La Scena Musicale

Friday, 27 March 2015

Elliot Madore at Music Toronto (Review)

Elliot Madore Impressive in Hometown Recital (Review)

~ Joseph So

Baritone Elliot Madore and Pianist Rachel Andrist (Photo: Joseph So)

Schumann:  Liederkreis, Op. 39
          In der Fremde
          Die Stille
          Schone Fremde
          Auf einer Burg
          In der Fremde
          Im Walde

Poulenc:  Banalites FP107
          Chanson d'Orkenise
          Fagnes de Wallonie
          Voyage a Paris

Ives : The Circus Band
          Ich grolle nicht
          The Side Show
          Tom Sails Away

Encores:  Deh vieni alla finestra from Don Giovanni (Mozart)
                Chanson a boire from Don Quichotte a Dulcinee (Ravel)

Elliot Madore, baritone
Rachel Andrist, piano

Music Toronto / Jane Mallett Theatre / Thursday March 26th 8 pm 2015

One of my favourite concert presenters is Music Toronto, an organization dedicated to promoting chamber music in our city.  It was at Music Toronto that I first heard Marc Andre Hamelin and Simon Trpceski, among others.  And I've also heard plenty of singers over the years, singers who for whatever reason don't sing here often eough. This year, Music Toronto is bringing to town baritone Elliot Madore. Actually, he is a Toronto native, where he grew up in the western suburb of Etobicoke.  I daresay most voice fans in Toronto have not heard him in person, for the simple reason that his career is almost exclusively outside Canada.  Madore studied voice at Curtis Institute, won the Metropolitan Opera Auditions in 2010, subsequently became a member of the Lindemann Young Artists Program, sang at Tanglewood under James Levine, and then went on to Europe to build his career. At the time of his Met Auditions win, I interviewed him for an article in La Scena Musicale -   Since that time, Madore's career has gone on a remarkable trajectory. He received great notices in The Enchanted Island at the Met, made his debut at Glyndebourne in L'heure espagnole / L'enfant et les Sortileges, and last summer, he sang the title role of Don Giovanni there. He is currently at Zurich Opera on a fest contract. This spring, he makes his Munich Opera debut in a new production of Pelleas et Melisande.

A light moment (Photo: Joseph So)

There was a good crowd tonight at the Jane Mallett Theatre, with a large contingent of family and friends of the artist, based on the amount of cheering that erupted periodically throughout the concert. Madore began with Schumann's "song cycle" Liederkreis Op. 39. I put it in quotation marks because unlike other cycles, there's no true thematic thread running through the songs. The twelve songs are of course familiar to Lieder acifionados, particularly the exquisite Mondnacht and the ecstatic Fruhlingsnacht. Madore has a lovely lyric baritone with a recognizable timbre, even from top to bottom, capable of both power and nuance, with an impressive range, particularly an excellent top register. I can see why Pelleas is in his near future!  I look forward to hearing him make his Munich debut in this role during this year's Festival.  Tonight, he sang with a solid, virile, warm and ingratiating baritone that was a pleasure to the ear. He gave unstintingly, delivering some of the songs in near-operatic fashion. This is not to suggest he's an insensitive artist - far from it.  Throughout the song cycle, he gave the audience a full spectrum of dynamics. from solid fortes to lovely pianissimos. His attention to textual nuance was also impressive. One gets the feeling that this singer is extremely well schooled, with a solid technique, and abundant musicality. One can understand just from this cycle why he has managed to forge such an impressive career in a short time.

Baritone Elliot Madore and pianist Rachel Andrist (Photo: Joseph So)

After intermission, for a change of pace, he sang the five songs by Poulenc that makes up Banalites. I've heard this sung mostly by women for some reason, from Frederica von Stade to Canada's own Catherine Robbin. Madore sang well if occasionally a bit loudly in some of the songs, where a more half-voiced delivery would have been better, especially given the intimate size of Jane Mallett Theatre. The darkly humorous Hotel was given an appropriately languid delivery, however sans cigarette.  He ended the formal part of the recital with five Ives songs, all "chestnuts" for Ives fans - a mix of fun and seriousness. Tom Sails Away was beautifully delivered, as well as the difficult Ich grolle nicht, with text by Heine, interestingly also set by Schumann in Dicterliebe, here beautifully rendered by Madore, I also enjoyed the very last song, Memories, often heard as an encore by visiting divas. It's not an easy song to pull off by a male singer, and Madore sang it well. Following a vociferous reception by some members of the audience - deservedly so I might add - Madore rewarded them with two encores. First was the very familiar "Deh vieni alla finestra" or Don Giovanni's serenade to Zerlina. Then it was an ebullient rendition of the Drinking Song from Ravel's Don Quichotte a Dulcinee.  Madore did these two pieces full justice. Throughout, Rachel Andrist was the model collaborative pianist, totally supportive of the singer. It was a most enjoyable end to a cold and snowy "spring" day. 

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Monday, 23 March 2015

This Week in Montreal: March 23 to 29

Florian Heyerick

This Week in Montreal: March 23 to 29
At the Université de Montréal’s Faculty of Music
On March 26, the Big Band for Université de Montréal will present Le Big Band jazze avec le trompettiste Randy Brecker under the direction of Ron Di Lauro. 7:30 pm, salle Claude-Champagne.

Chants Libres – Chants du Capricorne
Composed in 1995, the performance opera Chants du Capricorne is a conception of soprano and producer Pauline Vaillancourt. In 1999, she received the prize contemporary music performer Flandres-Québec. Twenty years later, Chants Libres, take over her creation with mezzo-soprano Marie-Annick Béliveau. March 12, 13 and 14. Usine C.
Chants Libres also plan the 5th edition of its event Oper’Actuel Works in Progress, giving the public the opportunity to discover new trends and possibilities in contemporary opera. March 27 and 28. Maison de la culture Frontenac.
- Renée Banville

Chapelle Bon-Pasteur
In its series with composer in residence Jimmie LeBlanc, Chant d’amour et de mort is performed by mezzo soprano Kristin Hoff and pianist Sonia Wheaton-Dudley. The concert presents the first part of Olivier Messiaen’s Tristan Trilogy. March 29, 3:30 pm.
- Renée Banville

French School at Arion
Inaugurated in Paris in 1725, the Concert Spirituel was charged with presenting concerts that were not performed at the Opera to Parisian audiences. March 20, 21, 22 at Bourgie Hall. Invitation to Concert Spirituel wants to renew with old discoveries. With conductor and soloist Alexander Weimann and clarinettist Eric Hoeprich. Guest speaker: Lucie Renaud. On the program: Richter, Stamitz, Gossec.
- Renée Banville

OM: Stabat mater by Dvořák
Directed by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Orchestre Metropolitain and the Chœur de l’OM propose a “musical pilgrimage“ with one of the Choral Masterpiece by Dvořák, Stabat Mater. The concert can count on a great cast of soloist: Layla Claire, soprano, Karen Gargill, mezzo-soprano, Brandon Jovanovitch, tenor, and John Relyea, bass. Maison symphonique, March 29, 3 pm.
- Justin Bernard

Bach to Idées heureuses
With April near, the Ensemble Les Idées heureuses, directed by Floria Heyerick, will present a concert for Bach cantatas series. Three cantatas on Palm Sunday and Easter will be performed. On the program: the BWV 4, 39 and 182, among them Christ lag in Todesbanden. Four soloists will join the orchestra: Agnes Zsigovics, soprano, Daniel Taylor, countertenor, Philippe Gagné, tenor, and Normand Richard, bass. Bourgie Hall, Musée des beaux-arts, March 29, 2 pm.
- Justin Bernard

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Cette semaine à Montréal : le 23 au 29 mars

Florian Heyerick

Cette semaine à Montréal : le 23 au 29 mars

Faculté de musique de l'Université de Montréal
Le jeudi 26 mars, le Big Band de l’Université de Montréal présentera Le Big Band jazze avec le trompettiste Randy Brecker sous la direction de Ron Di Lauro. 19h30, salle Claude-Champagne.

Chants Libres – Chants du Capricorne
Opéra performance créé en 1995, Chants du Capricorne est une conception de la soprano et ­metteure en scène Pauline Vaillancourt. Elle recevait le Prix d’interprète de musique contemporaine Flandres-Québec en 1999. Vingt ans plus tard, Chants Libres reprend cette œuvre. Avec la mezzo-soprano Marie-Annick Béliveau. Usine C, 12, 13, 14 mars.
Chants Libres organise une 5e édition de son évènement Oper’Actuel Works in progress qui permet au public de découvrir un éventail des nouvelles tendances et possibilités en opéra actuel. Maison de la culture Frontenac, 27 et 28 mars.
- Renée Banville

La rentrée à Bon-Pasteur
Évènement à noter dans la série du compositeur en résidence Jimmie LeBlanc, Chant d’amour et de mort présente la première partie de la Trilogie de Tristan d’Olivier Messiaen. Avec Kristin Hoff, mezzo-soprano, et Sonia Wheaton-Dudley, piano. 29 mars, 15 h 30            .
- Renée Banville

L’école française chez Arion
Inauguré à Paris en 1725, le Concert Spirituel était chargé de présenter au public parisien, jusqu’à la Révolution, des œuvres de qualité lorsque l’Opéra ne jouait pas. Invitation au Concert Spirituel veut renouer avec ces anciennes découvertes. Avec le chef et soliste Alexander Weimann et le clarinettiste Eric Hoeprich. Conférencière : Lucie Renaud. Au programme : Richter, Stamitz, Gossec. 20, 21, 22 mars, salle Bourgie.
- Renée Banville

OM : Stabat mater de Dvořák
Sous la direction de Yannick Nézet-Séguin, l’Orchestre Métropolitain et le Chœur de l’OM propose un « pèlerinage musical » avec l’une des grandes œuvres chorales de Dvořák, son Stabat Mater. Ce concert pourra compter sur une bonne distribution de solistes : Layla Claire, soprano, Karen Gargill, mezzo-soprano, Brandon Jovanovitch, ténor, et John Relyea, basse. Maison symphonique. 29 mars, 15 h.
- Justin Bernard

Bach aux Idées heureuses
À l’approche du mois d’avril, l’ensemble Les Idées heureuses, dirigé par Florian Heyerick, présentera un concert dans le cadre de la série sur l’intégrale des cantates de Bach. Trois cantates pour le dimanche des Rameaux et pour Pâques seront interprétées. Au programme, les BWV 4, 39 et 182, dont Christ lag in Todesbanden. Quatre solistes se joindront à l’orchestre : Agnes Zsigovics, soprano, Daniel Taylor, contre-ténor, Philippe Gagné, ténor, et Normand Richard, basse. Salle Bourgie du Musée des beaux-arts. 29 mars, 14 h.
- Justin Bernard

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This Week in Toronto (March 23 - 29)

My Toronto Concert Picks for the week of March 23 to 29

~ Joseph So

With spring break over, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is back in business with a very interesting program of pairing Stravinsky's groundbreaking The Rite of Spring with Dvorak's sublime Cello Concerto. This Dvorak piece, together with the Elgar, are for me the two desert island cello concertos - I never get tired of hearing either one. And to have the wonderful Argentinean cellist Sol Gabetta here to play it is an occasion not to be missed. At the helm is the young and dynamic Polish conductor Krzysztof Urbanski. Performances March 27 and 28 7:30 pm at Roy Thomson Hall.

Cellist Sol Gabetta (Photo:

Polish conductor Krzysztof Urbanski (Photo: Lena Knutli)

Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili and British pianist Paul Lewis team up for a joint recital at Koerner Hall on Friday March 27th 8 pm, playing works of Bach, Schubert, Telemann and Beethoven.   The two of them are on a NA tour that takes them to Philadelphia, Boston, Princeton New Jersey, New York as well as Toronto.

Violinist Batiashvili and pianist Paul Lewis at Koerner Hall

Among the crop of up and coming Canadian singers is Etobicoke native baritone Elliot Madore. He possess a warmly appealing lyric baritone, abundant musicality and attractive stage presence. He won the Met Auditions five years ago, and at the time I interviewed him for an article in La Scena Musicale -  Since then, he has gone on to an enviable international career, singing a very successful Don Giovanni in Glyndebourne and Lysander in the Met's The Enchanted Island. He is also making his Munich Opera debut this season as Pelleas in a new production of Pelleas et Melisande, which I will be seeing in July. He is giving a recital under the auspices of Music Toronto on Thursday March 26th 8 pm at Jane Mallett Theatre. The centerpiece is Schumann's Liederkreis, plus songs by Charles Ives and Poulenc.  Canadian pianist Rachel Andrist is at the keyboard. You can experience Mr. Madore in this video clip of his aria from The Enchanted Island.  For more information about the recital this week -

Baritone Elliot Madore

Mezzo Charlotte Burrage and baritone Clarence Frazer are both graduating from the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio this year. They are giving a joint noon hour recital at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre on March 26th. Another chance to hear them will be the Ensemble Performance of The Barber of Seville on May 15th, with Charlotte as Rosina and Frazer as Figaro. The program in this noon hour concert includes songs by Schubert, Brahms and Mahler. Jennifer Szeto is the collaborative pianist.  Be sure to show up an hour early to ensure a seat. 

Mezzo Charlotte Burrage

The mandate of the Canadian Art Song Project, spearheaded by pianist Steven Philcox and tenor Lawrence Wiliford, is to promote Canadian classical songs. They will be giving a recital on Monday, March 24th 8 pm at Walter Hall on the campus of the University of Toronto. Tenor Wiliford, baritone Geoffrey Sirett, and soprano/comedienne Mary Lou Fallis will be presenting Humour, Play and the Canadian Art Song, a program that explores humour and play in contemporary Canadian vocal repertoire, including a new commission by composer/pianist Peter Tiefenbach. Pianist is Steven Philcox.

Soprano and Comedienne Mary Lou Fallis

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Monday, 16 March 2015

This Week in Montreal: March 16 to 22

Napoleon II

This Week in Montreal: March 16 to 22

L’Aiglon at the OSM
The OSM presents the opera L’Aiglon, a little-known work by Jacques Ibert and Arthur Honegger, three times (March 17, 19 and 21) with two European artists in the featured roles, namely the Belgian soprano, Anne-Catherine Gillet and the French baritone, Marc Barrard. They are supported by an impressive array of leading Canadian singers including Étienne Dupuis (as Metternich), Philippe Sly, Marianne Fiset, Tyler Duncan, Julie Bouliane, Michèle Losier and Pascal Charbonneau, all under the direction of Kent Nagano. The OSM is offering a 15% discount to LSM readers for the concert using the promo code “Scena”. Take advantage of this offer today!

Chapelle Bon-Pasteur
The musical ensemble in residence Transmission proposes Transmission en trio… from Schubert to Sokolović. Musicians: Guy Pelletier (flute), Lori Freedman (clarinet), Alain Giguère (violin), Julie Trudeau (cello), Julien Grégoire (percussions) and Brigitte Poulin (piano). March 15, 3:30 pm.
- Renée Banville

Jean-Guihen Queyras at Pollack Concert Hall
Elected “Artist of the Year” by the readers of Diapason and “Best instrumental soloist” at Victoires de la Musique Classique in 2008, Jean-Guihen Queyras has a vast and ambitious repertoire that shows in his discography. March 22, 3:30 pm. Pollack Concert Hall.
- Renée Banville

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Cette semaine à Montréal :le 16 au 22 mars

Napoléon II

Cette semaine à Montréal :le 16 au 22 mars

Orchestre symphonique de Montréal

L’OSM présente L’Aiglon trois fois (les 17, 19 et 21 mars) avec deux invités européens, la soprano belge Anne-Catherine Gillet et le baryton français Marc Barrard dans les rôles principaux, mais aussi avec une brochette d’artistes remarquables. L’OSM offre un rabais de 15% aux lecteurs de La Scena musicale avec le code promo « scena ».

Rentrée à Bon-Pasteur

Ensemble en résidence, Transmission propose Transmission en trio… de Schubert à Sokolović. Musiciens : Guy Pelletier, flûte, Lori Freedman, clarinette, Alain Giguère, violon, Julie Trudeau, violoncelle, Julien Grégoire, percussion, et Brigitte Poulin, piano. 15 mars, 15 h 30.

- Renée Banville

Jean-Guihen Queyras à la salle Pollack

Élu « Artiste de l’Année » par les lecteurs de Diapason et « Meilleur soliste instrumental » aux Victoires de la Musique Classique en 2008, Jean-Guihen Queyras possède un répertoire qu’atteste sa discographie variée et ambitieuse. 22 mars. Les concerts ont lieu à la salle Pollack à 15h30.
- Renée Banville

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Sunday, 15 March 2015

This Week in Toronto (March 16 - 22)

My Toronto Concert Picks for the Week of March 16 to 22

- Joseph So

This being the traditional Spring Break, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is dark. But there are plenty of other interesting musical events to attend.  The Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music is presenting its annual spring opera production, and this year it's Offenbach's frothy La belle Helene. Since its premiere in Paris in 1864, this piece has withstood the test of time as one of the central pillars in French operetta. On first appearance, it seems deceptively easy to stage, but in truth it requires singing actors who not only have beautiful voices but must also look believable and possess plenty of stage charisma, especially Helene herself and her love interest, Paris. I've seen this Offenbach many times, most recently in Santa Fe with the redoubtable Susan Graham - she was formidable indeed!  I look forward to seeing it again, this time with younger singers with fresh voices of the Glenn Gould School. Uri Mayer conducts the RCM Orchestra. The fast-rising stage director Joel Ivany, Artistic Director of the cutting-edge Against the Grain Theatre, will show us what he can do with this scintillating Offenbach bon-bon.   March 18 and 20 7:30 pm at Koerner Hall.

Stage Director Joel Ivany

On March 19th noon at Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building on the campus of the University of Toronto, the Faculty of Music is presenting Liebeslieder, a free noon hour concert of love songs by Johannes Brahms and Canadian composer John Greer. Soloists are mezzo Krisztina Szabo, tenor Lawrence Wiliford, and baritone Peter Barnes, with collaborative pianists Lydia Wong and Steven Philcox.

Mezzo Krisztina Szabo (Photo: Bo Huang)

Given we are in the middle of Lent, there's plenty of religious programming. Top on my list is Tafelmusik's presentation of Bach's St. John Passion, with soprano Julia Doyle, countertenor Daniel Taylor, and tenor Charles Daniels. Ivars Taurins leads the Tafelmusik Orchestra. Performances at its usual venue of Trinity St. Paul Centre on March 19th 8 pm, with additional shows on 20, 21, and 22, this last a matinee.

Bach's St. John Passion (Photo:

One can always count on Music Toronto to bring outstanding chamber ensembles to Toronto. This week, it's the Elias String Quartet. According to the Music Toronto website, this group takes its name from Mendelssohn's Elijah.  It was formed in 1998 and was the recipient of a 2010 Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award. It made its Carnegie debut in 2011, and has recently toured Australia. The performance is on Thursday March 19th at the usual venue of Jane Mallett Theatre. On the program are works by Haydn, Mozart, and Mendelssohn.  You can find out more information on this ensemble at For a sample of their playing, go to

Elias String Quartet (violinists Sara Bitlloch and Donald Grant, violist Martin Saving and cellist Marie Bitlloch)

The Canadian Opera Company is currently just starting rehearsal for Barber of Seville, so no opera as yet!  But this being Spring Break, opera comedienne Kyra Millan is returning to the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre on Thursday March 19 for a free noon hour Opera Interactive. Joining her is bass-baritone Iain MacNeil for arias and sing-along chorus. This is designed to entertain the kids this week, but adults are free to join in!

Poster for Tapestry Opera's presentation (Photo:

A very intriguing event is put on by Tapestry Opera this week, called Tap:Ex Tables Turned, featuring soprano Carla Huhtanen and composer/electronic specialist Nicole Lizee. This is billed as a multi-media concert where remixed selection from Alfred Hitchcock and Sound of Music(!) is played alongside video recordings of Maria Callas, projected alongside the performers. March 21st 8 pm at the Ernest Balmer Studio, 9 Trinity Street in the Distillery District.  For more details, go to

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Monday, 9 March 2015

Cette semaine à Montréal : du 9 au 15 mars

Suzie Templeton (Photo: Hugh Gordon)

Cette semaine à Montréal : du 9 au 15 mars

[English Version]

Festival de la nouvelle trompette

Le festival se déroulera du 12 au 15 mars les deux premières soirées au café Résonance, les suivantes au 185, rue van Horne, angle de l’Esplanade. À raison de deux ou trois groupes par soir, des musiciens québécois, canadiens et même quelques Américains seront au rendez-vous. Musiques actuelles, jazz et même un volet de musique contemporaine sont inscrits au programme de cet évènement situé aux confins des styles.
Marc Chénier

Appassionata – Pierre et le loup en direct

Pour le plaisir des petits et des grands, Appassionata reprend son spectacle alliant musique et cinéma d’animation. Cet incontournable de Prokofiev sera interprété par l’orchestre sur des images du film d’animation de la cinéaste britannique Suzie Templeton. Une présentation des instruments de l’orchestre ouvre le spectacle. Maison de la culture Frontenac, 14 mars, 14 h.
- Renée Banville

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This Week in Montreal: March 9 to 15

Suzie Templeton (Photo: Hugh Gordon)

This Week in Montreal: March 9 to 15

[Version française]

Festival of New Trumpet

Launched in mid-March of last year, FONT (Festival of New Trumpet, Canada) is an extension of a similarly-named event held in the Fall in New York. This pocket-sized fest is spread over four evenings (March 12 to 15), the first two at the Café Résonance (Park and Fairmount), the latter at 185 van Horne, at the corner of ­l’Esplanade, a loft space formerly known as l’Envers.

While jazz (and improvised musics) are its stylistic backbone, it is ­intent on stretching its boundaries, with forays into the contemporary classical music idiom and other experimental forms. Amy Horvey (now with the MSO) premieres new composed music for a five-piece chamber ensemble, while Frédéric Demers performs a piece with electronics, to be premiered at the MNM festival in late February.

On the jazz side of the ledger, Ingrid Jensen will be back again in a new quartet with a special guest, guitar hero Ben Monder. The latter will also perform in duo with Shragge (guitar fans do take note). The ­Altsys Jazz Orchestra will come out swinging, with brassman and co-leader Bill Mahar at the forefront, not to forget its lead Jocelyn Couture and his trademark pyrotechnics. Epps also will chip with his improv stylings at the helm of his trio Pink Saliva.
Marc Chénard

Appassionata – Pierre et le loup en direct

For the delight of children and adults, Appassionata once again puts on this show, which combines music and animated cinema. The orchestra will perform Prokofiev’s must-hear Peter and the Wolf while pictures from the animated movie by British cineaste Suzie Templeton will be presented. The show opens with a presentation of the instruments. Maison de la culture Frontenac, March 14, 2 pm.
- Renée Banville

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Sunday, 8 March 2015

This Week in Toronto (March 9 - 15)

My Toronto Concert Picks for the Week of March 9 to 15

- Joseph So

Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka (Photo:

The big news for voice fans this week is the appearance of Canada's prima donna and Toronto resident, soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in  Vier letzte Lieder.  This is in many ways the ultimate song cycle, really a gift from Richard Strauss to the soprano voice.  If I were ever stranded on a desert island, this is the music I want, preferably sung by Gundula Janowitz, Lucia Popp, Jessye Norman, and Soile Isokoski.  Pieczonka also recorded a beautiful version around 12 or more years ago for Nightingale, a label that belongs to soprano Edita Gruberova and her then husband conductor Friedrich Haider.  I will dig it out for a listen this week. Also on the TSO program is Liebestod from Tristan. I am very curious to hear Pieczonka sing this - could Isolde be in her future?  Rounding out the evening is Beethoven Symphony No. 7.  Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda, who conducted a great William Tell here last December, is at the helm. This is a concert not to be missed.
Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda

Music Toronto is presenting the eminent Austrian pianist Till Fellner in recital on March 10 8 pm at the Jane Mallett Theatre. On the program are works by Bach, Mozart, Schumann, and Alexander Stankovski. Full details at

Austrian pianist Till Fellner (Photo: Fran Kaufman)

The University of Toronto Faculty of Music Opera Division is presenting Dominic Argento's one act chamber opera Postcard from Morocco March 12 to 15 at the MacMillan Theatre for four performances. Based on text by the great Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, the opera is set in a trains station in 1914.  The only Argento piece I've seen is Miss Havisham's Fire with the late, great Rita Shane at the also late, great New York City Opera in 1979.  The style of Postcard has been variously compared to Agatha Christie and Samuel Beckett! This isn't something that one would ever see at the COC so this is your chance!  Michael Cavanagh directs and Leslie Dala conducts.

American composer Dominic Argento

We are in the middle of the 40 days of Lent so there's plenty of religious programming. An intriguing one is the Arvo Part's Passio on March 10 and 11 7:30 pm at the Church of the Holy Trinity, presented by Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. It's a piece not often performed. According the the publicity material, this performance celebrates the 80th birthday of the Estonian composer with a performance of his 1982 setting.  Soloists are tenor Michael Colvin and bass Jeremy Bowes. Noel Edison conducts.

Estonian composer Arvo Part

Soprano Jennifer Taverner (Photo: Katie Cross)

The mandate of the Canadian Music Centre is to support, preserve, and promote the work of Canadian composers.  There is a small recital space in the CMC headquarters on 20 St. Joseph Street in downtown Toronto where they put on many concerts. This Friday March 13 at the unusual time of 5:30 pm, soprano Jennifer Taverner is giving a recital of the vocal works of Jean Coulthard (1908 - 2000).  Given today (March 8) is International Women's Day, what better way to celebrate than to program the work of a woman composer - okay, March 13 is close enough!   Program includes The Christina Songs, Les chansons du coeur, Two Songs from the Zulu, as well as the Ontario premiere of The Woman I Am (2010) by Lloyd Burritt, a former student of Jean Coulthard.

Trumpet virtuoso Jens Lindemann

Compared to strings and piano, brass concerts are a rarity. The Women's Musical Club of Toronto is presenting a recital by the trumpet virtuoso Jens Lindemann on Thursday March 12 1:30 pm at Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building on the campus of University of Toronto. According to the WMCT website, the program is Brassfire, an eclectic mix of musical genres, that also includes a piano/bass/drum trio, with Kristian Alexandrov (piano/percussion), Mike Downes (bass) and Ted Warren (drums).Lindemann is also giving a trumpet masterclass on Friday the Thirteenth - yikes - 9 am to noon at Walter Hall.

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Friday, 6 March 2015

Review: Call Me Debbie

Call Me Debbie: True Confessions of a Down-to-Earth Diva
Deborah Voigt
With Natasha Stoynoff (271 pp.)
New York: Harper Collins (2015)
ISBN: 978-0-06-211827-1

Confession time: when it comes to reading singers’ biographies, I’m a bit of a junkie. Like many passionate opera lovers, I am interested in the artist, but also curious about the person behind the artistry. A sub-genre is the autobiography or memoir, never mind a lot of these tomes listing a co-author or ghostwriter – one needs to read these volumes with a generous helping of salt. During my undergraduate, my first memoir was an old, dusty university library copy of Australian prima donna Nellie Melba’s Melodies and Memories (1926). Ghostwritten by her secretary, the book comes across as formal, stately, ladylike and not terribly interesting. A much more rewarding read was the wickedly funny Men, Women and Tenors (1937) by fellow Kiwi-Aussie diva Frances Alda. After plowing though this thick, 300-page volume, I was hooked.

Perhaps it’s a sign of the changing times, the generally staid classical singers’ memoirs have evolved into something more daring, with more revelations and exposés and less of the nitty-gritty, boring bits that read like a tedious chronicle of past performances. To be sure, many are still not quite tell-all tales, or the narrative is so reverential that it sounds like something written by a publicist. The cynic in me couldn’t help a smirk at the title of a well-known Italian soprano’s memoir called “…More Than A Diva.” Industry insiders will easily recognize the ones that have been sanitized for public consumption, or the presence of glaring omissions regarding private lives, such as the recent book by a great African-American diva. Some artists use the memoir to settle old scores, such as the one by a famous Russian soprano. Perhaps it’s understandable why a singer gets evasive when it comes to personal details - after all a memoir is a sort of “performance” and few artists would willingly expose the underside of a life for scrutiny. For the few more forthcoming, the result can be a riveting read - Christa Ludwig, Barbara Hendricks, and Galina Vishnevskaya come to mind.

Now we have a new book that sets the tell-all bar very high indeed: Call Me Debbie by American soprano Deborah Voigt. One of the most celebrated sopranos of our time, Voigt in her prime was a superb Wagner and Strauss singer. To those lucky enough to have experienced her on the opera and recital stages, it likely left an indelible impression. (I use past tense because her instrument has changed with the passage of time, and she seems to have given up her core Wagner and Strauss repertoire in favour of musicals and one-woman shows) Before this book, we knew nothing about her private struggles as an artist and a woman. Born to a devout Southern Baptist, but sadly dysfunctional, family in Illinois, Voigt’s talent was recognized early. She recounts an epiphany at age 14 when she heard God telling her, “You’re here to sing.” To her religious parents, singing belonged only in church for the glory of God. This was just the first of many inner conflicts in her young life that likely contributed to her multiple addictions – to food, alcohol, and men.

In the book, Voigt chronicles in detail the ups and downs of her relationships with her parents, her struggles with an increasingly serious weight problem, and her tendency to fall in love with the wrong guy. To deal with all these issues in her life while juggling a demanding international career, Voigt developed a dependency on alcohol that became increasingly dire. While she managed to keep her alcoholism from interfering with her work, she wasn’t so lucky with the weight issue. The matter came to a head in 2004 when she was released from a Covent Garden Ariadne auf Naxos for being too heavy for “The Little Black Dress.” With a signed contract, she had every right to sing. Royal Opera chose to release her with full pay, and Voigt used the fee to pay for gastric bypass surgery. But a medical intervention is not a cure, and her old pattern of behaviour persisted. The narrative on how she passed out for thirty-six hours and woke up with unexplained bruises all over her body is chilling. The book graphically details her addiction issues and the slow climb out of the abyss through recovery, attending AA meetings and various rehabs. Reading her travails might satisfy the voyeur in some of us, but it also makes for decidedly uncomfortable reading. One gets a true appreciation of the fact that great singers like Voigt may have the voice of an angel, but many of them have feet of clay.

If there is a downside to Call Me Debbie, it has to do with having focused so much on the singer’s personal issues that there’s little room left in the book on her art – what made her famous in the first place. Other than some discussions of her signature roles of Brunnhilde, Sieglinde and Ariadne, heroines that are somehow tied in with the singer’s relationship and self esteem issues, there’s precious little about anything else musical. We learn little about Voigt the musician, about her approaches and insights into the music she sings. Yes there are the occasional tidbits on colleagues, all treated in a surprisingly genteel fashion – for example she adores Domingo and makes allowances for the great Luciano. Comments on Jose Cura’s oversized ego is about as catty as Voigt gets. The two evil mezzos with whom Voigt crossed swords remain nameless. At the end of the day, the book really isn’t about music, but addiction and recovery. Its tell-all style, written in a relaxed, archetypal American lingo (no profanities spared!) will endear it to the general reader, even if the person has little interest in opera. It makes the absence of an index and performance history almost irrelevant. It’s an absorbing and interesting read for anyone curious about Deborah Voigt, the woman and the artist. 

- Joseph So

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Thursday, 5 March 2015

Piano Hero 2015: Afterthoughts for Future Directions

Robert Rowat
Piano Hero 2015: Afterthoughts for Future Directions

By Jennifer Liu

This past January, hundreds of amateur pianists across Canada sent videos of themselves playing to CBC’s Piano Hero contest. Thomas Yu emerged as the winner of the competition, which included a voting component as well as a judging round. A periodontist by profession, Yu’s polished performance of the Schumann-Liszt transcription of Widmung received unanimous approval from the judges, including concert pianists Janina Fialkowska, David Jalbert, and Stewart Goodyear.

The final count totalled 243 video submissions from across the country, as diverse in style as the pianists were in background and experience. Video views topped 540,000, a testament to the CBC’s ability to reconnect with Canadian classical music enthusiasts and breathe new life into a field that is sometimes considered to be stagnating. It’s a winning formula for everyone: participants were able to showcase their playing, while the CBC improved its image as a supporter of the arts after recent cuts to its classical music programming.

Robert Rowat, project leader for the contest and community producer for classical music at CBC Music, offers an inside perspective on the competition’s logistics, as well as insights gained from the inaugural edition.

LSM: Can we expect another edition of Piano Hero in the future?

Robert Rowat: We were really impressed and encouraged by the level of participation in Piano Hero - not only by the number of people who entered, but also by the public's response. We will decide whether we will do a second edition in the next few months.

What lessons can be drawn from this year's inaugural contest?

RR: The primary lesson we learned was not to underestimate the amateur classical music community in Canada. When we decided to do this contest, we suspected that we might tap into a fun, engaged subculture, but we were not prepared for the overwhelming reaction. The amateur classical music community seems to be thriving, and is very present online and on social media, despite perceptions to the contrary.

The other major lesson we learned is that a music contest can be run entirely online. There are already several excellent competitions for classical musicians in Canada: Canadian Music Competition, OSM Competition, Honens International Piano Competition, Montreal International Musical Competition, to name just a few. We wanted to see if an entirely web-based contest, using video only, and making use of social media and online voting, could coexist with the other more traditional type of competitions. It's our hope that Piano Hero adds another, complementary dimension to this community.

Was the competition pitched in the same way to the anglophone and francophone communities?

RR: We approached the French and English communications in the same way. We used our extensive on-air networks to get the word out. We also spent some time contacting music schools and cultural institutions from coast to coast. And we used the social media networks of CBC Music and ICI Musique to reach the widest possible public.

How were the jury members selected?

RR: A few producers from CBC Music and ICI Musique had a brainstorming session on whom we should approach to be on our jury. We needed people with a profile in both English and French Canada. We also tried to think of pianists who would be supportive of a contest geared towards amateur pianists, and carried out entirely online. Our three jurors — Janina Fialkowska, Stewart Goodyear and David Jalbert — were very generous with their time and told us they had a good time judging the finalists.

Was there any difference of opinion between the judges when it came time to pick the grand prize winner?

RR: We used a mathematical judging system, to make sure the judging of the finalists was fair. When the results were tallied, we reached out to each juror to make sure they were happy with the winner, and all three expressed their satisfaction.

How did you come up with the concept of showcasing pianists exclusively?

RR: I was the project leader for Piano Hero, but a few key people conceived of it and worked hard to make it a reality. Guylaine Picard, executive producer at ICI Musique, played an important role throughout.

The idea to run an online video-based contest for amateur classical pianists was first discussed about two years ago at a meeting of CBC/Radio-Canada music producers. It was felt that the piano was probably the most ubiquitous instrument among amateur classical musicians, and would lend itself best to a video-based contest, partly because its solo repertoire does not need accompaniment.

So, did the contest live up to expectations?

RR: The outcome definitely exceeded our best expectations. We consider it to be a big win for the amateur classical piano community. We're really happy we decided to do it.

CBC is following up on the theme for open call for musicians with their 2015 edition of Searchlight, open to musical acts across all disciplines through March 29. 

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Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Cette semaine à Montréal : le 2 au 8 mars

Ensemble Constantinople (Photo: J. Michel)

Cette semaine à Montréal : le 2 au 8 mars

L’Orient imaginaire par l’OSM
On a eu l’excellente idée, à l’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, de commander une pièce à Kiya Tabassian pour un programme de concert qui compte aussi des œuvres de Saint-Saëns, Dukas et Strauss, en lien avec l’exposition Merveilles et mirages de l’orientalisme : de l’Espagne au Maroc, Benjamin-Constant en son temps (jusqu’au 31 mai au Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal) « L’œuvre est inspirée des musiques arabo-andalouses, dit Tabassian, mais je ne voulais pas faire des arrangements pour grand orchestra de mélodies traditionnelles.

Ça reste une musique très personnelle, mais avec les couleurs persanes qui m’habitent, et puis il y a aussi la voix de Françoise Atlan, avec qui je travaille depuis plusieurs années, et aussi Didem Bashar, qui joue du kanoun [instrument de la famille des cithares sur table]. C’est la première fois que je compose pour un orchestre symphonique, et c’est un grand plaisir, bien sûr. Je dois dire que c’est une œuvre qui me surprend moi-même! » L’OSM présentera L’Orient imaginaire le 4 mars à 20h et le 8 mars à 14h30 à la
Maison symphonique de Montréal.

À surveiller durant MNM
Du 26 février au 7 mars, la 7e édition du festival Montréal/Nouvelles Musiques présentera sous le thème "Environnements et nouvelles technologies" une trentaine de concerts dans 11 lieux différents. Quelques faits saillants:

À tout seigneur tout honneur, c'est la Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ), productrice de l'événement, qui ouvre les festivités avec cette touche de démesure qui caractérise la vision de son directeur artistique Walter Boudreau. Le programme compte une vidéo-musique (Yan Breuleux, Soizic Lebrat - 2012), une pièce pour piano préparé (John Cage - 1945), des extraits du film Ce soir on improvise (Raymond Gervais, Michel Di Torre - 1974) et une réorchestration, par Boudreau et René Bosc, de l'œuvre radiophonique "injouable" Atlantide (1985), de Michel-Georges Brégent (Salle Pierre-Mercure, 26 février - 19h).

Il faut aussi mentionner le concert de l'ensemble Onix, du Mexique, pour un double concert multimédia (Agora Hydro-Québec, 4 mars, 21h et 23h).

N'oublions pas les évènements gratuits: les 150 voix des Papes hurlants de l'ensemble Mruta Mertsi sous la direction d'André Pappathomas (Complexe Desjardins, 29 février - 23h) ou les 100 guitaristes de l'ensemble Instruments of Happiness Extreme, célébrant le 100e anniversaire de naissance du légendaire guitariste Les Paul sous la direction de Tim Brady (même endroit, 7 mars - 15h).
- Réjean Beaucage

Frédéric Demers présente, dans le cadre du festival Montréal/Nouvelles Musique 2015, un programme déjanté. Au menu : électroacoustique et foisonnement de sons hyper vibrés avec trompette si bémol, cornet à pistons, trompette tibétaine, bugle et trompette naturelle, le tout enrobé d’un soupçon de théâtralité. Salle Hexagram, Université Concordia, 2 mars, 23 h.
- Renée Banville

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