 245 public radio stations; and a PBS documentary airing in a potential 105 million households.
Detailed information about the Cliburn and its programs is available at Cliburn.org
Official Sponsors of the Cliburn are:
Amon G. Carter Foundation
Ann L. & Carol Green Rhodes Charitable Trust, Bank of America, Trustee
Arts Council of Fort Worth
BNSF Railway Foundation
Crystelle Waggoner Charitable Trust
ExxonMobil / XTO Energy

Jane and John Justin Foundation
Mercedes T. Bass Charitable Corporation
Sid W. Richardson Foundation
Steinway & Sons – North Texas / Houston
The Burnett Foundation
The Pangburn Foundation, J.P. Morgan, Trustee
Exclusive Print Media Sponsor:
Star-Telegram
Official Hotel of the Cliburn:
The Worthington Renaissance Fort Worth Hotel

ABOUT KERA
KERA is the presenting station of Virtuosity. KERA is a not-for-profit public media organization reaching the fifth-largest population area in the United States through KERA-TV, KERA WORLD, KERA 90.1 and the Triple-A music station KXT 91.7 FM. For over 50 years, North Texans have turned to KERA as a vibrant destination for community engagement and lifelong learning. KERA produces original multimedia content, carries the best in national and international public television and radio programs, and provides online resources at www.kera.org.

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Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Munich Opera's Pelleas et Melisande: Two Contrasting Views

Letter from Munich : Pelleas et Melisande

Joseph So 


Ironically, this production photo captures one of very few instances where Pelleas and Melisande actually touch in the three-plus hour of the opera (Photo: Wilfrid Hosl)



For the past eight years, I’ve been making my annual “pilgrimage” to Munich in July, to attend its excellent Münchner Opernfespiele.  Whether it’s a warhorse or a rarity, I can always count on an enjoyable performance, with outstanding singers and great conductors leading the brilliant Bavarian State Orchestra. Less consistently excellent have been the opera productions. Contrary to what some of my fellow critics may think of my musical tastes, I am not so much a traditionalist as I’m an “operatic omnivore” – I’m open to all sorts of staging from traditional to the avant garde.  My bottom line for Regieoper is it must be carefully thought out and executed with sensitivity, and it must in some way illuminate the music and/or the text.  In a nutshell, there should be no addition or omission of music without really good reason. Also to be avoided is the addition of new characters and changes to the libretto, and no major alteration of the thematic material and interrelationships of the characters. In other words, any re-interpretation has to make sense, not just to the stage director but also to the audience.

I’ve seen some striking director-driven productions in Munich, such as Palestrina, Ariadne auf Naxos, and this season’s Arabella.  Sadly, I’ve also seen some that didn’t work for exactly the reasons I mentioned above. For me, an example of a misguided production was the Martin Kusej Rusalka, and the Don Giovanni by stage director Stefan Kimmig. To that list I must now add this year’s new production of Pelleas et Melisande. The Regie is Christiane Pohle, known for her work in German Schauspiele. This represents her first foray into opera directing. I attended the third performance on July 4. By then, all the audience hostility towards the director had died down – in any case, she wasm’t there so there was no point in booing. There were just a lot of long faces in the audience. 

It's not overstating the case when I say this production received an almost uniformly hostile reaction from the audience and largely negative reviews from the press. Still, I believe it is important to present both sides of the argument. To that end, I have invited a fellow journalist, Richard Rosenman, to write a guest review for La Scena Musicale.  Below is his review, followed by mine.

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Pelleas et Melisande (Review 1) 
Richard Rosenman, Editor Wagner News, Toronto Wagner Society

The 1902 premiere of Pelleas et Melisande was not well received. One critic
complained about the work’s ”constant nebulosity” and its “monotonous recitative, unbearable and moribund”. These remarks were missing the point because they judged the work by conventions which both Maeterlinck and Debussy renounced.

History repeats itself. The premiere of the new Bayerische Staatsoper production, directed by Christiane Pohl, had a similarly hostile reception, with booing and members of the audience walking out. Though the subsequent performances were better tolerated, the Staatsoper took it so seriously that the planned open air public streaming of it was cancelled and substituted without explanation by a performance of Arabella. Critics almost unanimously, condemned the production, blaming the implied disaster on Ms Pohl, a noted theatre director but one without opera experience, this being her first incursion into this medium.

Blaming a rookie opera director is easy but unfair. Seasoned ones often produce worse disasters, many paying less attention to the work than she did, for the result, though not to their liking, nevertheless shows that she did her homework, something very clear if one examines the principles of Maeterlinck’s plays which she evidently did. Christiane Pohl carefully and methodically removed all references to the original setting as visualized by the author and the composer. The abstract staging does not comply with most viewers’ expectations. Some are offended by the same set throughout. Most cherished features of the plot are missing to the despair of the literal minded.

The one set, a generic hotel lobby cum impersonal government office, is a place of ceaseless traffic of silent men and women, coming from and disappearing into nowhere through a pair of automatic glass doors, oblivious of the protagonists and, in turn, ignored by them. The two entities are the protagonists on one side and on the other the rest of the world about them, both unaware of each other’s existence. The set is made up of its static part and its mobile part, the last of the anonymous superficially autistic visitors and the local hands, these in a permanent if purposeless activity, bringing out, taking in, re-arranging or stacking chairs, symbols of triviality (for it could have been any other overlooked part of our lives), the two together making the world, the background, the stage, on which the plot is acted out.

The principles of Maeterlinck’s plays are the obvious source of the director’s
interpretations and decisions. Symbolism, as other “isms,” is a word casually dropped but perhaps not understood, especially the Maeterlinck’s version. As set out in his own words, he sees “a theatre of the soul, introducing passive and static characters, the daily lived tragedy and the fatale sublime hero”. He considers his “static drama a stage where actors were to speak and move as if pushed and pulled by external forces, by fate acting as a ‘puppeteer’”. The stress of their inner emotions should not be allowed to compel their movements. He would refer to his cast of characters as “marionettes”. And marionettes were for him metaphors of human condition.

It seems that the director is familiar with these precepts and has applied them in her vision of the work. There is a disconnection between text and action and between the protagonists themselves. When death comes to the title pair, they both walk out to the nowhere from which all the “marionettes” come.

The title characters, ardent young Canadian baritone Elliot Madore and a cool and remote Elena Tsalagova, both distinguished by clarity of tone and absence of any disturbing vibrato. Golaud’s, Markus Eiche, grey hair speaks a lot about his relationship with Melisande. Effectively menacing and foreboding. Arkel, Alaster Miles, did not receive the applause he perhaps deserved. His acting was most closely tied with his text. By carrying a chair with him at all times, he is the living connection with that artifact that overwhelmingly dominates the mindless activity on stage and ignored by everyone else. Hanno Eilers, Ynold, a boy soprano and the most applauded, in a role often given to a girl.

The orchestra fine under all circumstances, sounded even better in the more friendly acoustics of the Prinzregenten Theater. It was less brash and finely adapted to the nuances of the score. It was a success so denied to the performance.

Markus Eiche (Golaud) with unnamed guests (Photo: Wilfrid Hosl)

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Pelleas et Melisande (Review 2)
Joseph So

If I had to use one word to underscore this production, it would be “ambiguity.”  The Debussy opera is enigmatic and full of ambiguities to begin with. Christina Pohle, instead of illuminating the text, adds to the ambiguities through her peculiar staging. She wants to highlight the isolation and the disconnection of the main characters. To that end, we have a single unit set (by Maria-Alice Bahra) resembling a hotel lobby, with a central reception area. The main characters are found in or around the counter, standing rigidly and silently, or occasionally moving around slowly. At times, the static quality of the staging has the feel of a surrealist René Magritte painting.  All the while, there are extraneous characters coming and going – a couple of animal heads, a woman in a white long dress with a huge white wig, or a bunch of people caught between the sliding doors. What has any of these silent actors got to do with the opera is anyone’s guess.

The lovers (Pelleas and Melisande) hardly touch each other, let alone embrace or kiss.  Golaud spends a lot of time going around the lobby pruning branches off the ornamental bushes. Arkel, normally portrayed as old and infirmed in most productions, walks around carrying a chair with him.  Golaud kills Pelleas dead, but he mysteriously revives and walks off stage after a few minutes. Similarly, Melisande doesn’t die – she just walks off stage at the end. The finale has all the principals sitting in chairs facing the conductor, much like a sitzprobe early in the rehearsal process. In my mind, these directorial touches are not brilliant or refreshing, but they reflect a dearth of ideas.   

(l. to r.) Elena Tsallagova (Melisande) Hanno Eilers (Yniold) Markus Eiche (Golaud) (Photo: Wilfrid Hosl)


With a setting as far removed from the original libretto as this production, it creates a great many contradictions between the text and what one sees on stage. While the directorial concept of emphasizing the isolation and disconnectedness of the main characters is a good one, it alone is not enough to sustain a three-hour opera, especially when so much of the visual elements make little sense.  In my mind, disconnectedness and psychological isolation do not mean individual emotions are not deeply felt – there would have been no love story otherwise!  Pohle’s straitjacket of a vision leads to a diminution of the emotional power of the love between Pelleas and Melisande. In such a serious opera, why Pohle wants the Doctor (an overweight singer in Peter Lobert) checking his blood pressure not once but twice (!) is beyond me. This kind of staging only serves to obfuscate rather than illuminate, and the production comes across as self-indulgent, muddled, misguided, and – using the most damning adjective one could use in staging – boring.   


All is not lost however, as musically it was very fine. Top honours go to Russian soprano Elena Tsallagova as a luminous Melisande. She’s well matched by the youthful and ardent Pelleas of Canadian baritone Elliot Madore, who combined beautifully robust tone with an easy high register – those high A’s in Act 3 were a cakewalk for him.  German bass-baritone Markus Eiche was a superbly sung and deeply felt Golaud. Veteran English bass Alistair Miles gave the role of Arkel the requisite gravitas, despite the indignity of having to carry a chair with him around the stage. Even boy soprano Hanno Eilers (Yniold) got a big round of applause at the end. The star of the evening was Greek conductor Constantinos Carydis, who coaxed exquisite sounds from the marvelous Bayerische Opernorchester.  Perhaps that was sufficient compensation for some people, but it makes me sad as it could have been so much better, given the superb musical forces.  

Canadian baritone Elliot Madore (Photo: Wilfrid Hosl)

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Monday, 27 July 2015

This Week in Montreal: July 27 to August 2


Marc Hervieux (Photo: Maryse Gagné)

This Week in Montreal: July 27 to August 2

Orchestre Métropolitain in the Park
This summer, the OM is playing in the park. Catch the July 24 concert at Vancouver Park in l’Île-des-Sœurs, featuring the great classics from Mozart and Schubert directed by Andrei Fehrer. Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin will direct the Fantasy-Overture from Romeo and Juliet and Dvorák’s Symphony No. 9 on two occasions - July 29 at the park on l’Île Lebel de Repentigny and July 30 at the Chalet de la Montagne as part of the Campbell Concerts series. www.orchestremetropolitain.com

Concerts Populaires de Montreal
The Orchestre Métropolitain and maestro Julian Kuerti will open the Concerts Populaires series on June 25 with young Canadian violinist Kerson Leong, Radio-Canada’s Discovery of the Year in 2014-2015. The OM is back on July 23, under the baton of young conductor Andrei Feher, recently named Discovery of the Year at the 2015 Prix Opus gala. Audiences will hear Gianna Corbisiero in a program of Gershwin (July 9) and Marc Hervieux singing musicals (July 30) conducted by Stéphane Laforest. A concert-show with
Richard Desjardins, Alexandre Da Costa and Alexandre Éthier will feature the poetry of Lorca and the music of Spain (July 16). Under the direction of Gilles Bellemare, an evening hosted by Marc Hervieux will present the perfect balance of musical and culinary delights (July 17). Centre Pierre-Charbonneau, www.concertspopulairesdemontreal.com

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Cette semaine à Montréal - du 27 juillet au 2 août

Yannick Nézet-Séguin (Photo: Marco Borggreve)

Cette semaine à Montréal - du 27 juillet au 2 août


L’OM dans les parcs
L’OM sera présent dans les parcs cet été. On l’entendra le 24 juillet au parc Vancouver de l’Île-des-Sœurs dans un concert présentant de grands classiques de Mozart et Schubert, sous la direction d’Andrei Feher. Le maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin le dirigera à deux reprises dans l’Ouverture fantaisie Roméo et Juliette et la Symphonie no 9 de Dvořák, le 29 juillet au parc de l’Île Lebel de Repentigny et le 30 juillet au Chalet de la montagne dans la série des Concerts Campbell.  www.orchestremetropolitain.com

Concerts populaires de Montréal
L’Orchestre Métropolitain et le maestro Julian Kuerti ouvriront la série des Concerts populaires le 25 juin avec le jeune violoniste canadien Kerson Leong, Révélation Radio-Canada en 2014-2015. L’OM reviendra le 23 juillet, sous la direction du jeune chef Andrei Feher, récemment nommé Découverte de l’année au gala des Prix Opus 2015. On entendra Gianna Corbisiero dans un programme Gershwin (9 juillet) et Marc Hervieux dans des comédies musicales (30 juillet), sous la direction de Stéphane Laforest. Un concert-spectacle avec Richard Desjardins, Alexandre Da Costa et Alexandre Éthier mettra en vedette la poésie de Lorca et la musique d’Espagne (16 juillet). Sous la direction de Gilles Bellemare, une soirée animée par Marc Hervieux présentera le mariage parfait entre les choix culinaires et musicaux (17 juillet). Centre Pierre-Charbonneau. www.concertspopulairesdemontreal.com

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La prochaine grande mélodie - La mélodie préférée de Sylvia L'Ecuyer


Notre sondage "La prochaine grande mélodie" se poursuit. La musicologue Sylvia L'Ecuyer nous partage ses choix ci-dessous. Votez au www.nextgreatartsong.com!
1. Le spectre de la rose - Hector Berlioz

J'aime cette mélodie parce qu'elle parle à tous mes sens. On respire le parfum de cette rose, on touche la délicatesse de ses pétales flétries, on voit le spectre et bien sûr on entend non seulement cette mélodie magnifique mais cette poésie qui a une saveur un peu surannée. J'aime les surprises de l'harmonie, la variété des rythmes. Cette mélodie évoque pour moi toute une époque de la littérature romantique que je chéris. Pas de belle mélodie sans un beau poème, et celui de Théophile Gautier est un délice.

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Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Next Great Art Song - Adrianne Pieczonka's Favourite Art Song


Renowned Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka shares her favourite art songs below. Send us your choices at www.nextgreatartong.com!
Adrianne Pieczonka (Photo: Andreas Klingberg)

1. Gretchen am Spinnrade - Franz Schubert
Text

I knew I had to nominate a Schubert Lied as my number one pick but it was very difficult to make the final decision! To me Schubert is peerless as a Lied composer and his many songs and song cycles are some of my favourite vocal repertoire of all time.

I chose "Gretchen" as it is such a perfectly crafted Lied. The piano accompaniment immediately sets the scene of the young girl seated at her sewing wheel. Her soliloquy is like a stream of consciousness with the piano underlying all her desire, conflict and sadness. When the spinning wheel finally stops at the musical climax with the word "Kuss", time stands still for a few moments and the effect is breathtaking. The spinning theme then resumes and we feel Gretchen's loss more acutely.

It is a song which packs a powerful punch - a short scena of intense passion and longing.

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