La Scena Musicale

Monday, 28 September 2009

This Week in Toronto (Sept. 28 - Oct. 4)

Photo (l.) COC Butterfly with Adina Nitescu and David Pomeroy (photo credit: Michael Cooper) Photo (r.) Evgeny Kissin (Photo: Sheila Rock)

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra opened the season with a bang, bringing to town last week Joshua Bell for two concerts. This week, the TSO offers two consummate musicians, the great pianist-pedagogue Leon Fleisher and the extraordinary Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin. Fleisher plays Mozart Piano Concerto No. 12 K414 on Sept. 30 8:00 pm, in a program that also includes Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2, conducted by Peter Oundjian. Then on Sunday Oct. 4, 3 pm at Roy Thomson Hall, the ever-popular Evgeny Kissin makes a return to TO in a performance of Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2. On the program is (once again) Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2, and Prelude to Act 3 of Lohengrin, conducted by Oundjian.

On Saturday, Oct. 3 8 pm at the Glenn Gould Studio, pianist Minsoo Sohn, the first Laureate of the Honens' Competition in Calgary, will give a recital, playing Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, and Liszt's Transcriptions of Beethoven, Schubert and Mozart. In case you don't know, the Honens Competition is heating up this month in Calgary and well worth following. I think at least the finals will be carried on CBC - I will check and report on this later.

For opera fans, the COC's Madama Butterfly continues this week for its run of an unprecedented fifteen performances at the Four Seasons Centre. I understand limited tickets for the shows are still available, including rush tickets for seniors. I attended opening night on Saturday. This Puccini warhorse can be a little hackneyed in a routine performance, but with good singing and a good orchestra like the COC, it has a sweep and power that is almost unequaled in verismo. The old Brian Macdonald production is very basic but serviceable, and the stage direction is traditional. The singing is generally very good. Adina Nitescu is a celebrated Butterfly, having sung it in many of the major houses, including La Scala in 2004. The voice isn't so fresh now five years later, and there is no high pianissimo. Hers is a mature Butterfly - this is not meant to be a criticism - I've always thought it was wicked of Puccini to expect a spinto soprano with the vocal heft to sing this very dramatic music while pretending to be a 15-year old geisha - this is an impossibility! Nitescu bears an uncanny facial resemblance to the mature Teresa Stratas, with dramatic intensity to match. I was very impressed with her acting, especially in Acts 2 and 3 (performed together in this production). On opening night, Canadian David Pomeroy was a ringing-voiced Pinkerton with excellent high notes; baritone James Westman was an extroverted, highly sympathetic Sharpless, and mezzo Allyson McHardy a luscious voiced Suzuki. The tempo of the opening overture conducted by Carlo Montanaro was at breakneck speed, as a result there was some ragged playing by the musicians struggling to catch up. Things settled down soon afterwards for a fine performance. Montanaro knows the verismo style well and he milked the climaxes for a big, exciting sound.

Tomorrow is the alternate cast of Canadian soprano Yannick Muriel Noah in her role debut as Cio Cio San, American tenor Bryan Hymel as Pinkerton, Canadian baritone Brett Polegato in his first Sharpless, and Canadian mezzo Anita Krause reprising her Suzuki. This cast will sing 6 performances of the 15-performance run. Not to be missed.

Finally, to go from the sublime to the ridiculous, I will mention Jerry Springer: The Opera, playing from Sept. 24 to Oct. 10 at 8 pm at The Hart House Theatre, 7 Hart House Circle, University of Toronto. Calling this piece an opera is an inspired stroke to some, and an insult to the Heiligen Kunst to others. If you don't mind a vulgar "libretto" where four letter words are used allegedly 96 times, this "opera" is for you. I have never seen it, but I just might give it a try. I am told that when this was first shown on the BBC, it received a record number of complaints. So there you are - attend at your own risk!

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Friday, 25 September 2009

Cette semaine à Montréal (26 sept au 1re oct ) / This Week in Montreal (September 26 to October 1)

Musique, danse, théâtre, etarts plastiques à Montréal cette semaine

Music, dance, theatre, and fine arts in Montreal this week

Jazz Sam. 26 Auguste Quartet (Alain Bédard. Frank Lozano, Alex Grogg et Michel Lambert). Jazz bar le dièse onze. 20 h. —Marc Chénard

Art Visuel On le sait, la tendance est à l’environnement et la scène des arts visuels n’y échappe pas. C’est d’ailleurs une des préoccupations du Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal qui présente actuellement Grandeur nature, une exposition verte et écolo consacrée aux plus beaux paysages américains et canadiens. Photographies et peinture se côtoient dans un parcours scénographique et un catalogue de type « écodesign » qui met en valeur tant une exploration qu’une analyse de la peinture et de la photographie de paysage réalisées entre 1860 et 1918. C’est-à-dire entre le début de la guerre de Sécession, épisode tragique et incontournable de l’histoire des États-Unis, la Confédération canadienne, moment charnière de notre histoire, et la fin de la Première Guerre mondiale, qui marque une ère nouvelle caractérisée par une période de transformation. Plus qu’une simple exposition sur le paysage, cette rencontre avec la nature est aussi l’occasion d’explorer plus en profondeur ces deux nations. Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, jusqu’au 27 septembre 2009.

Art visuel En parallèle à l’événement Grandeur Nature et en collaboration avec la Cinémathèque québécoise et Radio-Canada, le musée présente l’exposition Frédéric Back, une nature témoin, qui commémore l’œuvre d’un artiste talentueux, visionnaire et sensible à la cause de l’environnement. L’œuvre de Frédéric Back, à la fois artiste, peintre, illustrateur et cinéaste, invite le public à contempler la beauté de la nature, mais aussi et surtout à la protéger. Carnets de dessins, gouaches et dessins, montages en séquence d’acétates originaux du célèbre film L’homme qui plantait des arbres (1987) constituent cette rétrospective inédite de l’artiste. Entrée libre, Montréal, Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, jusqu’au 27 septembre 2009. —Julie Beaulieu

Jazz Mer. 30 Duo des saxophonistes Evan Parker (de Londres) et Ned Rothenberg (de New York) (Musique improvisée) Casa del Popolo 21 h. —Marc Chénard

Orchestral music Orchestre symphonique de Laval September 30 : A respected authority on Ludwig van Beethoven’s piano repertoire, Anton Kuerti takes on the majestic Emperor Concerto. Conductor Alain Trudell and the OSL then perform the public’s coup de cœur, Tchaikovsky’s poignant Fifth Symphony. The horn solo in the second movement is sure to warm your heart! —Laura Bates

Jazz octobre Jeu. 1er Ensemble Denis Chang – Jazz manouche. Église Jean XXIII (493-8200). (En reprise le 26 oct. au centre culturel de Pierrefonds.) —Marc Chénard

Danse Et puis, Catherine Lalonde, ma collègue éclectique du Devoir, poétesse talentueuse, Prix Nelligan 2009 et danseuse elle-même, nous présente sa chorégraphie Musica Nocturna avec la danseuse Geneviève La et le comédien Jean-François Casabonne dans le cadre du Festival International de la Littérature, lequel fête ses 15 ans. À voir à l’Usine C dans une coproduction avec Danse Cité du jusqu’au 3 octobre. —Aline Apostolska

Theatre Imago Theatre presents Down from Heaven, by Colleen Wagner, until October 3 at Monument National. This unsettling play is set during a global pandemic and a food crisis. Civil society has collapsed and a wealthy family is forced into quarantine in the basement of their mansion, relying entirely on their former gardener for survival. —Jessica Hill

Vocal music Opera de Montreal opens the season with the double bill of I Pagliacci and Gianni Schicchi, a rather unconventional pairing (five performances from Sept. 26 to Oct. 8, Salle Wilfrid Pelletier). Marc Hervieux takes on the juicy dramatic tenor role of Canio, while soprano Marie-Josee Lord sings Nedda – these two are sure to generate sparks. Gregory Dahl is the spurned Tonio, and Etienne Dupuis sings Nedda's love interest, Silvio. After the heavy verismo of Leoncavallo, the audience will welcome the broadly comic Gianni Schicchi, with Dahl doing double duty in the title role. Fast-rising soprano Marianne Fiset promises to be a delicious Lauretta, and Marie-Nicole Lemieux gets to show off her comic flair as Zita. —Joseph So*

*Join La Scena Musicale on October 3's performance of Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci and Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, presented by the Opéra de Montréal. Don't miss this unforgettable performance! All funds raised from this exceptional weekend will go towards the non-profit charitable activities of La Scena Musicale. Order now at (514) 948-2520 or

Théâtre Une truite pour Ernestine Shuswap : La problématique des relations entre Blancs et autochtones est rarement abordée sur les scènes montréalaises. Écrite par le grand dramaturge Tomson Highway, un Cri du Manitoba, cette pièce campée en 1910 revisite sur un mode tragi-comique un siècle d’histoire. Le spectacle marque aussi le retour d’André Brassard à la mise en scène, un an après Oh les beaux jours. Jusqu’au 10 octobre, à l’Espace GO —Marie Labrecque

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COC Ensemble Studio launches the 2009-10 Free Concert Series

2009-10 COC Ensemble Studio
(front: l. to r.) Ileana Montalbetti, soprano; Laura Albino, soprano; Simone Osborne, soprano; Erin Fisher, soprano; Teiya Kasahara, soprano; Anne Larlee, intern music coach; Liz Upchurch, director; Wallis Giunta, mezzo; (back: l. to r.) Michael Barrett, tenor; Adam Luther, tenor; Alistair Newton, intern director; Neil Craighead, bass; Michael Uloth, bass; Adrian Kramer, baritone
Photo: Chris Hutcheson

Meet the Young Artists
Artists of the COC Ensemble Studio
Anne Larlee, piano

"Gavotte" from Manon - Laura Albino, soprano
"Batti, batti" from Don Giovanni - Erin Fisher, soprano
"Una furtiva lagrima" from L'elisir d'amore - Michael Barrett, tenor
"Arise, yet subterranean winds" from Tempest - Neil Craighead, bass-baritone
"When I am laid in earth" from Dido and Aeneas - Wallis Giunta, mezzo
"Se vuol ballare" from Le nozze di Figaro - Michael Uloth, bass
"Come in quest'ora bruna" - from Simon Boccanegra - Ileana Montalbetti, soprano
"En fermant les yeux" - from Manon - Adam Luther, tenor
"Der Holle Rache" - from Die Zauberfloete - Teiya Kasahara, soprano
Marenka's Aria - from Bartered Bride - Simone Osborne, soprano
"Largo al factotum" from Il barbiere di Siviglia - Adrian Kramer, baritone

The 2009-10 edition of the Canadian Opera Ensemble Studio kicked off the popular COC Free Concert Series today at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre. This was the first of ten concerts of the Vocal Series involving the COC Ensemble, scattered throughout the year. Since we generally don't get to hear these fine young singers on the mainstage in principal roles, these concerts represent good opportunities to get acquainted with their voices in more substantial repertoire. I should mention that the Vocal Series is but one of six Free Concert Series at the COC, others are series on Chamber Music, Dance, Jazz, Piano Virtuoso, and World Music. Voice fans will get a chance to hear up and coming singers, in a great venue with excellent acoustics. It is just too bad that the space is really too small to meet the huge demand - there is always a long lineup before each show and inevitably some unhappy opera lovers would have to be turned away. So remember to show up early!

Given that opera is about voices first and foremost, it was fitting that the first concert involved the Ensemble singers. There are four new singers in the Ensemble this year - soprano Simone Osborne, mezzo Wallis Giunta, baritone Adrian Kramer, and bass Neil Craighead, joining returning members sopranos Laura Albino, Ileana Montalbetti, Erin Fisher and Teiya Kasahara, tenors Adam Luther and Michael Barrett, and bass Michael Uloth. All of them participated in today's concert. They are all highly talented, well schooled, expertly prepared by the COC musical staff. Each brings his/her own unique gifts of voice, musicality, personality, and stage presence to their performance. After a lengthy introduction by Ensemble director Liz Upchurch, each singer offered a brief word or two about their aria before plunging in. As is typical with this type of concerts, where there is no costume and scenery to help set the mood, a singer has precious little time to make an impression and do justice to the set piece he/she is singing. It can't be easy to do this "cold", and as a result, some of the singers came across as a little tentative. Others were able to throw caution to the wind and gave riveting performances.

Of the returning Ensemble Studio singers, I particularly enjoyed soprano Teiya Kasahara, who sang and acted Queen of the Night's Act Two Aria beautifully and with great energy, nailing the staccato runs accurately and with focused tone. It was about the best I've heard her. Also noteworthy was soprano Laura Albino who sang the Gavotte from Manon with bright, attractive tone. It must have been difficult to be the first onstage, and she was not helped by an overly enthusiastic - some would say gauche - audience rudely interrupting her with applause after just the first verse. (Incidentally I think one of the verses was cut to begin with) It was to Albino's credit that she handled the interruption graciously.

All four new Ensemble Studio members acquitted themselves well. I was particularly impressed with baritone Adrian Kramer, who made a strong debut with a scintillating and uninhibited "Largo al factotum" Not only was he the biggest ham among the eleven singers, he also used his compact, high baritone with style and intelligence. His hamming it up was all in fun of course, as it would be unwise to push his lyric instrument like this on a regular basis. Also of note is Simone Osborne, who sang Marenka's Aria from Bartered Bride with great feeling and musicality - and according to my Czech friend, excellent diction. The glamorous mezzo Wallis Giunta offered a deeply felt Dido's Lament. Overall, the singing was enjoyable, even if there was a curious dearth of mezza voce and high piano singing, even when the scores indicate. These quibbles aside, the concert amply demonstrated a strong group of young artists and it bodes well for the new opera season.

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Thursday, 24 September 2009

Canada Council for the Arts announces 14 winners in Musical Instrument Bank Competition

I just returned from the Canada Council for the Arts Musical Instrument Bank Competition press conference at the Glenn Gould Studio. The slate of fourteen winners of this year's competition was announced, and all except one were there to formally receive their instruments for a three-year loan. There are twelve women and two men among the winners. Among the collection of instruments (all violins and cellos) include four Stradivari, the most valuable is the 1696 Bonjour Stradivari cello, insured for $8 million. This has been awarded to cellist Rachel Mercer. The 1689 Baumgartner Stradivari violin, valued at $4.3 million, has been awarded to Judy Kang.

The Instrument Bank was established in 1985, through donations and loans from private individuals and anonymous donors. It is designed to help young Canadian musicians to further their international solo or chamber music careers. Luthier Ric Heinl and his team at Geo. Heinl & Company Ltd are responsible for the restoration and maintenance of the instruments.

A free concert will be given this evening at 8 pm at the Glenn Gould Studio. Tickets are limited so be sure to secure a ticket before you go. The concert will be recorded for broadcast on CBC Radio 2's In Concert with Bill Richardson on Sunday, Oct. 4, and on Tempo with Julie Nesrallah at a later date. They will also be broadcast on Espace musique on tuesday, Oct. 27 at 8 pm on Soirees classiques, hosted by Michel Keable.

Below is the press release on the winners:


The Canada Council for the Arts Musical Instrument Bank loans three‑hundred‑year ‑old instruments to exceptional young musicians
Toronto, September 24, 2009The Canada Council for the Arts is pleased to announce the winners of the Musical Instrument Bank competition (MIB). The 14 instruments loaned to gifted young Canadian musicians are worth more than $28 million.

Please find below the list of instruments and the winners of the 2009 competition.

The 1689 Baumgartner Stradivari violin, valued at $4.3 million, is awarded to Judy Kang. In 1997, 2000, 2003 and 2006, she won the loan of an instrument from the MIB. Born inEdmonton, she currently lives in New York.

The ca. 1696 Bonjour Stradivari cello, valued at $8 million, is awarded to Rachel Mercer. In 2006, she won the loan of an instrument from the MIB. Born in Edmonton, she currently lives in Toronto.

The ca. 1700 Bell Giovanni Tononi violin, valued at $188,000, is awarded to Marie-Ève Poupart. Originally from St-Jean-sur-Richelieu (QC), she currently lives in Baltimore,Maryland.

The ca. 1700 Taft Stradivari violin, valued at an estimated $4.3 million, is awarded to Renée‑Paule Gauthier. Originally from Jonquière (QC), she currently lives in Calgary.

The 1715 Dominicus Montagnana violin, valued at $858,000, is awarded to Véronique Mathieu. Also a winner in 2006, Ms. Mathieu has selected this violin for the second time.Born in Montreal and raised in Quebec City, she now lives in Bloomington, Indiana.

The 1717 Windsor-Weinstein Stradivari violin, valued at $4.3 million, is awarded to Caroline Chéhadé of Montreal. In 2006, she won the loan of an instrument from the MIB.

The 1729 Guarneri del Gesù violin, valued at $4.3 million, is awarded to Nikki Chooi. A native of Victoria (BC), he currently studies in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The 1747 Palmason Januarius Gagliano violin, valued at $322,000, is awarded to Andréa Tyniec. Originally from St-Jean-sur-Richelieu (QC), she currently lives Munich, Germany.

The ca. 1767 Joannes Baptista Guadagnini, valued at $536,000, is awarded to Min-Jeong Koh. Born in Seoul, South Korea, and raised in Toronto, she currently lives in Montreal.

The 1820 Joannes Franciscus Pressenda violin, valued at $375,000, is awarded to Kerry DuWors. In 2003 and 2006, she won the loan of an instrument from the MIB. Originally from Saskatoon, she currently lives in Brandon (MB).

The 1824 McConnell Nicolaus Gagliano cello, valued at $375,000, is awarded to Chloé Dominguez, of Montreal.

The ca. 1830 Shaw Adam cello bow, valued at $43,000, is awarded to Emmanuelle Beaulieu Bergeron. Also a MIB winner in 2006, Ms. Beaulieu Bergeron has selected this cello bow for the second time. She was born in Roberval (QC), and currently lives in Toronto.

1869 Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume violin with its Vuillaume model bow, valued at $172,000, is awarded to Jessica Linnebach. In 2003 and 2006, she won the loan of an instrument from the MIB. Born in Edmonton, she currently lives in Ottawa.

1902 Enrico Rocca violin, valued at $214,000, is awarded to Jing Wang. Born in China and raised in Sainte-Foy (QC), he currently lives in Texas.

Instrument descriptions, biographical notes and downloadable photographs of the winners and instruments are available on the Canada Council’s website at

Since last Sunday, talented Canadian musicians have competed for a three-year loan of one of the thirteen fine stringed instruments and the one cello bow created between 1689 and 1902. The winners had the opportunity to choose the instrument they would like to have on loan in order of their placement in the competition.

The peer assessment committee evaluated all applications – which included recordings of the applicants’ playing – and selected finalists. Finalists were then invited to come to Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto for auditions and interviews. The winners were selected by a committee consisting of Peter Gardner, violinist and director of Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra (St. John’s, NL); Uri Mayer, violist and conductor (Toronto); and Sophie Rolland, cellist (London, England).

Musical Instrument Bank
Created in 1985, the Musical Instrument Bank acquires through donations and loans fine stringed instruments to be loaned to gifted young Canadian musicians to help further their international solo or chamber music careers. Luthier Ric Heinl and his team at Geo. Heinl & Co. Limited are responsible for the restoration and maintenance of the instruments.

Free concert
Tonight at 8 p.m., the 14 winners will perform in a free concert before a full house at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto.

The musicians’ performances will be recorded for broadcast on CBC Radio 2’s In Concertwith Bill Richardson on Sunday, October 4th and on Tempo with Julie Nesrallah at a later date. They will also be broadcast on Espace musique, Radio-Canada’s music network, on Tuesday, October 27th at 8 p.m. on Soirées classiques, hosted by Michel Keable.

General information
In addition to its principal role of promoting and fostering the arts, the Canada Council for the Arts administers and awards many prizes and fellowships in the arts, humanities, social sciences, natural and health sciences, engineering, and arts management. These prizes and fellowships recognize the achievements of outstanding Canadian artists, scholars, and administrators. The Canada Council for the Arts is committed to raising public awareness and celebration of these exceptional people and organizations on both a national and international level.

Please visit our website ( for a complete listing of these awards.

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Monday, 21 September 2009

This Week in Toronto (Sept. 21 - 27)

The fall music season swings into action this week, now that the Toronto International Film Festival is over and our main concert venues are once again free. For voice fans, a major event is the start of the Canadian Opera Company season, with Puccini's warhorse, Madama Butterfly, at the Four Seasons Centre beginning Saturday, Sept. 26 7:30 pm. This revival of the serviceable if slightly frayed Brian Macdonald production will receive an unprecedented run of fifteen performances. The principal roles are double cast - Butterfly (sopranos Adina Nitescu and Yannick-Muriel Noah), Pinkerton (tenors David Pomeroy and Bryan Hymel), Sharpless (baritones James Westman and Brett Polegato), Suzuki (mezzos Allyson McHardy and Anita Krause). With the exception of Romanian Nitescu, it is an all-Canadian cast. Westman is particularly well known as Sharpless, having sung it many times, including the COC about ten years ago. Tenor David Pomeroy is rapidly becoming a COC mainstay. Coached by retired Canadian tenor Ermanno Mauro, Pomeroy sings with a pleasing, Italianate timbre. The conducting duties are shared by Carlo Montanaro and Derek Bate.

A second major event is the opening of the new Koerner Hall of the Royal Conservatory of Music. The opening concert takes place on Friday Sept. 25 at 8:30 pm, with Jean-Philippe Tremblay conducting the Royal Conservatory Orchestra. It features Beethoven's Choral Fantasy and a video tribute to RCM graduate Glenn Gould on the anniversary of his birthday. On the program are pianist Anton Kuerti, Toronto Mendelssohn choir, soprano Erin Wall, mezzo Wallis Giunta, tenor Richard Margison, and bass Robert Pomakov. The tariff at $100 to $250 is not exactly cheap, with the less expensive seats all sold out at this point. But this is a special occasion and well worth attending. A more affordable alternative ($35 to $125) is the concert the next evening, with Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White. For me, a must-see concert is the great Frederica von Stade in a Farewell Tour Concert on Saturday, Oct. 10. This will be our last chance to hear this great mezzo.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra launches its new season on Thursday Sept. 24, with violinist Joshua Bell playing Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major. Peter Oundjian conducts this and the Brahms Symphony No. 2. Also on the program is Canadian composer John Estacio's Frenergy. The program is repeated on Saturday Sept. 26 at Roy Thomson Hall.

On Thursday morning, the Canada Council for the Arts Instrument Bank Competition will announce its results in a press conference at the Glenn Gould Studio. Fourteen winners will get the use of 13 instruments plus a cello bow valued at a total of more than $26 million USD. This program is designed to aid promising young Canadian musicians in their careers by making available to them world-class instruments for performance. I will attend the press conference and will have more to report. In the evening at 8 pm, there will be a free concert given by the winners at the Glenn Gould Studio. Seating is limited so be sure to arrive early.

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Friday, 18 September 2009

Cette semaine à Montréal (18 au 27 septembre) / This Week in Montreal (September 18 to 27)

Musique, danse, théâtre, etarts plastiques à Montréal cette semaine

Music, dance, theatre, and fine arts in Montreal this week

Jazz Ven. 18 Trio Marianne Trudel. Jazz Bar le dièse onze. 20 h. —Marc Chenard

Blackbird : Au printemps dernier, le Groupe La Veillée nous a fait découvrir cette puissante pièce de l’Écossais David Harrower. Montréal en accueille une production, louangée, du Théâtre des Célestins de Lyon. Deux acteurs réputés, Maurice Bénichou et Léa Drucker, s’affrontent dans cette œuvre complexe et nuancée, fouillant les zones grises d’une relation amoureuse entre un homme mûr et une fille de douze ans. Jusqu’au 18 septembre, au Théâtre du Nouveau Monde. —Marie Labrecque

Esteban : Ludique, audacieux, touche-à-tout, Stéphane Crête multiplie les entreprises décapantes. On lui doit notamment des Laboratoires Crête, mêlant science et théâtre, et la délirante pièce Mycologie. Mais sauf erreur, c’est la première fois qu’on le verra seul en scène, dans un numéro de cabaret « impudique » qui emprunte aussi à la danse, au mime et à la poésie. Bref, il faut s’attendre à tout. Jusqu’au 19 septembre, au Théâtre La Chapelle. —Marie Labrecque

Le claveciniste et organiste Luc Beauséjour dirigera douze chanteurs et sept instrumentistes dans le premier concert de la série Clavecin en Concert à la chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours le 18 septembre. Le programme comprend une cantate et un motet de Bach, une partita de Böhm et une messe du compositeur baroque rarement entendu J.C.F. Fischer. —Hannah Rahimi

Autre virtuose confirmé, le flûtiste suisse Maurice Steger aura carte blanche lors de la 8e édition des Journées de la flûte à bec (18 septembre, Maison des Jeunesses Musicales) —Philippe Gervais

Teesri Duniya Theatre presents Truth and Treason at the Monument National, until September 19. Set in modern Iraq, the play features a 10-year-old girl shot by a US soldier at a checkpoint. A complex story arises surrounding her mother, a Canadian woman, and her father, an Iraqi writer who was imprisoned by Saddam Hussein and considered a terrorist by the US. This story, plunging us into the heart of the action in Iraq, unveils the truth behind the war on terror. —Jessica Hill
Jazz Sam 19 Yannick Rieu, François Bourassa, Adrien Vedady, Phillipe Melanson. Jazz bar le dièse onze. 20 h. —Marc Chenard

Le 19 septembre, le fougueux Ensemble Caprice se joint à l’ensemble israélien Quynade, spécialisé dans la musique du 13e au 15e siècle. Dans la chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, les deux petites formations joueront de la musique séfarade médiévale et des œuvres de la Renaissance. —Hannah Rahimi

Une autre série de conférences, intitulée « Quand l’œil écoute », traitera des rapports entre musique et arts plastiques et sera inaugurée par François Filiatrault, qui parlera de la musique chez Vermeer (24 septembre, 17 h). —Philippe Gervais

Jazz Mer. 23 Rencontre Amsterdam-Vancouver-Montréal avec le batteur Michael Vatcher, les saxophonistes Coat Cooke et Pierre Labbé, et le bassiste Clinton Ryder. Casa del Popolo, 21 h. —Marc Chenard

Jazz Jeu. 24, McCoy Tyner Trio. L’Astral. 20 h. (En reprise les 25 et 26.) —Marc Chenard

Pour la deuxième année, après la Catalogne en 2008, l’Agora de la danse nous convie à une Destination danse, cette année la France, en coproduction avec les Rencontres chorégraphiques de Seine-Saint-Denis, festival incontournable du mois de mai dans la région parisienne. Du jusqu’au 26 nous découvrirons quatre jeunes chorégraphes français très représentatifs : du 16 au 19, Julie Nioche avec Matter et Pierre Rigal avec Press / du 23 au 26, Nacera Belaza avec Le cri et Fabrice Lambert avec Abstraction-Gravité. —Aline Apostolska

Le SMAM se tourne vers la Renaissance et chantera les Lagrime di San Pietro de Lassus (27 septembre, église Saint-Léon) —Philippe Gervais

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Jaap van Zweden: Charismatic Conductor Changes Musical Life in Dallas and Amsterdam

by Paul E. Robinson

When a new conductor takes over an orchestra. the PR department invariably goes all out to convince the public that something momentous is about to happen and that they need to be a part of it. Occasionally, the new man (or woman) actually lives up to the hype. Last year in Dallas, Jaap van Zweden went far beyond even the most overheated hyperbole preceding his succession. On September 17, when the beat comes down on his second season with the Dallas Symphony, van Zweden’s music-making will speak for itself.

Already known as ‘Jaap’ in Dallas, that familiarity has not dimmed maestro van Zweden’s palpable charisma. He doesn’t endear himself with good looks - although his appearance is definitely magnetic - but with intensity and authority. By the time of his appointment, he had already earned the respect of DSO musicians on the basis of his sixteen years as concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, one of the world’s great orchestras. After his first full season with the DSO, he has added, by all accounts, their admiration and gratitude for inspiring them to play better than they have in years. On the audience side, many Dallas listeners would say that their very fine orchestra, under van Zweden’s direction, was today playing with a fervor and excitement they hadn’t believed possible.

Jaap van Zweden still has a major musical base in Holland; he is principal conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra (NRPO), and recently signed a new contract which will carry him through the 2014-2015 season. With the NRPO he will be committed to twelve weeks of concerts, as well as foreign tours and recordings. That still leaves plenty of time for Dallas and van Zweden will undoubtedly have a presence there for years to come.

Conversation with the Maestro
I recently sat down with Jaap van Zweden in his office at the Morton H. Myerson Symphony Center in Dallas and got to know him a little better. I began our conversation by asking him what he learned about conducting during his years as the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s concertmaster:

Maestro: It was a kind of master class for a young conductor – no doubt about it. But the strange thing is that for most of that time I did not think about conducting. I was concertmaster and busy doing the best job I could. But now when I am conducting and I can’t find a solution suddenly it comes from my musical memory, how Solti or Lenny (Leonard Bernstein) or Eugen Jochum did it. Sometimes I have to go and write it down so I have a concrete reference for the future.

Paul Robinson: You mentioned Jochum. He didn’t conduct a great deal in North America, but record collectors will know him from his many fine Bruckner recordings with the Berlin Philharmonic, the Bavarian Radio Symphony and the Concertgebouw. Has he been an influence in your approach to Bruckner?

Maestro: Yes, absolutely. Haitink also, but when he was alive Jochum was the great Bruckner specialist. What I learned from him was how to sustain sound, with a long stick and never-ending phrasing.

Paul Robinson: But as great as Jochum was in Bruckner, he was sometimes criticized for his tempo changes, for slowing down or speeding up even when no such changes were marked in the score.

Maestro: Yes, you are right. And that raises the questions of a conductor’s personality and putting his own stamp on the music. And while I was working with Jochum and Lenny – two conductors known for their individuality – I was also working with Harnoncourt. He was a frequent guest with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. And I made a decision that as a conductor I would be very free but always within the frame. And you know, the composers give you enough space within that frame to do your own interpretation. I try to be extremely respectful to the composer.

Paul Robinson: But Bruckner doesn’t make it easy for the conductor. For some of the symphonies he has left us several versions. How do you decide which ones to use?

Maestro: You know, for me this is not a big problem. For the most part, I was brought up with one or two versions and I think that the taste of Jochum and Haitink, they were not bad. I will stick to the versions they used.

Paul Robinson : You are recording all the Bruckner symphonies with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic. Audiences in North America seem to have much less interest in Bruckner’s symphonies than those in Europe. Do you plan to play Bruckner in Dallas? Will you try to develop a deeper appreciation of his music in Dallas?

Maestro: When I first conducted in Chicago last year – the Bruckner Fifth Symphony – I didn’t notice any problem. Next season I am conducting Bruckner in Dallas – the Ninth Symphony (Nov. 5-8) – and I will also conduct Bruckner in Philadelphia. It is true that people respond more easily to Mahler. It is about emotions and people like that. When they go to the movies they like action. If it is a movie about beauty they will just go away. For me beauty is more important than emotion and action, and in my opinion that is what Bruckner is talking about and that is what Bach is talking about. If you listen to Bruckner and Bach it makes you clean inside. If you listen to Mahler you will be full of emotion and all kinds of thoughts. With Bruckner there is a line to God. With Mahler there is also a line to God but it has lots of sideways I would say.

Paul Robinson: I am curious to know what you think of Mengelberg’s Mahler. Willem Mengelberg knew Mahler and often conducted his music and he was conductor of the Concergebouw Orchestra for many years. Yet his way with Mahler often differed sharply from that of other Mahler protégées such as Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer.

Maestro: I have some Mahler scores at my house, from the library of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, which contain all of Mengelberg’s markings. They are very interesting. But you know we live in a different time. Tempos are not set in stone. They have to be adjusted to circumstances. But at the same time I often think that we pay too much attention to external things rather than looking inside. When I think of the old maestros there was a lot of depth with these people. It is not so much whether the tempo is a little faster or a little slower; it’s the depth of the music-making. Our inner life, our soul is more important than the tempo.

Paul Robinson: I was listening the other day to your new recording of the Shostakovich Symphony No. 5. I was curious as to how you would begin the last movement. Shostakovich indicates a fairly slow beginning then a very gradual acceleration to a very fast tempo. Yet while some Russian conductors obey the score others do not. Bernstein was a famous interpreter of the piece and he started with an incredibly fast tempo.

Maestro: Who knows what is correct? I played this piece with Kondrashin and later I played it with Mariss Jansons. They are both from Russia and yet they are extremely different. I always get mixed up by different interpretations. I don’t know why people are doing what they are doing. From my study of the score it seems to me that one should get to the fast tempo very quickly. The music seems to work best this way, at least for me.

Paul Robinson: What can be learned from the period instrument specialists? As you mentioned, Nikolaus Harnoncourt was a frequent guest conductor in Amsterdam when you were there. What did you learn from Harnoncourt?

Maestro: I learned to phrase in a completely different way. And now I am talking about Schubert, Mozart and Haydn. For me, he was my great teacher in the music of these composers. And I think that is the future for our symphony orchestras. If you have an orchestra which can only play in one style it is very dangerous. It is a dead end. I would say that if you can play Mozart or Bach in a certain way and at the same time play contemporary music, you are much better off. These different styles of music have a way of feeding each other. You can’t play everything the same. You must be willing to embrace all the different styles of music. We play a lot of difficult contemporary music in Holland with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and I feel that makes my Brahms better. Or I should say, that makes our Brahms better.

Paul Robinson: I have seen you quoted as saying that the Myerson is one of the top five concert halls in the world. That is high praise from someone who has spent so much of his musical life in the legendary Concergebouw. Is it really that good?

Maestro: It is wonderful. In some ways it is even better than the Concertgebouw because the players can hear each other better. In the Concertgebouw sometimes we have to search for each other. Here it is a little bit drier on stage and that is good.

Highlights of Dallas Symphony Orchestra Season (2009-2010)
Jaap van Zweden has a very wide repertoire and a keen interest in opera. He had hoped to begin an annual opera in concert series with the DSO last season – Puccini’s Madama Butterfly was set to go in May – but the severity of the recession forced the DSO to reduce expenses wherever possible and this project has been postponed along with a European tour. Nonetheless, the 2009-2010 season will include a number of major works with van Zweden at the helm. Among them are two Mahler symphonies (No. 1 Sept 24-26 and No. 2 May 20-22), the Bruckner 9th (Nov 5-7), the Rachmaninov Second Symphony (Feb. 14) and the Shostakovich Seventh (Feb.18-20).

Jaap van Zweden Discography
While the major record producers are drastically cutting back their releases, Jaap van Zweden is recording regularly in both Dallas and Amsterdam.

The DSO has released a CD devoted to Beethoven symphonies 5 and 7 and just a few weeks ago followed up with an all-Tchaikovsky album containing performances of the Fifth Symphony and Capriccio Italien. The Beethoven is excellent. The Tchaikovsky is sensational! This is the freshest Tchaikovsky 5th I have heard in years. And the Capriccio Italien faithfully documents a tremendous performance I heard in the Myerson last season. These recordings are currently only available through the DSO website or the Symphony Store in the Myerson. They deserve wider circulation.

Van Zweden has also been recording prolifically in Europe. A 2008 live performance of the Mahler 5th with the London Philharmonic is readily available (LPO-0033), and a 2006 reading of the Shostakovich 5th with the Royal Flemish Philharmonic is on Naïve AM 171.

Most of van Zweden’s European recordings have been made with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and these are somewhat difficult to find. He has done complete cycles of the Beethoven and Brahms symphonies and is half-way through the Bruckner symphonies. Numbers 2, 4, 5, 7, and 9 are now available. These recordings are on the Exton label. Also for Exton, van Zweden has recorded six Haydn symphonies with the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic.

While all the above European recordings offer impressive performances, van Zweden’s most outstanding releases so far have to be the opera performances on the Quattro label. The performance of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger, given in the Concertgebouw earlier this year with Bayreuth veteran Robert Holl as Hans Sachs, is deeply satisfying. Van Zweden gets to the soul of this music and from the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic he gets world-class playing. The choral work from the Groot Omroekoor is equally fine.

Van Zweden is again a commanding presence leading Wagner’s Lohengrin, also from Quattro. The cast is headed by Klaus Florian Vogt in the title role with Anne Schwanewilms as Elsa.

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
Photo by Marita

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Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Richard Strauss and Nézet-Séguin: A Hero's Life

by Paul E. Robinson

It’s hard to fathom the arrogance of a thirty-four year composer who writes a huge orchestral piece called Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life) – about himself! What’s more, in the section called "The Hero’s Works of Peace" he quotes from his own previous compositions! Then you have the case of a thirty-four year old conductor who programs this virtuoso piece with a part-time orchestra. Fortunately, the supremely confident young composer was named Richard Strauss, and, as they say, the rest is history. As for the conductor, he happens to be a leader who can galvanize his players to perform way beyond themselves as they did this week at Place des Arts in Montréal.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin celebrated his tenth anniversary as artistic director and conductor of the Orchestre Métropolitain this week and demonstrated yet again why he is not only a Canadian treasure, but also one of the most sought-after maestros on the international scene. It was an all-Richard Strauss programme with Don Juan leading off, followed by a set of orchestral songs featuring soprano Barbara Bonney and, after intermission, Ein Heldenleben.

Don Juan was well-rehearsed and urgent in spite of some shaky trumpet playing and the love music was meltingly beautiful.

I must confess that I am a huge admirer of Strauss’ vocal music, especially in the endlessly imaginative orchestrations by the composer himself. Earlier this summer we heard some of them in fine performances by Ben Heppner and Thomas Hampson at the Knowlton Festival. Strauss had a genius for capturing the very essence of the poetry he set to music. Bonney led off with one of my favourites, Die Heiligen Drei Könige aus Morgenland (Three Holy Kings from the Land of the West). The poem by Heine is a very simple telling of the role of the Wise Men in the Christmas story. Strauss makes it a thing of wonder and childlike innocence.

In the five Strauss songs chosen by Bonney – actually six if you include the encore Morgen – the celebrated soprano was somewhat disappointing. Her voice didn’t have the lyric effortless quality we have associated with this singer in years past. In its place there was an engrossing maturity. Bonney seemed to be using her resources with an excess of caution; the voice never soared. Admittedly, Strauss puts a lot of orchestral weight in the way but Nézet-Séguin and his players accompanied with the utmost care. The lack of power and freedom seemed to be Bonney’s choice. Nevertheless, it is always a pleasure to welcome back beloved artists even when they are not at their best.

One of Nézet-Séguin’s most impressive qualities is his fearlessness. He thinks nothing of recording all the Bruckner symphonies in Montreal or programming Mahler’s massive Eighth Symphony later this season (June 20). In taking on Ein Heldenleben, a work that has tested the finest ‘full-time’ orchestras, he was asking the Orchestre Métropolitain to do the near impossible.

This Heldenleben opened with a very fast tempo- as befits the spirit of a thirty-four year hero - and in terms of technical mastery, it quickly became apparent that Nézet-Séguin had everything under control. At no time, however, did one sense that this performance was about mere accuracy. This young maestro’s technique is extraordinary – a combination of natural ability and hard work – but his performances are never just about getting the notes right; he always reaches beyond that to capture the full range of emotion and meaning in the music. His players gave him everything he asked for, and the results were spectacular! The augmented horn section was thrilling throughout, with authoritative and eloquent solos from principal horn Louis-Philippe Marsolais. The famous violin solos were played by concertmaster Yukari Cousineau. She may have been a little too careful with her long cadenza, but the warm tone she produced in the epilogue was something special. Her dialogue with Marsolais was as touching as one is ever likely to hear.

Finally, I want to commend Nézet-Séguin for making the last chord of Ein Heldenleben – a trumpet-saturated E flat major - the thing of splendor it was meant to be. I haven’t heard it so well-prepared and sustained since Karajan. Most conductors are content to make a half-hearted crescendo, followed by an anti-climactic punctuation mark. This is neither what Strauss wrote, nor what he meant. This is a Straussian Valhalla moment, as the hero is seen one last time in all his glory. In purely musical terms, this chord must be of a weight and power to balance everything that has come before it in the piece. It is obvious that Nézet-Séguin took enormous care over this moment in rehearsal and inspired his players to give everything they had in the performance. Make no mistake about it. This was a very loud chord but – again, Karajan comes to mind – it had no hint of raucous blaring. This is one of the secrets of great conducting and Nézet-Séguin already knows many of them.

The Orchestre Métropolitain simply has no right playing Ein Heldenleben as well as it did this week. This was a great triumph for both conductor and orchestra.

At the risk of being boring or pedantic, I must mention that I changed my seat during the course of this concert and it made a huge difference. I heard Don Juan from the very back of the Parterre (under the first balcony) and I had the feeling I was standing outside the door of Place des Arts. The music had no presence. Then I moved up to the sixth row of the Parterre. Now I could appreciate the intensity of the performances and hear all the details of balance and phrasing.

I realize that not everyone is able to sit so close to the performers and sitting in close proximity can reveal weaknesses too, but I am making, I think, two valid points: that to really appreciate what musicians are doing in Place des Arts, it is necessary to sit as close to the front as possible, and that in a really good concert hall, one should be able to sit almost anywhere and get something close to the full effect of the music. That said, I and many symphony lovers with me, are ready to bid farewell to Place des Arts and more than ready to hear the OSM and the Orchestre Métropolitain in their new home – a smaller and better (hopefully!) new hall - currently under construction right next door.

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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