La Scena Musicale

Saturday, 30 May 2009

This Week in Toronto (May 30 - June 5)

Now that the opera season in Toronto has more or less come to an end - the COC Ensemble's Cosi fan tutte excepted, there is still the symphony and ballet, thankfully! The Toronto Symphony has Mahler Symphony No. 6, with the return of former TS conductor Gunther Herbig. Opening night was last Thursday, and tonight at 8 pm is the second and last performance. Also on the program is Haydn's Cello Concerto, a rather unusual combination, I must say! The cellist is Johannes Moser.

Tomorrow, Sunday 2pm in Massey Hall is the second performance of Haydn's oratorio The Creation by Tafelmusik, conducted by Bruno Weil. Soloists include Canadian soprano Nancy Argenta making one of her comparatively rare appearances in Toronto. Also featured are tenor Jan Kobow and baritone Locky Chung. This concert is part of Tafelmusik's Baroque Summer Festival.

Next week marks the return of violinist extraordinaire, Gil Shaham, playing the Canadian premiere of William Bolcom's Violin Concerto. Also on the program is Brahms Symphony No. 1. The conductor is Leonard Slatkin, Music Director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. On Saturday June 6 (8 pm), American violinist Joshua Bell returns for a single performance of Lalo's Symphonie espagnole with the Toronto Symphony, also under the baton of Slatkin.

If you are into ballet, the National Ballet of Canada's spring season is in full swing. The big news is the farewell performance of Chinese-Canadian ballerina Chan Hong Goh, as Giselle on Sunday 2 pm. She will be partnered by Zdenek Konvalina. This show is completely sold out. However, there are two performances today, a matinee at 2 pm (danced by Xiao Nan Yu) and an evening performance at 7:30 pm, with Sonia Rodriguez as Giselle.


Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Jaap van Zweden's 1st Season in Dallas a Phenomenal Success!

Review by Paul E. Robinson

Classical Travels
There is no doubt about it. A new era of musical excellence is underway in Dallas. Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden has just finished his first season as music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (DSO) and even the musicians are shaking their heads in disbelief. Is he really this good? Are we this good? “Yes,” and “yes” to both questions.
All this excitement notwithstanding, on May 21st at the Meyerson, the 'curtain went up' on a program that appeared neither well planned nor very convincing – at least on paper.
Van Zweden is passionate about opera. For this evening, he and the DSO had scheduled a concert performance of Madama Butterfly, but like orchestras everywhere, the Dallas Symphony has had to rework its budget in the face of a punishing recession; thus, instead of Madama Butterfly, we had, on the face of it, a mishmash of Tchaikovsky and Brahms culminating in yet another unnecessary performance of the 1812 Overture.

No matter. I would pay to hear Jaap van Zweden conduct Happy Birthday because I know he would give it one of the finest performances I have ever heard.

A Rousing but Anti-climactic 1812 Overture
The 1812 Overture, on this occasion, was the version by Igor Buketoff in which a chorus is substituted for lower strings in the opening bars and then makes several later appearances in the piece. We didn’t have cannons or fireworks in this performance, but the sparks were flying nonetheless in the overheated tempi chosen by van Zweden. The Dallas Symphony Chorus didn’t sound very Russian – not enough Russian basses have emigrated to Dallas, I guess – but they did their work with accuracy and gusto.

As good as it was, the 1812 Overture was an anticlimax after the most stunning performance of Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien I have ever heard.

Superb Performance Recorded for DSO's Own Label!
Capriccio Italien begins with brass fanfares, based apparently on bugle calls Tchaikovsky heard played by an Italian cavalry regiment. It goes on to a series of Italian folk songs and street music and finishes with a wild tarantella.

One particular section in this performance of the work sounded more intense and ominous than I ever imagined it could. It was the soft, triplet accompaniment in the brass that did it. This figure was played with such rhythmic accuracy and so darkly that it became progressively more menacing.

‘Menacing’ or ‘ominous’ are not adjectives one normally associates with pop concert fare like Capriccio Italien. Hearing this performance, I began to suspect that the Italian influence here was Verdi.

This is what a conductor like van Zweden can do for ‘familiar’ repertoire. He approaches such pieces as if they deserved the commitment he would give to a Mahler symphony. Each phrase is given new life. Note values are accurately observed and balances are worked out in careful detail.

When Capriccio Italien moved into dance territory, van Zweden nearly danced himself off the podium and this involvement was infectious. The string sound soared and surged; it was fulsome and joyous. And the best was yet to come.

In this piece, Tchaikovsky’s brass section is headed by pairs of cornets and trumpets, the former employed for their sound and their super chromatic capabilities compared to the trumpet in Tchaikovsky’s time. Principal trumpet Ryan Anthony chose to play a cornet for this piece and the results were wonderful. It was just the right Italian folk music sound for the lyrical sections – with a generous helping of vibrato - and the agility of the instrument (and the player!) in the quick passages worked perfectly too.

For all its extraordinary nuances, what I’ll remember most about this performance is how van Zweden steadily increased the tempo in the proverbial ‘race to the finish.’ Van Zweden was fearless in his acceleration and the DSO players were with him every step of the way. This was virtuoso playing of the highest order.

Fortunately, this concert was being recorded for broadcast. Even better, the Capriccio Italien is scheduled for release later this year on the DSO’s own label. It will be coupled with a Tchaikovsky Fifth recorded earlier this season. If the recording of Capriccio Italien is anything close to what I heard Thursday night, it will be sensational.

Violinist Simone Lamsma Wows Audience!
The first half of the concert was pretty remarkable too. The young Dutch violinist Simone Lamsma made her debut with the DSO in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.

Ms. Lamsma was scheduled to be a featured soloist with the orchestra in its forthcoming European tour; unfortunately, the tour has been scrubbed for the time being. It is hard to justify foreign tours when the basic operating budget is taking such a beating.

In any case, it was a pleasure to make the acquaintance of the gifted Ms. Lamsma, winner of at least four major violin competitions in the past three years. She has a formidable technique and a warm, distinctive sound. With van Zweden on the podium - a colleague who has played this concerto himself -this was a fine collaboration. The orchestra played with great sensitivity and panache!

Ms. Lamsma returns next season to play the Britten Violin Concerto.

The concert opened with BrahmsSchicksalslied (Song of Destiny) , a setting for chorus and orchestra of a poem by Hölderlin. This is a beautiful if slight work by Brahms but it hardly fits in an all-Tchaikovsky program. And while the chorus sang beautifully, I thought that van Zweden miscalculated both dynamics and tempo. He started the piece so slowly and so softly that the line could not be sustained. Nor could the strings produce sufficient weight of sound. Still, this piece does not turn up often in concert and it was a pleasure to hear it, especially in an ideal acoustical setting like the Meyerson.

Jaap van Zweden has given Dallas a season of insight and excitement, with much more to come. Among the highlights next season will be the Mahler First and Second Symphonies, the Bruckner Ninth, the Rachmaninov Second Symphony and the Shostakovich Symphony No. 7 (Leningrad.)

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Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Chant 2009 Finals (Day 2 May 26)

left to right: Angela Meade, soprano; Yannick-Muriel Noah, soprano; Andrew Garland, baritone
Photo: Joseph So
Tonight was the second of two evenings of the MIMC Finals. Four competitors -

Jennifer Borghi, mezzo-soprano (Italy)

Borghi has a modest-sized high mezzo of pleasant timbre. She began with "Or la tromba" from Handel's Rinaldo, showing good coloratura, although she did not sound entirely comfortable in this repertoire. This was followed by "Erbarme dich" from St. Matthew Passion, a really moving piece that requires solid legato and smoothness of vocal production. Borghi's tone, while quite lovely, lacked sufficient legato and her phrasing was choppy. I think oratorio and baroque does not show off her voice very well. Her third piece, Air des lettres from Werther was easily her best moment - she has just the right instincts for Charlotte. The voice was freer here, and her attention to the text and her expression were exemplary. She ended with the Composer's Aria from Ariadne, an extremely popular choice for high mezzos in competitions. She sang it very well, but overall, I found her a bit subdued and low voltage. She didn't really connect with the audience. She received polite applause, although she did get a very good hand for the Ariadne at the end.

Seil Kim, tenor (Korea)

I remember Kim from the last Montreal vocal competition. I thought he sang beautifully but missed the finals. I recalled a quality tenore di grazia, used with taste. So it was good to have him back. He opened with "Comfort Ye...Every valley" from Messiah. I have heard this probably a hundred times if not more in performance from Jon Vickers on down, so I confess it is hard to get too excited. Kim sang it well, with plangent tone and excellent English. But his voice sounded smaller than I remembered, and it didn't make the impact it should, even in the modest sized Theatre Maisonneuve. His coloratura, while quite good, is aspirated. Dies Bildnis from Die Zauberfloete went very well - his best singing of the evening. He sang it with attractive tone, his most successful piece. Then he went off stage for an unusually long time and came back with a bottle of water, the only contestant in the two evenings that used water. His aria from Iphigenie en Tauride had its moments, but it was also marred by a very tight top. And his final piece, Kuda, Kuda from Eugene Onegin was a bit of a disappointment. I expected him to be really good in this. His singing lacked that plaintive quality one has come to expect in Lenski's aria, and again his top was very tight, distorting the line.

Andrew Garland, baritone (USA)

If the first half was a little underwhelming, things picked up decidedly with the appearance of Andrew Garland. His is a lyric baritone of very good quality, well schooled, and he communicates very well. His Rinaldo aria was authoritatively sung, making a big, robust sound. He received the first bravos of the evening. I was impressed with his long breath-line. Yeletsky's aria from Pique Dame, another very popular choice in singing competitions, was gorgeously sung. For me, the monologue from Billy Budd was his best moment - I liked his acting and his total commitment to the character. He will make a very good Billy. Interesting that he made Ich bin der Welt from Ruckert Lieder his final choice, instead of something flashy. If the countertenor Costanzo was unable to sing a high pianissimo, Garland had pianissimos galore, and overall, his execution of this piece was far superior. The orchestra, especially the horns, always played better, and Trudel was able to get the right balance from the orchestra. Overall, an excellent performance. This guy is the total package.

Angela Meade, soprano (USA)

What can I say about Meade? When you have a young singer picked by the Met to step in to replace an indisposed Sondra Radvanovsky, you know she has got to be special. Meade has a great voice, excellent technical control, from impressive fortes down to the smallest high pianissimos, she has it all. She began with D'Oreste d'Ajace from Idomeneo. Very impressive singing, although those staccato runs at the end were not as wonderful as I expected them to be. Her Beim Schlafengehen from Four Last Songs - a real test piece - was impressive, but I missed that ethereal entrance of the voice after the violin solo. Her third piece was "Casta Diva" from Norma. It takes guts - ok, chutzpah - to sing this in a competition! Meade has the legato and the rock solid intonation to do it justice, only the forte top notes were a little steely. This piece allows her to show off her piano singing, and the final note was extremely impressive. It elicited the first big salvo of bravos from the audience. She saved her best for last - Pace, pace - a truly fabulous piece of singing, absolutely perfect technical control. A big woman, she has found the art of stillness and the economy of gestures. Again, the last note she held on seemingly forever. And for that she received a standing ovation, the only one of the evening.

The jury panel retired to deliberate for about 30 minutes, and returned with the following three winners -

First Prize - Angela Meade
Second Prize - Yannick-Muriel Noah
Third Prize- Andrew Garland

Like most others in the audience, I played the game of picking my own winners. I had the same top three singers on my list, although in a slightly different order. Tomorrow is the press conference where we will get to meet the jury members. I hope to have more to report afterwards.

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Monday, 25 May 2009

Chant 2009 Finals Day 1 (Monday May 25)

Tonight was the first of two evenings of MIMC Chant 2009 Finals. There are eight candidates in total, and tonight we heard four. Having attended everyone of the MIMC vocal competitions since 2002, I think this one is arguably the highest in terms of overall quality of the voices. Just to make it into the final 8 is already a recognition of true excellence. The candidates this evening were ( in order of appearance)

Anthony Roth Costanzo, countertenor (USA) His program was long - aria from Giulio Cesare, a Ruckert Lieder, and back to back arias from Rodelinda. One of the most impressive things about Costanzo's countertenor is the smoothness of his delivery and his seamless registers - the voice is even from top to bottom. When required by the music to dip into what is normally considered chest voice in a man, there is no harshness to his tone or any abrupt change of gear. His sound is as "natural" as any I have heard from a countertenor. His voice is surprisingly large for such a slight person, and there is lots of power in reserve. But his best singing is in the quiet moments. There is a plaintive quality to his sound that is at its best in soft, quiet music, and he chose just the right repertoire to show it off, particularly Mahler's "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen". The tempo chosen by conductor Alain Trudel was a little too slow, even for this famously slow piece. If I were to nitpick, Costanzo was a little reluctant to sing high pianissimi, which is absolutely necessary in the Mahler. Overall, it was a very fine performance of an exceptionally beautiful countertenor voice.

Falko Hoenisch, baritone (Germany) Mr. Hoenisch has a high lyric baritone that is flexible, good in coloratura, and best in lieder. It is a fairly slender instrument as baritone voices go, but he uses it stylishly and with discerning taste. His Hugo Wolf songs were wonderfully sung, and the most successful part of his program. Unfortunately, he ran into some problems with his next piece, an aria from I Puritani. I have to say Bellini doesn't really suit him stylistically. He lacks the fullness of tone necessary in the bel canto repertoire. He also ran into some technical difficulties, turning raspy in a couple of places. Perhaps it unnerved him, as by his third aria from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette, he was holding back and sounded small. The same could be said about "Why do the nations" from Messiah. The top simply did not bloom. Perhaps he did not pace himself properly, or maybe he simply had an off night, but overall, I felt he sang better in the semi-finals.

Sidney Outlaw, baritone (USA) Mr. Outlaw is also a high baritone. The voice is compact-sized, pleasant and warm in timbre - perhaps not so fantastic in terms of beauty of tone, but the way he uses it is very impressive - this guy is an artist. He communicates the text and the moods of a piece of music exceptionally well - this guy likes drama! Sometimes it can come across as a little stentorian, but his strength of conviction is such that he convinces you, and as we all know, judges look for a singer with something to say to the audience. Technically he is very secure, especially in the high register - top notes hold no terror for him. While he is best in the very dramatic pieces, he also shows that he can sing quietly, as in Fritz's aria from Die tote Stadt. This aria is a surefire audience favourite and Outlaw sang it beautifully. Overall, his performance was wonderful tonight, and he was rewarded with vociferous applause.

Yannick-Muriel Noah (Canada) Unlike previous years, there is only a single Canadian in the finals this time. Since she has been connected with the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto the last three or so years, I am very familiar with her voice. And what an exceptional instrument it is! Spinto sopranos don't grow on trees, and Noah is a genuine lirico-spinto, one that is large, rich, gleaming, with plenty of power in reserve yet capable of delicacy. She opened her program with "Hear Ye, Israel" from Elijah. She sang this long and demanding aria with gleaming tone. But she has a tendency to suppress her consonants in English - I have to say I had difficulty understanding what she was singing. Her second piece is Jenufa's aria. While it is a rather unusual choice in a competition, her timbre is ideal. The abrupt ending took the audience by surprise - I personally don't think this is a particularly good choice. Her third piece was "Vissi d'arte" from Tosca. Now, it must be said that Noah covered Tosca at the Canadian Opera last season, and when the Tosca, Hungarian Ezster Sumegi, became indisposed, Noah stepped in and sang two performances that absolutely wowed everyone. The quiet, descending musical line in the opening phrase was very beautifully rendered, and in the two and a half minute aria, she sang it with passion, power and delicacy. She reserved her best for the end - "Ritorna vincitor" from Aida. Her voice, with it rich, luscious timbre, is ideal. She has all the chiaroscuro one would want. Perhaps a little longer breathline here and there would have been nicer, but overall, it was a magnificent piece of singing.

There you have it - a marvelous evening. For me, the outstanding singers tonight were Sidney Outlaw and Yannick Muriel Noah. I would place both of them in the winners circle, possibly with the countertenor Costanzo a dark horse.

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Sunday, 24 May 2009

Concours de Montréal (CMIM) 5e journée - demi-finale II

CMIM – Samedi 24 mai,

Dernière journée de l’épreuve demi-finale. Une journée chargée (10 candidats) et riche en émotions. Chez les femmes, les sopranos Angela Meade et Yannick-Muriel Noah ont particulièrement dominé. Deux sopranos à la voix puissante et à la technique infaillible, produisant un pianissimo étonnamment bien contrôlé dans l’aigu. Impressionnant, tout ce qu’Angela Meade peut faire avec sa voix, ce qu’elle a particulièrement démontré dans l’extrait de Il Trovatore de Verdi. Quant à Yannick-Muriel Noah, elle module admirablement sa voix au timbre chaud, spécialement dans l’extrait de La Forza del destino.

Chez les hommes, le baryton Falko Hönish a démontré sa versatilité, sa compréhension du texte et du style en présentant un programme très varié. D’abord Mozart, Wagner et Bach. Suivent le très court La Grenouillère de Poulenc et Black Max de William Bolcom, dans lesquels il se révèle un vrai comédien et conteur. Il termine sa prestation par Erlkönig de Schubert, en interprétant de façon explicite les voix du père et du fils. Voilà ce qu’on peut appeler toute une palette de couleurs! Vient ensuite le baryton Sidney Outlaw qui a obtenu en 2006 une 1re place aux auditions du Metropolitan Opera. On ne sera pas surpris de découvrir un chanteur solide qui possède une voix riche et puissante, habilement modulée. Son programme consistant comprenait entre autres deux Mozart, l’un en italien et l’autre en allemand. On retient surtout du troisième baryton, Andrew Garland, une belle voix au registre large qui chante avec facilité jusque dans l’aigu. Son talent de comédien a bien fait rire l’auditoire. Dernier candidat à se produire, le ténor Seil Kim a souffert d’un problème de santé en après-midi et sa prestation a dû être reportée à la fin. On sentait chez lui une certaine prudence, mais il se rendit au bout de son programme sans difficulté apparente. Ceux qui l’ont entendu en quart de finale savent qu’il peut faire encore mieux.

Les délibérations du jury on duré moins d’une heure. Le président, M. André Bourbeau, est venu le présenter à la salle et a donné les noms des 8 finalistes par ordre alphabétique : Jennifer Borghi, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Andrew Garland, Falko Hönish, Seil Kim, Angela Meade, Yannick-Muriel Noah et Sidney Outlaw.

L'ordre de passage:

Lundi le 25 mai à 19 h 30 :

1. Anthony Roth Costanzo
2. Falko Hönish
3. Sidney Outlaw
4. Yannick-Muriel Noah

Mardi le 26 mai à 19 h 30 :

1. Jennifer Borghi
2. Seil Kim
3. Andrew Garland
4. Angela Mead

Pour savoir plus :

L’épreuve finale avec l’Orchestre Métropolitain, sous la direction d’Alain Trudel, aura lieu lundi 25 mai et mardi 26 mai à 19 h au Théâtre Maisonneuve et sera diffusé en direct. Pour information :

Dimanche 24 mai : Deux classes de maître ont lieu à la Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, en après-midi et en soirée. Pour information : (514) 872-5338

- Renée Banville

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Saturday, 23 May 2009

Concours de Montréal (CMIM) 4e journée - demi-finale I

CMIM – Vendredi 22 mai,

L’épreuve demi-finale du CMIM a débuté en présence d’une salle presque remplie. Six candidats se partageaient la soirée. Deux hommes : le contre-ténor américain Anthony Roth Costanzo, le baryton canadien Stephen Hegedus et quatre femmes : les trois sopranos canadiennes Pascale Beaudin, Charlotte Corwin, Mariane Lemieux et Catrin Aur Davies du Royaume-Uni.

Anthony Roth Costanzo avait étonné et séduit en quart de finale avec sa voix magnifiquement contrôlée au timbre émouvant. Il a récidivé en interprétant un Handel expressif, dont il manie les vocalises avec une facilité déconcertante, et un touchant Gluck qui convient mieux à une voix de contre-ténor que Mahler et Debussy. La sobriété et la classe marquent la prestation du baryton Stephen Hegedus. Possédant une très belle voix aux intonations toujours justes malgré les difficultés du Handel, il termine avec un Bizet très expressif.

Du côté des femmes, Pascale Beaudin a dominé la soirée en montrant beaucoup de souplesse et de dextérité dans le Haydn et le Strauss. Son excellente technique lui permet de tout chanter sans difficulté apparente et sa prononciation de l’italien et de l’allemand est excellente. La Regata vénéziana de Rossini était très expressive mais un peu longue. Quant à Charlotte Corwin, l’opéra lui va comme un gant et on aura sûrement du plaisir à l’entendre éventuellement en Violetta.

Peu à dire sur les deux autres sopranos : Mariane Lemieux et Catrin Aur Davies. On sent les difficultés chez la première qui ne semble pas prête à affronter un concours aussi important et la seconde a été très décevante. Que le jury les ait préférées à une Christina Tannous qui avait ébloui le public en quart de finale par la qualité de sa performance, c’est à n’y rien comprendre. Mais chaque concours comporte son lot de mystères…

Soirée intéressante en définitive, malgré la redondance dans les choix musicaux (Handel et Strauss). Le public pourra juger par lui-même à partir du 25 mai. Les séances de la demi-finale seront diffusées sur Espace classique de Radio-Canada : et disponibles pendant un an. Le dimanche 24 mai à 12 h, les meilleurs moments de l’épreuve demi-finale seront présentés dans une émission spéciale. Animation : Sylvia l’Écuyer – Commentateur : Fabrizio Melano – Réalisation : Michèle Patry. En ligne sur Espace classique dès le 25 mai.

> 3e journée
> 2e journée
> 1e journée

- Renée Banville

Editor's Note: I tried to connect to the live webcast at Espace classique, but the experience proved frustrating. The picture and sound would interrupt every 3 seconds and pause for an additional 3 seconds. Consequently, I gave up for the evening. The webcast requires Microsoft's Silverlight plugin, but that doesn't seem to be the problem as the Naxos Music Library uses the same plugin and streams fine from my wifi connection. Espace classique should provide a lower bandwidth version of its webcast. - Wah Keung Chan

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This Week in Toronto (May 23 - 29)

The bursts of musical activities this spring seem to be subsiding.  The Canadian Opera Company's mainstage season comes to an end this weekend, with the final performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream today. Tomorrow afternoon is the last performance of La boheme
For those who missed the showing of Met in HD La Cenerentola with the scintillating Latvian mezzo Elina Garanca, the encore performance takes place today, at 12:30 pm, at selected Cineplex theatres in the GTA. 

For something a little different, I can recommend the world premiere run of The Shadow, put on by Tapestry, with performances at the Berkely Street Theatre Downstairs from May 21 to 30. I attended the opening on Thursday and was thoroughly entertained. The Shadow is a morality tale with a twist. Set in Barcelona, a poor postman, Raoul (acted and sung magnificently by baritone Peter McGillivray) assumes the identity of a rich suitor to win the hand of a beautiful woman (Carla Huhtanen) by borrowing money from a loan shark, played by Theodore Baerg.  When he is unable to repay the loan, a shadow (sung and acted with striking effectiveness by countertenor Scott Beluz) haunts the poor guy. Set and costume designer Camellia Koo has come up with an ingenious unit set that captures the flavour of Barcelona, and the use of a turntable allows seamless scene changes.  The libretto mixes an essentially serious story with a surfeit of humour - some of which perhaps were unintended. The music is a little too percussion-heavy for my taste, but there were some lyrical moments.  The vocal writing is very challenging - for example, the main character of Raoul/Hernando goes from basso profundo low notes all the way up to falsetto highs.  The singers, especially McGillivray, gave their all on opening night, and their voices were almost too big for the intimate space of the Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs. It was a really enjoyable evening and I can highly recommend it.

And finally, you can catch the proceedings of the 2009 Montreal International Musical Competition (Chant 2009) right at your computer.  Espace Musique is carrying it live.  The semifinals started last evening, and continues today (Saturday) at 1:30 pm and 7:30 pm. Sixteen candidates, including six Canadians, are set to impress the judges.  Eight will go on to the two-day finals on Monday and Tuesday. You can follow the drama at

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Friday, 22 May 2009

CMIM - 3e journée

CMIM – Jeudi 21 mai,

Dernière journée de l’épreuve quart de finale. Un après-midi riche en surprises et en découvertes. Dès le départ, le ténor coréen Seil Kim donne le ton. Ténor lyrique d’une grande musicalité, il interprète le Lied et l’oratorio avec beaucoup de couleurs et de raffinement et nous offre ensuite un extrait de Don Giovanni très expressif.

La deuxième surprise nous vient de la soprano canadienne Christina Tannous qui éblouit l’auditoire avec une voix magnifique d’un contrôle absolu, variant les couleurs avec un égal bonheur. Les airs tziganes de Dvorak qu’elle chante en tchèque sont captivants et elle réussit si bien à soutenir l’intensité que le public retient ses applaudissements entre chacun des airs. Comédienne accomplie, elle nous offre de mémoire un Kulesha très fantaisiste, s’inventant intérieurement une histoire que l’auditoire vit avec elle, comme une pièce de théâtre aux acteurs invisibles. Une interprétation qui lui a valu une ovation.

La découverte est venue avec la dernière candidate, la soprano américaine Angela Meade. D’une stature imposante, elle possède une voix puissante, une technique impeccable et l’aisance d’une chanteuse d’expérience. Magnifique dans l’opéra, elle chante le Lied de Strauss comme si elle chantait La Marschallin dans le Rosenkavalier. Détentrice en 2007 d’un 1er Prix Opéra au Concours International de chant, Hans Gabor Belvedere et en 2008 d’un 1er Prix au Concours international de musique José Iturbi, elle a fait ses débuts au Metropolitan Opera en mars 2008 et au San Francisco Opera. Avec une telle feuille de route et une carrière si bien amorcée, on peut se demander pourquoi une chanteuse continue à entrer dans des compétitions avec des jeunes qui attendent une rampe de lancement pour leur carrière.

Les autres candidats en après-midi : La soprano Jegyung Yang (Corée du Sud) et la basse Taehyun Jun (Corée du Sud), ainsi que la soprano canadienne Maghan Stewart-McPhee complétaient le programme de l’après-midi.

En soirée, avant les délibérations des juges, on entendit le ténor coréen Kijong Wi, la soprano américaine Yannick-Muriel Noah et le baryton américain Andrew Garland.

Voici, par ordre alphabétique, la liste des 16 candidats retenus pour la demi-finale :

Pascale Beaudin (Canada), Jennifer Borghi (Italie), Charlotte Corwin (Canada), Anthony Roth Costanzo (États-Unis), Catrin Aur Davies (Royaume-Uni), Andrew Garland (États-Unis), Stephen Hegedus (Canada), Falko Hönish (Allemagne), Seil Kim (Corée du Sud), Mariane Lemieux (Canada), Angela Meade (États-Unis), Yannick-Muriel Noah (Canada), Sidney Outlaw (États-Unis), Irina Shishkova (Russie), Maghan Stewart-McPhee (Canada), Jegyung Yang (Corée du Sud).

Pour connaître l’ordre de passage des candidats :

Vendredi, 22 mai

1ère séance :

19 h 30 : Anthony Roth COSTANZO, contreténor, États-Unis
20 h: Catrin Aur DAVIES, soprano, Royaume-Uni
20 h 30 : Pascale BEAUDIN, soprano, Canada
21 h : Pause

21 h 30 : Stephen HEGEDUS, baryton-basse, Canada
22 h : Mariane LEMIEUX, soprano, Canada
22 h 30 : Charlotte CORWIN, soprano, Canada
23 h : Fin

Samedi, 23 mai

2e séance

13 h 30 : Irina SHISHKOVA, mezzo-soprano, Russie
14 h 00 : Falko HÖNISCH, baryton, Allemagne
14 h 30 : Jennifer BORGHI, mezzo-soprano, Italie
15 h : Pause

15 h 30 : Sidney OUTLAW, baryton, États-Unis
16 h : Seil KIM, ténor, Corée du Sud
16 h 30 : Jegyung YANG, soprano, Corée du Sud
17 h : Pause

3e séance :

19 h 30 : Maghan STEWART-McPHEE, soprano, Canada
20 h : Angela MEADE, soprano, États-Unis
20 h 30 : Yannick-Muriel NOAH, soprano, Canada
21 h : Andrew GARLAND, baryton, États-Unis

21 h 30 : Délibérations

> 2e journée
> 1e journée

- Renée Banville


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Thursday, 21 May 2009

LSM Week-end d'opéra à Toronto 2009

[English version]

Joignez-vous à La Scena Musicale pour un week-end d'opéra à Toronto les 17 et 18 octobre 2009 et assistez à deux opéras présentés par la Canadian Opera Company: Le rossignol de Stravinsky (mise en scène de Robert Lepage) et Madame Butterfly de Puccini, ne ratez pas ce week-end mémorable!

Tous les profits de ce week-end exceptionnel serviront à financer les activités sans but lucratif de La Scena Musicale.

Commandez sans tarder: (514) 948-2520 ou

À noter: les billets d'opéra sont vendus par La Scena Musicale.


Le samedi 17 octobre
16 h 30 : Le rossignol de Stravinsky
20 h : souper-bénéfice

Le dimanche 18 octobre
14 h à 17 h : Madame Butterfly de Puccini

  • Le rossignol : 62$ (sec 5A), 97$ (sec 4A), 162$ (sec 1B)
  • Madame Butterfly : 68$ (sec 5A), 106$ (sec 4A), 178$ (sec 1B)
  • *5% de rabais pour les abonnées de La Scena Musicale
  • Souper : à communiquer

* 515 948.2520

Date limite: 1 octobre 2009

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LSM Opera Weekend in Toronto 2009

[Version française]

Join La Scena Musicale in an opera weekend in Toronto on October 17 and 18, 2009 to see two operas over two days presented by the Canadian Opera Company: Puccini's Madama Butterfly and Stravinsky's The Nightingale and Other Short Fables (directed by Robert Lepage). Don't miss this unforgettable weekend!

All funds raised from this exceptional weekend will go towards the non-profit charitable activities of La Scena Musicale.

Order Now: (514) 948-2520 or

Note: La Scena Musicale will sell the opera tickets. Check back here for a recommended hotel.


Saturday, October 17
4:30 pm: Stravinsky's The Nightingale and Other Short Fables (directed by Robert Lepage)
8:30 pm: Dinner

Sunday, October 18
2 pm to 5 pm: Puccini's Madama Butterfly

  • The Nightingale: $62 (sec 5A), $97 (sec 4A), $162 (sec 1B)
  • Madama Butterfly: $68 (sec 5A), $106 (sec 4A), $178 (sec 1B)
  • Dinner: to be announced
Special Discounts for LSM Subscribers: 5% off.

  • 514 948.2520

Deadline: October 1, 2009

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Alexander Pereira to Lead the Salzburg Festival

Alexander Pereira, currently director of the Zurich Opera, has been named as the new artistic director of the Salzburg Festival from October 1, 2011. The 61-year-old Vienna native will succeed the current intendant, Jürgen Flimm, in October 2011 for a five year term. Flimm, who did not renew his contract, will take the post of intendant of Berlin's Staatsoper Unter den Linden. Pereira, widely respected for his work in Zurich, originally began his career in marketing and tourism, and worked for Olivetti for a number of years. Moving toward music management, he directed Frankfurt's Bachkonzerte (1979-1983) and later became General Secretary of the Society of Concert Halls in Vienna. He was artistic director of the Salzburg Festival in 1989 but left to lead the Zurich Opera in 1991. Certain details are being discussed but Pereira has confirmed his acceptance, according to Wihelmine Goldmann, the festival board chairman at a Tuesday press conference. Other candidates for this post included Pierre Audi, chief of Amsterdam's Netherlands Opera and Stephane Lissner, formerly director of the festival of Aix-en-Provence and now heading La Scala Opera in Milan. Last year, the Zurich Opera designated Andreas Homoki, from the Komishe Oper in Berlin, as the new GM staring in the summer of 2012, while extending the contract of Mr. Pereira for another year until that date. This "extra year" is apparently now being discussed and is not likely to pose a problem for Salzburg.

- Frank Cadenhead

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CMIM - 2e journée

CMIM - Mercredi 20 mai,

À l’épreuve quart de finale cet après-midi, quatre des cinq candidats étaient canadiens. On aurait presque pu dire que c’était « l’après-midi du Canada ». C’est pourtant le tirage au sort qui en a décidé ainsi.

On entendit d’abord le baryton-basse Giles Tomkins, dont le timbre agréable est plus sombre que celui des candidats présentés hier. Vint ensuite la soprano collorature Marianne Lemieux. Malgré quelques difficultés techniques qu’elle n’a apparemment pas toutes surmontées dans le Handel, elle a chanté un très expressif et coloré Je veux vivre de Gounod qui a séduit l’auditoire. Les deux autres sopranos, Charlotte Corwin et Sharleen Joynt ont rivalisé d’aisance dans les notes aigues et ont fait preuve d’une bonne maîtrise technique.

Sur les 15 femmes de la compétition, on compte 2 mezzo-sopranos et 13 sopranos, ce qui ne surprendra personne. Par contre, les voix basses dominent chez les 13 hommes. Les voix hautes sont partagées entre 3 ténors (tous les trois de Corée) et 2 contre-ténors, ce qui constitue certes une particularité. On a présenté cet après-midi le premier ténor, Byoung Nam Hwang. Malheureusement, son très court programme permettait difficilement de se rendre compte de ses possibilités.

Les deux mezzo-sopranos, Irina Shishkova (Russie) et Jennifer Borghi (Italie) se retrouvaient dans la séance de la soirée. On y entendit aussi le baryton Sidney Outlaw (États-Unis) et le contre-ténor Lee Hee Sang (Corée du Sud). La surprise agréable de la soirée fut la prestation du baryton allemand Falko Hönish qui a interprété le Kulesha (œuvre canadienne imposée) le plus coloré et le plus original entendu depuis le début de la compétition. Un chanteur raffiné et d’une grande musicalité, présentant un programme qui justifie amplement les Prix du Lied et Prix de l’oeuvre contemporaine qu’il a remportés en 2008 au Concours international de chant IVC de ‘s-Hertogenbosch, un concours de haute réputation en Hollande.

Depuis le début de la compétition, les candidats sont magnifiquement accompagnés par les pianistes Louise-Andrée Baril, Esther Gonthier, Martin Dubé et Marie-Ève Scarfone.

On peut lire un « Récit du jour » présenté par Sylvia l’Écuyer sur le site d’Espace classique : (

> 1ère journée

- Renée Banville

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Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Concours Musical International de Montréal 2009 - 1ère journée

Mardi 19 mai,

C’est aujourd’hui que débutait au Centre Pierre-Péladeau le Concours Musical International de Montréal (CMIM) dédié cette année au chant. 28 candidats ont été retenus pour l’épreuve quart de finale qui a lieu du 19 au 21 mai. L’ordre de passage a été déterminé hier par tirage au sort.

Pour les deux premières des six séances, nous avons entendu quatre candidats du Canada : les sopranos Leslie-Ann Bradley et Pascale Beaudin, les barytons-basses Alexandre Sylvestre et Stephen Hegedus. Les autres candidats : le baryton Leslie John Flanagan (Australie), le contre-ténor Anthony Roth Costanzo (États-Unis), la soprano Catrin Aur Davies (Royaume-Uni), la soprano Maria De Castro de Lago (Espagne) et la soprano Elena Guseva (Russie).

Le programme comprend une œuvre canadienne imposée qui a été commandée par le Concours à Gary Kulesha, à qui on a demandé une pièce qui n’avantagerait aucune langue en particulier. M. Kulesha a décidé d’y placer les mots « Darkness comes » en plusieurs langues, donnant la liberté à chaque candidat de chanter les mots dans sa propre langue.

La journée a compté de belles surprises, et trois concurrents ont particulièrement retenu mon attention. D’abord le contre-ténor Anthony Roth Costanzo, un des plus jeunes concurrents, qui possède une voix magnifique et une technique impeccable. Le public lui a accordé une ovation tout de suite après le Handel qu’il a chanté en débutant, avec une voix bien contrôlée et une grande sobriété de gestes. Dernière concurrente de l’après-midi, la soprano canadienne Pascale Beaudin a fait une prestation éblouissante et a conquis la salle tout au long de sa performance. Interprète du rôle de Zerlina dans Don Giovanni à l’Opéra de Montréal en 2007, cette jeune chanteuse possède déjà une grande maîtrise de sa voix et un talent de comédienne indéniable. Des quatre candidats de la soirée, je retiens surtout le baryton-basse Stephen Hegedus qui possède une belle présence en scène chante avec beaucoup d’expression.

On ne peut malheureusement pas entendre les candidats de l’épreuve quart de finale sur internet comme l’an dernier. Cependant, on pourra voir et entendre l’épreuve demi-finale (22 et 23 mai) en direct sur internet. Et l’épreuve finale (25 et 26 mai) sera diffusée en direct sur Espace musique, 100,7 FM à Montréal. Pour plus d’information :

- Renée Banville

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Monday, 18 May 2009

2009 Montreal International Music Competition Begins May 19, 2009

The Quarter Final Round of the 2009 Montreal International Music Competition will begin tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. when Canadian soprano Leslie Ann Bradley takes the stage of the Centre Pierre-Péladeau. The order of the candidates was determined today at a draw at the Maison de Jeunesses Musicales du Canada.

In all, 29 candidates from 9 countries will compete. Unlike previous years, Espace Musique will only webcast the semi-finals and finals. Check back on this blog for a daily report.

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Montreal park renamed in honour of Oscar Peterson

After a highly publicized but failed October 2008 attempt to rename Lionel-Groulx metro station after Oscar Peterson passed away in Mississauga in December 2007, the city of Montreal has approved the renaming of Campbell Centre park to pay tribute to the legendary jazz pianist. Plans are in motion for the park to host music festivals and other public events beginning this summer.

Peterson, an officer of the Order of Canada and Governor General’s Award winner, grew up just blocks away from the park in the Little Burgundy neighbourhood. A lobby group of local residents, The Coalition of Little Burgundy, started pushing for the name change shortly after Peterson’s passing. The same coalition, led by Université de Montreal law student Michael Citrome, had also lobbied for the renaming of the metro station.

Campbell Centre park was originally named after Charles Campbell, a lawyer who left funding for the creation of parks and music concerts for the public (the Campbell Concerts) after he passed away in 1923. Now that the approval of the Campbell family and the municipal government has been received, Campbell’s two original aims will be joined as one with a public park honouring a music great and featuring musical performances.

- Cyrstal Chan

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Sunday, 17 May 2009

Mahler Brings Austin Symphony Season to Triumphant Finale!

Review by Paul E. Robinson

Classical Travels

The stage at the Long Center in Austin was jammed to capacity this week for performances of Mahler’s Resurrection (Symphony No, 2 in C minor). Peter Bay led the Austin Symphony and the Conspirare Symphonic Choir in a well-prepared and exciting performance. In fact, it was easily the best concert I have seen Maestro Bay conduct in Austin.

The Austin Symphony has not been ignoring Mahler. Under Peter Bay, they played the Mahler First in 1999, the Fourth in 2001 and the Fifth in 2004. The Second, however, is the most challenging of the group.

Mahler’s Second Symphony was composed over 100 years ago (1895), and remains extraordinarily difficult for conductors and orchestras to perform. The notes themselves can be demanding enough, but Mahler has made the challenge even greater by writing in hundreds of subtle tempo markings.

In matters of dynamics, Mahler routinely puts in different markings for each instrument in the same passage. This can be a nightmare for a conductor and requires hours of careful rehearsal to approximate Mahler’s conception. Peter Bay did a remarkable job in balancing the greatly enlarged Austin Symphony. From where I sat - row L on the ground floor - every instrument came through with remarkable clarity.

More to the point, Bay had gone beyond the letter of the score to conduct with passion and poetry. One small quibble; as a matter of personal preference, I wish he had treated Mahler’s glissando markings less apologetically.

The musicians too, had clearly done their homework. The basses and cellos get a workout right from the opening bars – a kind of continuation of the recitative passage from the beginning of the last movement of the Beethoven Ninth. The players rose to the task with both enthusiasm and careful attention to detail. The brass playing, both onstage and off, was just as fine and even in the loudest passages, always musical.

Scott Cantrell, in a Dallas Morning News review of this concert, mentions that the organ was “inaudible at the end.” This was not my experience. The organ makes its entrance very near the end of the last movement and its role is simply to reinforce the orchestra and chorus. It sounded fine where I sat. Mr. Cantrell’s seat was in the balcony; therein may lie the reason for our differing opinions.

In matters of acoustics, it is difficult to pinpoint what is right or wrong with a concert hall. In most halls, circumstances affecting how one hears the music differ from one concert to another; one may be sitting in a different location; the repertoire is different; the size of the orchestra may be different.

My experience at the Friday night performance of the Mahler was definitely favorable. The fact remains, however, that the Dell Hall in the Long Center is simply not in the same class with the Myerson or several other great halls one could mention. In spite of the best efforts of the ASO musicians and their conductor, as Mr. Cantrell put it “the hall lends little warmth, or richness or blend.”

This general observation notwithstanding, on this occasion, we should be celebrating the quality of this particular performance.

The Conspirare Symphonic Choir – about 100 members strong – was at a distinct disadvantage in being positioned at the very back of the shell, but sang with strength and joy. Mahler struggled with faith in God all his life, but in this symphony he wholeheartedly affirmed his belief in life after death and expressed that belief in some of the most inspiring music ever written. The members of the chorus captured this spirit.

I was less captivated by the soloists. Mezzo-soprano Susan Platts' beautiful voice seemed a little lightweight for what she had to tell us in the Urlicht movement and soprano Linda Mabbs lacked the ethereal purity her part requires.

Overall, this was Peter Bay’s night and his triumph. After ten seasons in Austin, Bay has consistently demonstrated an ability to efficiently prepare a ‘per service’ orchestra in interesting and difficult programs. He knows how to rehearse and how to get the best out of his musicians in limited rehearsal time. Even for a work as complicated as the Mahler Second Symphony, he had only the usual five rehearsals.

On the basis of this week’s Mahler performance, it is clear that in music that challenges him, Maestro Bay can also be forceful and involved.

More good news; Bay has programmed Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 for next season.

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

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Saturday, 16 May 2009

This Week in Toronto (May 16 - 22)

Scott Belluz & Peter McGillivray-The Shadow - (c) Meghan Hall
Scott Belluz and Peter McGillivray in The Shadow  (Photo: Meghan Hall)

After the burst of operatic and concert activities throughout April and early May, we seem to have entered into a lull this week.  Still there are a number of interesting events on offer, including the world premiere of The Shadow, a new opera with music by Omar Daniel and libretto by Alex Poch-Grodin. It is presented by Tapestry New Opera Works, running from May 21 to 30 at the Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs (box office:: 416-368-3110). Below is a description of this new opera in the promotional material from Tapestry: 

A world of duplicity in which a humble postman assumes the identity of a wealthy suitor to win a woman's love.  Determined to maintain the ruse at all costs, he is haunted by the Shadow as he spirals deeper into debt.  Set in Old Barcelona, Alex Poch-Goldin and Omar Daniel have created a world premiere opera full of intrigue, desire and deception.    Director Tom Diamond and Music Director Wayne Strongman lead a stellar cast including baritone Peter McGillivray as Raoul, soprano Carla Huhtanen as Allegra and a comic turn by tenor Keith Klassen as the waiter.  Renowned Canadian baritone Theodore Baerg makes his Tapestry debut as the Don and Allegra's father and countertenor Scott Belluz is The Shadow.  Veteran Stratford Lighting Designer Robert Thomson and Set & Costume Designer Camellia Koo create a stunning visual world reflective of Gaudi's Barcelona. The Shadow was presented as a workshop production in Tapestry's Ernest Balmer Studio in March 2007.

For those yet to catch the COC's spring season, this will be the last week of La boheme and A Midsummer Night's Dream until May 24. An interesting event starting Friday May 22 is the Toronto Symphony Orchestra National Piano Competition. The first round of solo performances takes place at Mazzoleni Hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music, 273 Floor St. West., Toronto.  Admission is by donation (suggested $10 minimum). 

While on the subject of competitions, I will be attending Montreal International Musical Competition is Voice Edition, Chant 2009, from May 19 to 28. Twenty-nine singers from nine countries (including eleven Canadians) have been invited to Montreal to participate in the competition. Among the jurors are Dame Gwyneth Jones, Tom Krause, and Sherrill Milnes. If you are interested in discovering new voices, this is the place to be.  If you cannot make your way to Montreal, you can follow the twists and turns of the drama right on your computer! Espace Musique of Radio Canada will offer live video and audio coverage.  For details, go to 

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Friday, 8 May 2009

This Week in Toronto (May 9 - 15)

Isabel Bayrakdarian

Photo: Dario Acosta

A concert of interest this week is the appearance of Isabel Bayrakdarian as soprano soloist with the Amici Chamber Ensemble, in a program of Schubert and Tango - talk about eclectic programming! It takes place on Sunday, 3 pm at the Glenn Gould Studio. (There is a pre-concert chat with host Keith Horner at 2:30 pm, so be sure to arrive early!) This is the Ensemble's last concert of the season. On the program are three Schubert pieces - Sonatensatz in B-flat Major D28, Notturno, Piano Trio in E-flat Major D897, and Rondo for Violin & Piano D895. I seem to recall that Schubert's Shepherd on the Rock was originally announced but it is no longer being performed - too bad. The Tango half of the concert features Bayrakdarian singing tangos from around the world, including pieces by Carlos Gardel, Astor Piazzolla, and Kurt Weill, among others. Members of the Amici Ensemble include Joaquin Valdepenas (clarinet), David Hetherington (cello), and its newest member, Serouj Kradjian (piano), replacing the retired Patricia Parr. Kardjian happens to be the husband of Bayrakdarian, and he is very much involved in the research and arrangements of a lot of the repertoire sung by Bayrakdarian, including the recent project of Gomidas Songs. Any performance by Bayrakdarian and Kradjian is a treat, so this concert is not to be missed!

On Saturday, the Met in HD wraps up with Rossini's La Cenerentola, starring the Latvian mezzo Elina Garanca as Angelica. She is currently one of my very favourite singers - a wonderful high mezzo with fabulous musicality and perfect technique, combined with personal beauty and alluring stage presence - what more does one want? Partnering her is American tenor Lawrence Brownlee. I've only heard him once, in the Montreal Gala about seven years ago, and he sings with bright tone and a stratospheric top along the line of a Florez. With the absence of the Peruvian in this Met revival, Brownlee is the next best thing. The opera also stars the inimitable Alessandro Corbelli. The show is carried in the usual Cineplex locations across Canada. For more information, go to Tickets can be purchased online at

The Canadian Opera Company continues with performances of La boheme and A Midsummer Night's Dream, now that Simon Boccanegra has concluded its run last evening. The Verdi was one of the best shows I have seen at the COC in recent years - its thirty year absence was worth the wait! I attended the opening night of the Britten, and was struck by the beauty of the production. Aesthetically it reminds me a little of the COC Pelleas. No, the music isn't easy, or even as accessible as early Britten like Grimes. It is a connoisseur's piece, and sadly like Pelleas last time, there was a substantial exodus at intermission. Too bad as they missed a scintillating Act 3 with its hilarious comic turn. Thanks to the youthful cast made up of mostly COC Ensemble artists, they managed to make it come alive.

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Sunday, 3 May 2009

Economic Crisis: Little impact on French arts and music groups

The French association ADMICAL, founded in 1979 to promote business support for the arts, report that 73% of enterprises that have donated indicate their budget for arts support will remain stable. Another 14% report their budget will decrease but 11% indicate that it will increase. Admittedly, donations are only a small part of the budget of most organizations, but government support - always central to the budgets - shows no sign of change and there is even a tiny bit of "stimulus" money to be distributed by the Ministry of Culture. In a recent article in the French magazine Telerama, the same trend is observed with an actual increase in museum and theater attendance noted in many cases. While there have been minor cuts from the various government entities dolling out money to arts groups, these have not had an overall impact on the general artistic health of most institutions. The Aix-en-Provence Festival, whose fat ticket prices make up a large part of their income, has made slight reductions this summer but there are few other signs of caution. Interest in the arts remains high, attendance at concerts and opera is strong. Best of all, the support of smaller music and arts groups, including most theaters - all not funded by the state - has seen no significant falloff. But the words "not yet" are always in the background.

Frank Cadenhead

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Saturday, 2 May 2009

Met Player Free Weekend Ends May 3

This weekend, the Metropolitan Opera is offering a free trial of its Met Player, which is an online streaming service that allows access to over 200 audio video performances including 20 of its recent HD productions from the first three seasons of The Met: Live in HD series.

The trial started on May 1 and ends on Sunday, May 3. Visit to register, no credit card information is required.

For more information, read the press release. will review the Met Player in a future blog.

Wah Keung Chan

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This Week in Toronto (May 2 - 8)

Soprano Laura Claycomb as Tytania in the Houston Grand Opera/Lyric Opera of Chicago/Canadian Opera co-production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Photo: Felix Sanchez

Countertenor Lawrence Zazzo, COC's Oberon

The last production of the COC's 2008-9 season, Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream, opens on May 5 and continues until May 23, in eight performances at the Four Season's Centre. It will be an "updated" production from Houston Grand Opera, directed by Neil Armfield. It stars American countertenor Lawrence Zazzo as Oberon. This will be Zazzo's belated COC debut, as he was originally announced to appear three seasons ago in Rodelinda. Soprano Laura Claycomb, last seen as Gilda in Rigoletto, returns as Tytania. Also of interest is the return of German baritone Wolfgang Holzmair as Demetrius, in a bit of unconventional casting. Holzmair made an unscheduled - and largely unannounced - debut two seasons ago in two performances of Cosi fan tutte as Don Alfonso, replacing Pavlo Hunka, near the end of the run. I look forward to hearing him in Toronto again. Also returning is soprano Giselle Allen, who was Marie in COC's last Wozzeck. Former Kansas City Symphony music director Anne Manson conducts.
On Tuesday May 5, Newfoundland's Duo Concertante will give a free noon hour concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, in the Four Season's Centre. The duo of violinist Nancy Dahn and pianist Timothy Steeves is launching its new CD, It Takes Two, with this free concert. It also appeared previously in a live performance at the New Classical FM 96.3 on April 8th. Be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes early to get a seat, as these concerts are almost always full.
Today (May 2) in over 30 theatres in Canada, Montreal distributor DigiScreen presents Royal Ballet's production of La Bayadere (The Temple Dancer), as part of The Royal Opera House’s international Opus Arte Cinema series. It stars three of ballet's biggest stars - Tamara Rojo, Marianela Nuñez and Cuban superstar Carlos Acosta. I plan to attend the show at Empress Walk cinemas in North York.
Lieder fans will love Off Centre Music Salon's German-Spanish Salon on Sunday, May 3 2 pm at the Glenn Gould Studio. It stars the wonderful baritone Russell Braun, sopranos Monica Whicher and Lucia Cesaroni, with pianists Boris and Inna Zarankin.
Finally I want to report on the superlative concert I heard last Tuesday at Roy Thomson Hall. It was the National Philharmonic Of Russia led by Vladimir Spivakov, with guest soloist Denis Matsuev. I recall reading somewhere that Spiavkov was asked personally by Putin to put this touring orchestra together, as a means of keeping the great Russian talents at home. It is comprised of many great virtuosi picked from various Russian orchestras. Svetlana Dvoretskaia, the impresario of Show One Productions, brought the orchestra to Toronto for its Canadian debut. I don't have any statistics to back it up, but judging by casual observation, the audience was at least 80% Russian, if not more. It was a completely packed house, with people sitting even in the choir loft. There was also a palpable sense of excitement in the lobby before the concert.
The program began with Anatol Liadov's The Enchanted Lake, Op. 62. The hushed and evocative orchestral passages reminded me, of all things, passages from Schoenberg's Gurrelieder, except Liadov is more tonal. A very beautiful piece that I hope to hear again. That was followed by the centerpiece of the first half, Rachmaninoff's No. 1, with Matsuev. Since his win of the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1998, Matsuev has appeared around the world, in all the great venues the likes of Carnegie Hall and La Scala. I have to confess that of the three Rachmaninoff concertos, No. 1 is my least favourite. However, Matsuev's stunning technique and fluid phrasing was impressive, and he was expertly supported by Spivakov. Embarrassingly, the audience applauded after the first movement, even when Spivakov kept his hands raised to discourage the misdirected enthusiasm. Frankly I don't think he was amused by the rather gauche audience behaviour. He noticeably did not pause between the second and third movements to avoid a repeat.
The second half consisted of two pieces with the Romeo and Juiette theme, that of Tchaikovsky's Fantasy-Overture, and the meatier Four Pieces from the Romeo and Juliet Suite by Prokofiev. To me, this was the heart of the evening. I am at a loss to come up with superlatives to describe the sound - and the conducting - of these two pieces. The waves upon waves of incredible sound - and energy - coming from the stage was staggering. Ever the showman, Spivakov's conducting was so colourful that I couldn't take my eyes off him. His movement was fluid - he waved his arms like he was imitating a crane taking off! There were four encores, all chestnuts, that had the audience in a frenzy - many, many ovations and lots and lots of flowers, to be sure. This sort of audience response is rare in Canada but very common in Europe, particular the former Soviet Union. Spivakov's conducting reminds me of a racecar driving behind the wheel of a Ferrari - he could do anything he wanted with this orchestra! Simply amazing to watch and listen. Let's home that Show One will bring Spivakov and the superb NPR back to Toronto in the not-too-distant future.

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Friday, 1 May 2009

Schiff Concludes Beethoven Sonata Cycle in San Francisco

Review by Paul E. Robinson

Classical Travels

I first met András Schiff in1984, when he appeared as guest artist with the CJRT Orchestra in Toronto, performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21. It was a joy for me to collaborate with such a gifted young musician. He had all the musical skills imaginable, but he had more. He was curious about everything, and each performance was a voyage of discovery. He later did me the honor of attending my performance of the Sibelius Kullervo Symphony (May, 1986) at Roy Thomson Hall, and returned the following season to perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 (March 22, 1987), again with the CJRT Orchestra.

Many years have passed since our first meeting, and András Schiff has long since been recognized as one of the leading artists of his generation. He has been highly praised for his Mozart, Bach, Schubert and Beethoven; one of his current projects is performing all 32 Beethoven Piano Sonatas in chronological order in major cities around the world. I caught up with him for the last three sonatas in a recital at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco on April 5. It was an unforgettable experience.

In an interview about Beethoven's last three sonatas, Schiff describes them as “a splendid combination of order and freedom,” and that is exactly how he played them. Each marking in the score was carefully observed but not in a dry, scholarly way. Every bar had the feeling of improvisation. In fact, Schiff so completely inhabited the spirit of the music that at times I had the sense that Beethoven himself was improvising on his own melodic and rhythmic ideas. This is a fanciful idea to be sure, but the point is that Schiff is able to lift this music off the page and make it sing and dance in wholly convincing ways.

Together with the discipline and freedom of his playing, Schiff brings to bear a remarkable understanding of how this music should sound. There are many young keyboard lions at work today who can play fast and loud; few of them can approach Schiff in his ability to generate intensity without banging.

The popular image of Beethoven as angry and unpredictable has some basis in fact and some of that unbridled energy is occasionally expressed in his music. The first movement of Op. 111 is certainly forceful and impassioned; Beethoven even marks the episode Allegro con brio ed appassionato. Some pianists approach such passages with something approaching violence. But while the emotion is real and personal, it is expressed within the most meticulously disciplined music ever composed. The supreme achievement of Schiff’s Beethoven is to balance the wide range of emotion with the intellectual complexities.

Schiff has thought deeply about this music for a very long time, and about how best to present it on a concert program. Not only did he play the sonatas in chronological sequence; he played the last three without intermission. Furthermore, he never left the stage during the course of the concert.

The idea conveyed by this presentation format was that we should think of these three sonatas, not as movements of the same large work, but as a triptych. They were composed as a group between 1820 and 1822, and while they are thematically independent, they share a common approach to musical problem-solving and exploration. Beethoven’s last major work for piano solo was still to come – the massive Diabelli Variations – but as a group, these sonatas represent Beethoven’s last word in composing for piano in the sonata form tradition of Mozart and Haydn.

The first sonata in the group – Op. 109 in E major – is an ideal point of departure. It opens quietly and with music which seems easygoing and uneventful. This is Beethoven musing at the keyboard - vamping, as it were - getting the fingers warmed up while he organizes his thoughts. Schiff caught just the right improvisatory feeling in these languid opening bars and in the stop-start music which follows. A wake-up call comes in the quick and stormy minor-key scherzo, but the heart of the matter is in the last movement; a theme and variations. The theme itself is one of Beethoven’s most heartfelt utterances, and Schiff played it with simplicity and sensitivity. Variation II recalls the dreamy opening of the first movement, but the variations gradually become more complex in their figuration. In the sixth and last variation, Beethoven builds a remarkable aural texture combining thirty-second note figuration with continuous trills, often in both hands simultaneously. This was something completely new in music, and Beethoven’s listeners must have been astonished. Schiff built this movement with extraordinary control and clarity.

The Sonata Op. 110, in A flat major, is emotionally more profound than its predecessor, especially in the Adagio section, but it is also a technical marvel. For me, it all comes together in the two fugal sections interrupted by a deeply moving reprise of the Arioso dolente. The slow sections are heartbreaking, but so too in a different way are the climactic moments in the fugal sections. Joy through tears, we might say. Schiff’s performance was as fine as I have ever heard, or expect to hear.

There is more turmoil and heartbreak in Op. 111. Here again, the subtlety and beauty of Schiff’s playing in the Arietta perfectly revealed the profound emotion in the music. In the last movement, as in Op. 109, Beethoven again uses the device of continuous trills to extraordinary effect, and Schiff’s playing was magical. Listeners who want to hear a sense of struggle in late Beethoven would have been disappointed. Schiff makes it sound easy. But make no mistake, this is some of the most difficult piano music ever written. Schiff’s technical mastery is truly amazing. More importantly, it is only through this technical proficiency that we get to appreciate Beethoven’s music as a unique amalgam of form, feeling and beauty.

After the concert, scores of listeners lined up in the lobby at Davies Symphony Hall to have Schiff sign copies of his recordings. I suspect that these fortunate music-lovers will treasure their personalized mementos for years to come.

András Schiff has recorded all 32 Beethoven Piano Sonatas. Volume VIII, recorded in Germany in 2007, contains the last three sonatas (ECM Records ECM 1949).

Photo by Kevin Scanlon for The New York Times
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

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La Scena Musicale May 2009 Mai

[Version française ci-dessous]


Last month, I attended the 11th Annual Vanier College Big Band Benefit, dedicated, this year, to the Women of Vanier. The rousing performance by the young ensemble directed by Jocelyn Couture was recorded by CBC Radio Two for Music Monday, an annual demonstration of love of music in elementary and secondary schools, to be held this year on May 4, 2009. Last year over 700,000 youths took part, boding well for the future of music. As I was watching the stage, I was surprised by the all-female trumpet section, and I felt encouraged by the changing times; when I played in high school, all the trumpeters were boys. How coincidental then that our May issue focuses on Women in Jazz, meeting Jazz composer and bandleader Maria Schneider and singer/pianist Patricia Barber.

For the thirteenth straight year, La Scena Musicale, Canada's most wide-reaching and well-respected classical music and jazz magazine, will once again celebrate the summer season in music. This year, our work seems more important, in view of the economic crisis and how much festivals contribute to local economies. The $100 million in federal funds for festivals is welcome, and we hope they are given fairly and used wisely.

This month, we feature our annual national focus on over 130 Canadian jazz, world and folk music festivals (plus several spring classical music festivals). Next month, our June national issue will be dedicated to over 90 classical music and Canadian arts festivals.

Also, in this issue: The St. Lambert Choral Society celebrates 90 years while the Guarneri Quartet retires after 45 years of music making. We provide you with a behind-the-scenes look into the 2009 Edition of the Montreal International Music Competition (Voice) with an interview with baritone Sherrill Milnes. We also meet international soprano Sondra Radvanovsky.

The May Discovery CD features composer Francesco Tárrega’s (1852-1909) works for guitar, presented by Canadian guitarist Michel Beauchamp. Remember that this CD (a collaboration with XXI Records) is free for paying copies of La Scena Musicale. As we continue our 2009 Subscription Campaign, I am pleased to announce that the Canadian music recording industry is lending its support with prizes for a Super Subscription Contest. So far, we have $20,000 in prizes: XXI Records will contribute a collection of 260 CDs, SRI Distribution 200 CDs, Analekta 200 CDs, ATMA 200 CDs, Naxos 200 CDs and CBC Records 100 CDs. What better way to start or complete your CD collection? This contest is open to current and new subscribers as of August 15, 2009.

Lucia di Lammermoor is next on Opéra de Montréal’s bill, and we provide a musicological view of Donizetti’s masterpiece. Lucia is also part of our next fundraising event: Opera weekend in Montreal on May 23rd an ideal Mother’s Day gift. Call 514-948-2520 for tickets and more information.

Download the PDF version.

Wah Keung Chan
Founding Editor/Publisher,

La Scena Musicale



Le mois dernier, j’ai assisté au xie Concert-bénéfice Big band du collège Vanier, dédié cette année aux femmes de Vanier. La prestation enthousiaste du jeune ensemble dirigé par Jocelyn Couture a été enregistrée par CBC Radio Two pour Lundi en musique, une célébration annuelle de l’amour de la musique dans les écoles primaires et secondaires, qui se tiendra le 4 mai en 2009. L’an dernier, plus de 700 000 jeunes y ont pris part, ce qui augure bien pour l’avenir de la musique. Et alors que je regardais les musiciens, j’ai été étonné de voir une section de trompettes entièrement féminine. J’ai été encouragé par cette nouveauté : lorsque je jouais au secondaire, tous les trompettistes étaient des garçons. Quel heureux hasard que notre numéro de mai souligne la présence des femmes dans le jazz : en effet, nous interviewons la compositrice et chef d’orchestre Maria Schneider et la pianiste et chanteuse Patricia Barber.

Pour la treizième année consécutive, La Scena Musicale, le magazine de musique classique et de jazz le plus lu au Canada et respecté dans le monde entier, célébrera de nouveau l’été en musique. Cette année, notre travail revêt une pertinence particulière, en raison de la crise économique et de l’importante contribution des festivals aux économies locales. Les 100 millions de dollars d’aide fédérale accordée aux festivals sont les bienvenus et nous espérons que les fonds seront distribués équitablement et utilisés de façon judicieuse.

Comme chaque année, en mai nous mettons l’accent sur les plus de 130 festivals d’été canadiens de jazz, de musiques du monde et de musique folklorique – sans compter de nombreux festivals de printemps de musique classique. Le mois prochain, le numéro national de juin sera consacré aux plus de 90 festivals d’été de musique classique et d’art au Canada.

Également dans ce numéro : la Société chorale de Saint-Lambert célèbre ses 90 ans et le célèbre Quatuor Guarneri prend sa retraite après 45 ans d’existence. Nous vous amenons dans les coulisses de l’édition 2009 du Concours Musical International de Montréal (chant) dans une entrevue avec le baryton Sherrill Milnes. Enfin, nous rencontrons la soprano Sondra Radvanovsky.

Le CD Découverte de mai est consacré aux œuvres pour guitare de Francesco Tárrega (1852-1909), interprétées par le guitariste Michel Beauchamp. Ce CD (une collaboration avec les Disques XXI) est offert gratuitement à tous les lecteurs qui achètent La Scena Musicale. Nous poursuivons notre campagne d’abonnement 2009 et je suis particulièrement heureux d’annoncer que l’industrie canadienne du disque apporte un soutien généreux à notre grand concours d’abonnement. Jusqu’ici, nous avons 20 000 $ de prix à offrir : les Disques XXI offrent une collection de 260 CD, SRI Distribution 200 CD, Analekta 200 CD, ATMA 200 CD, Naxos 200 CD et les Disques SRC 100 CD. Quelle meilleure façon de commencer ou d’arrondir votre collection de musique ? Ce concours est ouvert aux abonnés existants et nouveaux en date du 15 août 2009.

Lucia di Lammermoor sera la prochaine production de l’Opéra de Montréal et nous publions une analyse musicologique du chef-d’œuvre de Donizetti. Lucia sera également notre prochaine activité de collecte de fonds, un week-end d’opéra à Montréal le 23 mai – un cadeau idéal pour la fête des Mères. Appeler au 514-948-2520 pour des billets ou plus d’information.

Téléchargez la version PDF.

Wah Keung Chan
L’éditeur et rédacteur en chef fondateur