La Scena Musicale

Saturday, 31 January 2009

This Week in Toronto (Jan. 31 - Feb. 6)

Tenor Michael Schade
(Photo courtesy of Moira Johnson Consulting)

By Joseph So

This week's highlight is the Canadian premiere of Dvorak's Rusalka. This rarely performed opera is best known for its hit aria - "Song to the Moon", sung by the water nymph Rusalka. Frequently programmed in concerts and recital CDs by sopranos blessed with silvery tone and good top notes, this aria is really the only genuine hit tune in the opera. I have seen this piece twice, once with Renee Fleming and the other time with Czech diva Gabriela Benackova, both memorable in terms of star power. The tenor role of the Prince, considered a dramatic tenor role, has a few good moments, but overall it really isn't a particularly showy role. Canadian Ben Heppner has done well with this, although he appears to have dropped it from his active repertoire.

Now we have Canadian tenor Michael Schade trying his hand in this high-flying part. Schade started his career as a Mozart specialist, but with the passage of time, the voice has grown heavier and bigger. Now such roles as Idomeneo and Tito are in his repertoire, although he still sings the lyric tenor roles of Tamino and Ottavio. The Prince will be a bit of a stretch for him vocally, as the role requires a large, heroic sound more in line with the voices of a Heppner, Paul Frey, Peter Seiffert, Siegfried Jerusalem, Johan Botha, and the late Sergej Larin. In the title role is American Julie Makerov, who was a very good Freia and Donna Elvira for the COC. I also saw her several times, including a marvelous Tosca in Sarasota some years ago. I look forward to her Rusalka especially after being disappointed that her all important Mi tradi was cut from the recent COC Doon Giovanni, an idiotic decision as far as I am concerned. Also in the cast are Richard Paul Fink, a local favorite. The production comes from Theater Erfurt. I have not seen the dress rehearsal, but as I understand it, the sets are typical regional German house Regietheater type, ie, bleak, dark, short on colour, and symbolic in approach. I will reserve my judgement until I have seen the show. However, as is typical of new-fangled productions that favor "concept" and "meaning" over practicality, functionality and visual appeal, these modern sets can be a minefield for the perfomers. I understand at the dress rehearsal, the fountain with water onstage where the singers splashes about meant an inevitable wet floor. When Michael Schade took a fish bowl out of the fountain, he slipped on the wet floor that sent him flying, landing on his behind right in center stage - not a very elegant staging for the Prince!!! The fishbowl careened toward the lip of the stage, thankfully without tumbling into the auditorium. Stage accidents do happen, but it would be nice if stage directors and set designers take the welfare of singers into consideration when they come up with their "concepts"...

Speaking of tenor Schade - this Canadian is known as a superlative recitalist, and he will be giving a recital at the Four Seasons Amphitheatre on Tuesday Feb. 3 at noon. It is free and not to be missed. It is first come first serve so get there early!

Labels: , , , ,

Today's Birthdays in Music: January 31 (Schubert, Glass)

1797 - Franz Schubert, Vienna, Austria; composer


Schubert documentary, Part 1

Schubert documentary, Part 2

Piano Quintet in A ("The Trout"), 4th mvt.  (Daniel Barenboim, Zubin Mehta, Itzhak Perlman, Jacqueline DuPré, Pinchas Zuckerman)

1937 - Philip Glass, Baltimore, MD, U.S.A.; composer


La Jolla Symphony and Chorus perform the North American premiere of Glass's Cello Concerto (Wendy Sutter, cello; Steven Schick, conductor)

Labels: , , ,

Friday, 30 January 2009

Today's Birthdays in Music: January 30 (Finley, Harrell)

1960 - Gerald Finley, Montreal, Canada; opera bass-baritone

Official website

Gerald Finley sings "Batter, my heart" from John Adams's Doctor Atomic (Metropolitan Opera, 2008)

1944 - Lynn Harrell, New York City, U.S.A.; cellist


Lynn Harrell's Cello Workshop

Lynn Harrell and James Levine play Mendelssohn's Cello Sonata No. 2 in D, 1st mvt.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Today's Birthday in Music: January 29 (Delius)

1862 - Frederick Delius, Bradford, England; composer

Official website

"La Calinda" from Koanga

"Sunset" from Florida Suite (Welsh National Opera Orchestra, conducted by Charles Mackerras)

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Today's Birthdays in Music: January 28 (Arthur Rubinstein, Tavener)

1887 - Arthur Rubinstein, Łódź, Poland; pianist

Arthur Rubinstein - The Artist

Arthur Rubinstein plays Chopin's Scherzo in B flat minor, Op. 31 (1973 recording)

1944 - John Tavener, Wembley, England; composer

John Tavener - Life

The Choir of King's College, Cambridge, sings "The Lamb" (1998)

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Met Trashes Gluck' s Orfeo ed Euridice

Review by Paul E. Robinson

Classical Travels
In 2006, while he was gearing up to take over as the Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb stated that one of his major goals was to “broaden the audience and make it younger at the same time.” He also made it clear that he believed the way to do this was to make more extensive use of new technology and bring in directors from film and Broadway who could bring the quality of the theatrical experience at the Met up to the level of its singing and orchestral playing.
Three years later and we are beginning to get a sense of Gelb’s achievements. He has certainly made use of technology by making Met HD Live a widely-appreciated fact of life along with more extensive use of broadcasts of Met performances on Sirius Satellite Radio. These innovations have doubtlessly won thousands of new listeners for the Met. On the other hand, while new stage directors have been brought in to shake things up, their work has often been disappointing. The latest offering, Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice with choreographer Mark Morris doubling as stage director, is yet another recent Met production notable both for its silliness and its extravagance.
Big Hall the Wrong Way to Go With Orfeo
The first question that needs to be asked is why a small-scale classical opera from 1762 is being performed in a house seating 3,800 people? This is an opera designed for small theaters of the sort that were the norm in the mid-Eighteenth Century. Gluck’s orchestra was small – no more than 30 players – and there would have been a small chorus and dancers and only three solo singers. In the Met production, conductor James Levine was true to period style in limiting the size of his orchestra, but this nod to scholarship only served to underline the absurdity of the situation; such a small orchestra can barely be heard in such an enormous space. So the whole project is misconceived from the start.
Choreographer as Director Should Have Worked Well
Next, someone familiar with the piece decided that while it is not hard to find solo singers and a chorus to do justice to Orfeo, it is much harder to figure out how to deal with all the dancing required in the piece. Not only is there a lot of it, but it is even harder to figure out correct period style for dance than it is for music. In the latter case, at least we have the instruments from the period to give us some clues.
It is a worthy idea, therefore, to put a choreographer in charge of staging Orfeo, but only if that choreographer has made a study of Eighteenth Century dance style. Unfortunately, Mr. Morris gave no indication whatsoever that he knew anything about this subject. What is more, he appeared to take the view that it didn’t matter anyway; he was quite prepared to do as he pleased. And so he did. The result was a mishmash of classical and modern dance clichés.
One particular dance sequence – the scene in the Elysian Fields – appeared to be borrowing from the iconic Monty Python skit dealing with the Ministry of Silly Walks; it was that awkward and risible.
Patchwork Costumes & Hollywood Squares Set Design
In this production, as in too many recent Met productions, we had the patchwork costume problem. Although Isaac Mizrahi was credited with “designing” them, once again the costumes appeared to have been put together by the cast members themselves, perhaps rifled on their way to work from bags intended for Good Will.
Superfluous and expensive sets are also a trademark Met feature. This week we had an enormous steel fire escape-type structure lowered into place from the flies. Stephanie Blythe as Orfeo walked up to the first level of this contraption, then back down again. And away it went never to be seen again!
There now appears to be a full-fledged Hollywood Squares school of set design ensconced at the Met. We saw it earlier this season in “Le Damnation de Faust” and “Dr. Atomic,” and now in Orfeo ed Euridice. The basic concept is to have people seated in cubicles three or four tiers high staring out at the audience.
In this production, the people were made up and costumed in all different ways to suggest well-known folks from the past. It was hard to tell exactly who was whom, but I thought I saw the likenesses of Henry VIII, Ghandi, Elizabeth I and Abraham Lincoln.
The general idea, according to director Morris, is that these are ‘dead people’ looking on as interested observers as Orfeo attempts to bring the dead Euridice back to the land of the living. On a more practical level, it was a way for the director to keep his busy chorus on stage and make them somehow part of the action. From time to time these dead personages made stylized and incomprehensible gestures. Some of these gestures even appeared to resemble similar gestures made by the dancers on stage. The one that particularly puzzled me was in the manner of holding an invisible beachball. The gospel lyric “He’s got the whole world in his hands” comes to mind. Perhaps again Morris was invoking something from Monty Python.
Vocal Brilliance and Orchestral Precision Don’t Save the Day!
On the musical side, this production fared much better. Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe has the ideal voice for Orfeo. It was effortless and beautiful from top to bottom. Danielle De Niese and Heidi Grant Murphy were very good in the other roles. James Levine made little effort to approximate period style but he and his players contributed immaculate precision and expressive phrasing.
I have often complained in the past that on Met broadcasts the orchestra is recorded at a much lower level than the singers, much to the detriment of the score as a whole. This was not the case with Orfeo. In fact, we had the opposite problem; as if to compensate for its size, the little chamber orchestra positively boomed out of the speakers while the voices appeared to be recorded at just the right volume.
In summary, this opera has no business being presented in a huge theater like the Met and a production this misguided made the worst possible case for it.
On the basis of what I have seen so far this season, I am not surprised that ticket sales have fallen and that Gelb has been forced to cancel or replace four productions planned for next season. The current and global economic mess is mostly to blame, but it doesn’t help that artistic judgment is lacking, that poor directors are hired over and over again and that vast amounts of money are being wasted on dreadful productions.
To be fair, we did see a terrific Salome earlier this season. Still to come are Lucia di Lammermoor with Netrebko and Villazon (Feb. 7), and La Sonnambula with Dessay and Florez (March 21), and ‘hope,’ after all, springs eternal.
Paul E. Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar and Sir Georg Solti: his Life and Music, both available at
Add to Technorati Favorites

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Today's Birthdays in Music: January 27 (W.A. Mozart, Ehnes)

1756 - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Vienna, Austria; composer


Symphony No. 41 in  C, K.551("Jupiter"), 3rd mvt. (Jeffrey Tate conducts the English Chamber Orchestra)

Clarinet concerto in A, K.622, 2nd mvt. (Eric Hoeprich, basset clarinet; orchestra of the Kölner Akademie, Michael Alexander Willens conducting.  Festival la Chaise-Dieu Abbatiale, 2005)

Leontyne Price sings "L'amerò, sarò costante" from Il Re Pastore with Izthak Perlman, violin; Zubin Mehta conducts the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (1980).

1976 - James Ehnes, Brandon, Canada; violinist

Official website

James Ehnes plays the Largo from J.S. Bach's Sonata for violin solo #3 in C, BWV 1005

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, 26 January 2009

Today's Birthdays in Music: January 26 (Furtwängler, Dudamel)

1886 - Wilhelm Furtwängler, Berlin, Germany; conductor, composer

"Genius forged in the cauldron of war"

Wilhelm Furtwängler conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in the Overture to Wagner's Die Meistersinger (1942)

1981 - Gustavo Dudamel, Barquisimeto, Venezuela; conductor, violinist

Gustavo Dudamel website

Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Simon Bolivar Orchestra in Arturo Márquez's Danzón No. 2 (Promenade Concerts, London, 2007)

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Today's Birthday in Music: January 25 (Lutosławski)

1913 - Witold Lutosławski, Warsaw, Poland; composer


Witold Lutosławski conducts the London Sinfonietta in his Chain 1

Martha Argerich and Gabriela Montero play Lutosławski's Variations on a Theme of Paganini (Verbier Festival, 2007)

Labels: , ,

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Today's Birthdays in Music: January 24 (Farinelli, Hoffmann)

1705 - Farinelli (Carlo Boschi), Andria, Italy; castrato soprano

1776 - E.T.A. Hoffmann, Königsberg, Germany; author, composer, music critic

Harp Quintet by E.T.A. Hoffmann (Floraleda Sacchi, harp, with the Arion String Quartet)

Labels: , , , , , ,

Friday, 23 January 2009

Van Zweden Galvanizes Dallas Symphony!

Review by Paul E. Robinson

Classical Travels
Conductors come and go, but it is always a thrill to see one who really makes a difference. At the beginning of this season, Jaap Van Zweden assumed the music directorship of the Dallas Symphony (DSO) and musical life in Dallas has not been the same since.
Van Zweden is not your Hollywood central casting conductor – in fact if you met him on the street you might mistake him for a wrestler or a weight-lifter – but conducting has less to do with how you look than what you can do with an orchestra.
Van Zweden is obviously a driven man and he expects that same drive from his players. At the concert I attended, there was no one sitting back and taking it easy. Instead of the lazy, half-hearted bowing one sees so often in string sections, every man and woman was bowing as if their lives depended on it. Not since Sir Georg Solti commanded a podium have I seen such intensity from a conductor.
Van Zweden’s message to the players? Music is serious stuff - I stayed up all night to figure this piece out and the least you can do is practice every waking hour until you are able to play it perfectly! Then we will start to work on interpretation and phrasing.
As it happens, earlier in his career, Van Zweden did play under Solti and other great conductors when he was concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, recently voted the number one orchestra in the world by a group of respected luminaries. Van Zweden learned the repertoire as a player in a world-class orchestra and he also learned what it takes to make music at the highest level. He has clearly brought that attitude to Dallas and the DSO players seem to like it a lot.
What I heard at the Myerson Symphony Center was remarkable by any standard and as a glimpse of things to come, it was tremendously exciting.
The concert was a somewhat belated New Year’s celebration, loosely modeled on the annual event by the Vienna Philharmonic broadcast worldwide. This means music by the Strauss family, and it also means finishing up with the likes of the Blue Danube Waltz and the Radetzky March. To give the occasion an American flavor, Van Zweden ended the evening with Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever, and earlier had presented Leroy Anderson’s somewhat dated novelty piece, The Typewriter.
Stokowski’s Orchestration of Pictures Rivals Ravel
The tour de force of the evening was Leopold Stokowski’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s piano piece, Pictures at an Exhibition. There are those who still wonder whether Stokowski actually wrote the many transcriptions attributed to him. There is strong evidence that much of this work was really done by Lucien Cailliet, a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra in the Stokowski era (1912-1936). The fact is that this orchestration is a fine alternative to the famous Ravel arrangement of the Mussorgsky original.
One of the devices Mussorgsky used to link the ‘pictures’ (by the composer’s friend Victor Hartmann) depicted in the piece is the ‘promenade” - walking music, if you will - as the visitor strolls from one exhibit to another in the gallery. The piece begins with just such a promenade and in the Ravel version, it is given to a solo trumpet. It is one of the best-known passages in classical music.
The Stokowski version starts quite differently, with rich and dark sonorities in the string section (with some reinforcement from an organ), and in the performance by Van Zweden and the DSO one was taken aback by the weight and opulence of the sound. This was the special quality of the hall yielding to a conductor skilled at eliciting the sound he wants from an orchestra. The performance went on from there to surprise and thrill us with playing of razor-sharp precision and a vast range of color.
Curiosities abound in Stokowski’s version of Pictures. Nearly always, Stokowski chose instruments and combinations of instruments far removed from the Ravel version. In several sections of the score, however, he seems to be saying - ‘Ravel’s choice of instrument was so inspired and so right I couldn’t possibly do better’; ergo, both the Ravel and Stokowski orchestrations feature a solo saxophone in 'Il Vecchio Castello' and a solo trumpet in 'Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle.'
Van Zweden, DSO & Myerson Symphony Center - Triumphant Trio!
I look forward to returning to Dallas for more music-making from Jaap Van Zweden and his newly-galvanized Dallas Symphony. I’ll certainly have a lot more to say about Van Zweden, but I can’t emphasize enough that Dallas has one of the world’s great concert halls.
There are only a handful of concert halls in North America that come anywhere close to the quality of the Myerson Symphony Center. What makes it great? In a few words - the sound jumps off the stage and involves the listener. The sound enhances the timbre of every instrument in the orchestra and makes them sound well together. It helps too that the Myerson looks so good inside and out, and that you can get a good meal there!
Later this year, the Myerson will be joined by the new Winspear Opera House and the Wyly Theatre just across the way. Within the span of a few blocks, one can also enjoy the treasures of the Dallas Museum of Art, the Nasher Sculpture Center and the Trammell and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art.
This is the Dallas Arts District, a work in progress for many years but now coming to completion. Big D is about to become bigger and better than ever.
From Triumphant Trios to Cuatro Leches at La Duni – Dallas Delights!
It is not in the Arts District, but La Duni, a Latin Café on Mckinney - where the Cuatro Leches cake alone would keep me coming back - is one of the places we always visit on our return trips to Dallas, where we lived several years.
There is much more to savor at La Duni, however, than cake; for example, several dozen kinds of coffee, and a wide variety of amazing tortas (sandwiches), including our current favorite - the 'Choripan' with Argentinian sausage, avocado and manchego cheese stuffed in a fresh popover and served with yucca fries!
La Duni’s McKinney Street location opened in 2001 with founders Espartaco and Dunia Borga at the helm, and there are now two other locations in Dallas. Word on the street – actually, from one of the La Duni staff members – is that within a year or so, there will be a La Duni in Austin. Great news for Austinites, like us!
Paul Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar; Sir Georg Solti: his Life and Music; and Stokowski (Spring 2009), all available at

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Copenhagen's Pricy New Concert Hall

Six years under construction, Copenhagen's new concert hall opened Saturday night with a gala, "invitation only" audience and the Danish queen in attendance. The hall, coming in at nearly 300 million dollars, is close to the cost of Disney Hall in Los Angeles - which still narrowly holds the record for most expensive.
Set in a grim industrial area north of the city center, the 1800 seat auditorium is only the largest in the building which also houses three smaller venues for chamber music, jazz and other events. It is all part of a complex for the Danish radio and television service (DR Byen - Danish Radio Town) and the 3000 employees have already been relocated from downtown to the new site.
A dramatic cobalt-blue cube, its fabric-like exterior hosts video projections but will also show the activity inside on performance nights. Inside, in a dramatic reference to the interior of Berlin's famed Philharmonie, blond wood and "vinyard" shaped sections completely surround the stage.
Pritzker Prize winning architect Jean Nouvel's design makes a major architectual statement for the main orchestra in Denmark, the Danish National Symphony. It will also host visiting orchestras and recitalists. Two years overdue and with a hugh cost overun, it could suggest what the new Philharmonie in Paris, by the same architect, might be like. That is scheduled for 2012 but final approvals and construction has not yet started.
You can see the spectacular interior and who is in the Royal Box on opening night when Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman sings Massenet's L'extase de la vierge. This is from the live telecast Saturday night:
- Frank Cadenhead

Labels: , ,

This Week in Toronto (Jan 24 - Jan 30)

Photo: Adrianne Pieczonka sings her first-ever Leonore in Beethoven's Fidelio for the COC

(photo credit: Andreas Klingberg)

By Joseph So

The Toronto vocal music scene in this, the last wintry week in January, is dominated by the return of Beethoven's Fidelio to the Canadian Opera Company, in a co-production with L'Opera national du Rhin and Opera Nurnberg. The COC has assembled a superb cast, where all the prinicpals - except one - are well known to and well loved by Toronto audiences. It stars Canada's reigning prima donna, soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, in the title role of Leonore. She is making an infrequent foray into the dramatic soprano repertoire and it will be her debut in this role. I think this Fidelio may actually be her debut in a trouser role! Slim and statuesque, Pieczonka certainly looks more believable as a man than many sopranos who sing Leonore, Christine Brewer and Elizabeth Connell, for example. While the Canadian won't have quite the powerhouse volume or the cutting edge to her tone as these two dramatic soprano ladies, Pieczonka will bring her trademark gleaming tone and dramatic conviction to Leonore.

American tenor Jon Villars was to return to the COC after several seasons as Florestan. He last sang here as Calaf in Turandot. So it came as a bombshell when it was announced that Villars had been replaced after Wednesday's final dress reheaersal. There had been disagreement between him and the conductor Gregor Buhl over tempi throughout the rehearsal process, and the disagreemenet came to a head when, according to eye witnesses at the final dress, Villars threw up his hands and walked off the stage in the final ensemble. It was also reported that he was in poor voice throughout the rehearsal period and appeared unprepared - rather strange when you think he has sung Florestan previously as well as having recorded it with Sir Simon Rattle. Villars is certainly a "big name" and it is regrettable that he has departed, but the COC were able to pull not one but two Florestans out of the hat! It was announced Thursday that Icelandic tenor Jon Ketilsson and Canadian tenor Richard Margison will share the ten performances of Fidelio, with Ketilsson singing the first five. Heldentenors don't grow on trees, so my guess is that the COC had been working behind the scenes to line up the two replacements just in case. The internationally ranked Ketilsson has sung Florestan in Gothenberg and Marseille. Canadian tenor Richard Margison has sung with the COC on several occasions in the past - I remember a Trovatore about seven or eight years ago. He has been expanding his repertoire into the Germanic heldentenor repertory, such as Bacchus and Florestan, the latter he has sung at the Met and Vancouver. This will be his debut in the new opera house.

The evil Don Pizarro is taken by another COC stalwart, bass Gidon Saks, who has made operatic villains his specialty all over the world. His Scarpia in the Bregenz Tosca, now available on DVD, is guaranteed to make your skin crawl. He last sang with the COC in the title role of Boris Godunov. Swedish bass Mats Almgren, who made a sensational COC debut as Hagen in the inaugural Ring Cycle, returns as the more sympathetic Rocco. Rounding out the principals will be current COC Ensemble member Adam Luther as Jacquino and former Ensemble member soprano Virginia Hatfield as Marzelline. German conductor Gregor Buhl, who received critical acclaim in his conducting of the Ring Cycle in Stockholm, will make his COC debut. Performances of Fidelio run from Jan. 24 to Feb. 24 at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Today's Birthdays in Music: January 23 (Clementi, Żylis-Gara)

1752 - Muzio Clementi, Rome, Italy; composer

Muzio Clementi Society website

Angela Hewitt plays the Presto from Clementi's Piano Sonata No.. 25, Op. 5

1935 - Teresa Żylis-Gara, Wilno, Poland; opera and concert soprano

Biography and pictures

Teresa Żylis-Gara sings "Gdyby rannem slonkiem" from Stanislav Moniuszko's Halka

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Breaking News: Jon Ketilsson COC's new Florestan

Photo: Icelandic tenor Jon Ketilsson, COC's new Florestan

(photo courtesy of IMG Artists)

By Joseph So

This just in:

In the soon-to-open COC production of Fidelio, American tenor Jon Villars has just been replaced by Icelandic tenor Jon Ketilsson. He will sing the first five performances of Florestan, with Canadian tenor Richard Margison singing the latter five performances. There is no information at this point as to the cause leading to the cast change at such a late stage - opening night is only two days away, on Saturday, Jan. 24. I will post more information as they become available.

Labels: , , , , ,

Today's Birthday in Music: January 22 (R. Ponselle)

1897 - Rosa Ponselle, Meriden, CT, U.S.A.; opera soprano

Rosa Ponselle Foundation website

Rosa Ponselle sings:

"Suicidio" from Ponchielli's La Gioconda (1925

"Pace, pace mio Dio" from Verdi's La Forza del Destino (1928)

Rosa and Carmela Ponselle sing Schubert's Ständchen (1926)

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Les Grands Ballets Canadiens charment à nouveau la métropole

C’est le 30 décembre que se concluait à Place des Arts le cycle magique du ballet Casse-Noisette. Après 10 représentations, depuis le 13 décembre dernier, la petite Clara et son merveilleux monde laissent place à l’année 2009. Retour sur les traces enneigées de cet univers unique, bercé par les immortelles mélodies de Tchaïkovski.
Ce qui charme à tout coup tout au long des aventures de Clara et de son cher Casse-Noisette, c’est l’harmonie de l’auditoire, cette symbiose entre petits et grands. Les regards sont lumineux, la magie opère : l’atmosphère des fêtes irradie. L’interprétation joliment ensorcelante de l’Orchestre des Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal et la maîtrise de son chef d’orchestre Allan Lewis lancent le bal de cette féerie musicale. Fête des couleurs des costumes imaginés par François Barbeau, des décors fabuleux de Peter Horne, le ballet nous replonge directement dans le rêve d’une enfant qui devient le nôtre, encore en 2008.

Casse-Noisette recèle une richesse multiculturelle par les danses des peuples divers de la seconde partie. Que ce soit à travers la danse chinoise, russe, arabe ou flamenco, l’harmonie règne et chacun y a sa place. L’authenticité des traditions, des sources qui définissent chaque individu, parsème avec bonheur le ballet. La classique chorégraphie de Fernand Nault, datant de 1964, est exécutée par les danseurs avec justesse. Le talent débordant des danseurs épate. L’inoubliable Fée Dragée, personnifiée par la première soliste japonaise Mariko Kida, ensorcelle. Quant à la mise en scène de Gradimir Pankov, elle cadre parfaitement avec le plus universel des hymnes hivernaux. Vivement l’édition 2009 !

- Hélène Boucher

Labels: , , ,

Cast your Vote for Les Victoires de la Musique Classique

You don't have to be French. Votes can be cast online by anyone for the candidates in the "Discovery" (Révélation) category on the site of the Victoires de la Musique Classique. You can listen to the three young candidates in each of the two categories, Voice and Instrumentalist, and decide. Vote at the site ( or at A December 19 concert with the finalist is available for viewing there.

There is a long list of awards in other categories which are selected by the academy: Recording of the Year, Soloist of the Year, Vocalist of the Year, etc. and features brief live performances by the candidates before the awards are announced.

This popular annual French program, comparable to the "Grammy" awards, airs on Sunday, February 8 at 4:30 pm. on France 3. This year's program is from Metz and announced guests include famed piano duo Katia & Marielle Labèque, keyboard star Lang-Lang, American soprano Joyce DiDonato, counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky (already a two-time winner) and the Ensemble Matheus with their conductor, Jean-Christophe Spinosi.

- Frank Cadenhead

Labels: ,

Today's Birthday in Music: January 21 (Domingo)

1941 - Plácido Domingo, Madrid, Spain; opera and concert tenor, conductor

Official website

Plácido Domingo sings:

"E lucevan le stelle" from Puccini's Tosca (1992 production, on-site in Rome; Zubin Mehta conducting)

"No puede ser" from the zarzuela Luisa Fernanda by Federico Moreno Torroba (Operalia concert, 2006)

César Franck's Panis Angelicus at the Papal Mass for Pope Benedict, Washington Nationals Park (April 2008)

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Today's Birthdays in Music: January 20 (Chausson, Loriod)

1855 - Ernest Chausson, Paris, France; composer


Elly Ameling sings Chausson's Le Colibri with Dalton Baldwin, piano (1980 recording)

1924 - Yvonne Loriod, Houilles, Seine-et-Oise, France; pianist


Yvonne Loriod plays "Le Moqueur Polyglotte" from Olivier Messiaen's Des Canyons aux étoiles

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, 19 January 2009

Gennady Rozhdestvensky Spins Magic

Last November there was a slightly-larger-than-a-teapot tempest in the music world when the esteemed Russian conductor, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, left Boston in a huff when he found himself listed as second fiddle to a cellist in the BSO brochure.
The 77-year-old living legend received a back-of-the-hand apology from Symphony management but Boston critic Jeremy Eichler took them to task for their McMarketing approach, a dumbed-down pitch too often found with American arts organizations.
A few days before the January 9 concert by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, a press release announced than conductor Mikko Franck, the young Finn, was ill - a not infrequent event for this fine talent. When their permanent conductor Myung-Whun Chung is not on the podium, the emphasis recently has been on hot emerging conductors and I was not the only one surprised to find Rozhdestvensky was flown in as the replacement.
Hearing this man conduct the orchestra at Salle Pleyel was a spiritual experience. His broad tempos and depth of understanding are combined with a magic - is there another word? - he has over musicians. Keeping the same program, the first half took on Wagner with a symphony created by the overture to Meistersinger, the prelude to Parsifal and the overture to Tannhauser with Cesar Franck's Symphony in D minor to finish off the evening.
Watching the musicians, members of an orchestra which gets little respect, in total awe and playing like they have never done before, was a lesson in the alchemy of great conductors. With a single-minded commitment, finding the right balance between raw passion and precise musicianship (not usually their forte) they were simply inspired. The leader's stretched-to-near-breaking phrasing and unpredictable retards seemed second nature to them, like he was their long-time music director instead of someone who appeared only a day or so before. This is both the blessing and curse of French orchestras. They love the challenge of intemperate music making but dislike the discipline of night-after-night perfection.

On those intemperate nights, however, miracles can happen.

- Frank Cadenhead

Labels: ,

Today's Birthdays in Music: January 19 (Rattle, Hotter)

1955 - Simon Rattle, Liverpool, England; conductor


Just Simon: Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmoniker

1909 - Hans Hotter, Offenbach am Main, Germany; opera bass-baritone

Obituary (The Guardian, December 2003)

Hans Hotter sings "Die Frist ist Um" from Wagner's Der Fliegende Holländer

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Today's Birthday in Music: January 18 (Ricciarelli)

1946 - Katia Ricciarelli, Rovigo, Italy; opera soprano

Official website (in Italian)

Katia Ricciarelli sings:

The Mad Scene from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor (Bregenz, 1982)

"Bel raggio lusinghier" from Rossini's Semiramide (1981)

Katia Ricciarelli and Lucia Valentini-Terrani sing "Quando corpus morietur" from Pergolesi's Stabat Mater (chorus and orchestra of La Scala, Claudio Abbado conducting; 1979)

Labels: , ,

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Today's Birthdays in Music: January 17 (G. Weir, Morawetz)

1941 - Gillian Weir, Martinsborough, New Zealand; organist

Gillian Weir's website

1917 - Oskar Morawetz, Světlà nad Sàzavou. Czechoslovakia; composer

Biography (Encyclopedia of Music in Canada)

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, 16 January 2009

This Week in Toronto (Jan. 17 - 23, 2009)

Photo: conductor Bernard Labadie

By Joseph So

Welcome to the first installment of the weekly column on the classical music scene in the Greater Toronto Area! In this space, I plan to highlight a few noteworthy concerts and events that are of particular interest. I should say right off that there is no attempt to be comprehensive, as my focus has always been things vocal and operatic, plus a smattering of others.

At the top of the list is the continuation of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra Mozart Festival that runs Jan. 10 to 24. The centerpiece of this festival is the the Magic Flute in Concert, to take place on January 22 and 24, 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall. It stars a completely Canadian cast - well almost, since Canadian bass-baritone Gary Relyea, originally announced for Sarastro, has been replaced by Oren Gradus. Quebec maestro Bernard Labadie leads an exceptionally strong cast, led by Karin Gauvin as Pamina, Benjamin Butterfield as Tamino, Joshua Hopkins as Papageno, and Aline Kutan as Queen of the Night! All four have not performed in Toronto for some time so this is a great opportunity to hear them. I saw Hopkins sang Papageno opposite the divine Natalie Dessay in her first-ever Pamina about four years ago. He was a particularly engaging birdcatcher and I look forward to hearing him again. Another highlight for me will be the Qeen of Aline Kutan. She sang Der holle Rache at a COC Gala to celebrate the opening of the opera house. When she interpolated the coloratura but singing the HIGH option, the audience let out a collective gasp! Before this, I had not heard a modern-day performance where the soprano dared do such a stratospheric attempt. I wonder if she will do it again...perhaps rather unlikely since this will be a serious performance and not a gala concert.

Supporting cast members include Nathan Berg (Sprecher), Gillian Keith (Papagena), Shannon Mercer (First Lady), Krisztina Szabo (Second Lady), Allyson McHardy (Third Lady), Rufus Muller (Monostatos). Everyone of these singers are well known in Canada and elsewhere, and well worth hearing. The U of T MacMillan Singers will provide the choral voices. I think this will be semi-staged, sung in German with English Surtitles. This is an event absolutely NOT to be missed! I bought myself a ticket several days ago and as I understand it, it is practically sold out.

Other than this blockbuster, I can also recommend the encore performance of Berlioz's La Damnation du Faust, as part of the Met in HD series. It will be on Saturday Jan. 17 at the Cineplex chain. I will attend the show at the Sheppard Grande location. Do call to inquire about ticket availability. When it was shown on Nov. 22, the Robert Lepage direction was stunning. The Quebec director Lepage will bring his cutting-edge sensibilities to the COC for a production of Stravinsky's Le Rossignol, bound to be a highlight of the 2009-10 season.

Labels: , , ,

Today's Birthdays in Music: January 16 (Horne, Lorengar)

1934 - Marilyn Horne, Bradford, PA, U.S.A.; opera mezzo-soprano


Marilyn Horne sings "Pensa alla patria" from Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri (Metropolitan Opera, 1986)

1928 - Pilar Lorengar, Zaragoza, Spain; opera and zarzuela soprano

Wikipedia (mistakenly gives y.o.b. as 1929)
Obituary (New York Times, June 1996)

Pilar Lorengar sings "Mañanica era" by Granados (1988)

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Bartók: Divertimento, Musique pour cordes, percussions et célesta, Danses populaires roumaines (arr. Zeitouni)

Les Violons du Roy / Jean-Marie Zeitouni
Atma ACD22576 (64 min 47 s)
**** $$$

Les Violons du Roy proposent un Bartók opulent, dansant, mesuré. Ils prennent littéralement d'assaut les enceintes acoustiques par la richesse de leur timbre, tant individuel que collectif. Des tempi souples, dénués d’exagération, et un phrasé clairement découpé – tout est mis en œuvre, d’un point de vue technique, pour rehausser le plaisir du jeu. Par contre, seront déçus ceux qui, comme moi, préfèrent un Bartók délirant, sauvage, qui fusionne la plus brute authenticité folklorique avec la plus haute sophistication d’écriture. Ces mélomanes pourront se dire nostalgiques du passé, mais un fait demeure : les Violons du Roy ont le poids de la légitimité musicale de leur côté.

- René Bricault

Labels: , , ,

Flawless Touch & Temperament: Ohlsson Triumphs in Dvorak Rarity!

Classical Travels with Paul E. Robinson

There is nothing quite like the thrill of seeing a great piano virtuoso in action with a big orchestra. Hands a blur at the keyboard, showers of notes played at blinding speed, the Steinway grand all but demolished under the onslaught while the conductor whips the orchestra into a frenzy. Wonderful!

Most of the great virtuoso vehicles – by Liszt, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov - were composed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and have been exciting audiences ever since. There are, however, other piano concertos from this period that are less flashy, but well worth a hearing. Dvořák’s piano concerto of 1876 is just such a piece. I have had a special affection for this fine work for many years and I was delighted that pianist Garrick Ohlsson and conductor Peter Bay decided to present it this season with the Austin Symphony at the Long Center.

Ohlsson Brings Flawless Touch & Temperament to Rare Masterpiece
As a young man, Ohlsson won the prestigious Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1970. He went on to establish himself as one of the foremost Chopin players of his generation. With this kind of musical pedigree, he was just the man to do justice to Dvořák’s Piano Concerto in G minor, Op. 33.

Op. 33 is a piece for consummate musicians. It calls for beauty of sound and the most natural sense of rubato. In other words, it is Chopinesque in its piano writing. Any pianist who approaches it with hammer and tongs will make a hash of it, and might better leave it alone. There is drama in the score, and deep romantic temperament; but again, its special beauty is apt to be destroyed if the passion is overdone.

One of the great moments for me is the opening of the slow movement – a solo horn with soft string accompaniment, playing a haunting melody then picked up by the piano. Nothing much to it, except the totally unexpected B major chord that intrudes in the key of D major. It reminds me also of the inspired harmonic chemistry to be found in the great soprano aria “O silver moon” from Dvořák’s opera Rusalka. The piano concerto has several moments of this quality, and if you like Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances, you’ll find more of the same here, especially in the last movement.

Ohlsson gave one of the finest performances I ever expect to hear of this lovely work and Peter Bay and the ASO provided stellar accompaniment. At the height of the applause came a special treat – as an encore - Chopin’s familiar Grand Valse Brillante, played by Ohlsson with such effortless mastery that one hoped it would never end.

Dell Hall Sound Fails Conductor & Orchestra in Epic Rachmaninov!
The major orchestral offering of the evening, Rachmaninov’s epic Symphony No. 2, (1907), came after intermission. Interestingly, Dvořák and Rachmaninov were close to the same age – Dvořák was 36 and Rachmaninov 34 – when they wrote these two pieces; in short, they were both young men but well-established as important composers.

In the case of Rachmaninov, his first symphony was received so badly that it practically ended his career. The Second Symphony, however, was another matter. It is full of soaring melody, and structurally it hangs together far better than the First Symphony. It is, nonetheless, a massive, sprawling score and much of the music is dark and melancholy. Unlike the Dvořák Piano Concerto, it calls for a large orchestra and the biggest possible sound.

Unfortunately, while Peter Bay had added a few extra double basses and had the full complement of brass and percussion that the score requires, the Michael and Susan Dell Hall at the Long Center simply refused to cooperate.

Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 requires a depth of sound that sets the floor shaking and gives you the feeling of being punched in the gut. Nothing like that sound reached me in my seat about two-thirds of the way back on the ground floor. I don’t doubt for a moment that the ASO is capable of producing a full rich sound, but I am concerned that we may never hear it in this hall.

It so happens that the very next night I was sitting in a similar location in the Myerson Symphony Center in Dallas. The orchestral sound I heard there was exactly what was missing in Austin. It wasn’t the fault of the conductor or the orchestra in Austin; it was the hall. The Myerson happens to be one of the world’s great concert halls and what a difference it makes to the sound of an orchestra and to the sound of the music.

Let me emphasize that Peter Bay and the ASO musicians had obviously worked hard to get this difficult music under control and the hard work paid off. This was an extremely well-organized and well-executed performance. There was fine playing from principal clarinet and horn, and the trumpets threw off their brilliant flourishes in the last movement with great panache. Even the best performance, however, suffers when given on a poor instrument, and the Dell Hall may just be such an instrument. Let us hope not.

Finding the Right Mix No Easy Matter
It might be worthwhile for Bay and the ASO – if they have not already done so - to experiment with different orchestral seating arrangements, various types of risers and baffles, or moving at least some of the musicians out in front of the proscenium to see if any of these changes improve the sound.

There is another way of looking at the problem. The ASO might think about what repertoire avoids the hall’s deficiencies, and instead plays to its strengths. In my experience, the hall does not deal well with big, romantic repertoire. There is not enough resonance and not enough of the sound projects into the hall. On the other hand, the hall is generally flattering to soft music and to music with a lighter texture. Mozart symphonies and concertos, for example, might work very well.

Unfortunately, the heart of the repertoire and the music that appeals to a wider audience is – you guessed it – the big, romantic stuff.

Paul E. Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar; Sir Georg Solti: his Life and Music, and Stokowski (Spring 2009), all available at For more about Paul E. Robinson please visit his website.

Labels: , , , , , ,