La Scena Musicale

Friday, 30 October 2009

Cette semaine à Montréal (2 à 8 novembre) / This Week in Montreal (November 2 to 8)

Jazz : Mar. 3 » Le trio Bomata (Guillaume Bourque, clarinettes, Jean-Félix Mailloux, contrebasse et Ziya Tabassian, perc.) Maison de la culture Côtes-des-Neiges, Série Jazzes-tu? Infos : 872-6889. (20 h) [Jazz/musique du monde] » La série hebdomadaire de musiques improvisées Les mardis Spaghetti. Le Cagibi (21 h) [Programmation en ligne : www.myspace.com/mardispaghetti] » Les Pas Sages (avec invité spécial). Pub Quartier Latin 318 Ontario est (21 h 30) —Marc Chénard

Danse : Visages de la danse - J’aurai le plaisir d’inaugurer une série d’entretiens avec des chorégraphes et danseurs de renom qui tous composent le portrait de Montréal en matière de danse. Ces entretiens de fond, d’une durée de deux heures, porteront sur l’ensemble du parcours créatif des artistes et tenteront de montrer les liens entre vie personnelle et vie artistique, et auront lieu gratuitement devant public dans les trois lieux qui se sont associés pour produire cette nouvelle série originale, soit Circuit-Est Centre chorégraphique, l’Agora de la danse et les Grands Ballets. Il suffira au public de se rendre sur place pour assister à l’entrevue. 3 novembre 2009 – 19 h au studio des Grands Ballets : Gradimir Pankov. Les entretiens seront ponctués d’extraits de chorégraphies illustrant leur parcours. Ce sera une occasion unique de découvrir ces créateurs en profondeur. Venez nombreux ! —Aline Apostolska

Jazz : Mer. 4 » Quartette de Pierre Labbé. Lancement du disque Manivelle (Ambiances magnétiques). La brasserie Le Cheval Blanc, 809 rue Ontario Est. (17 h) » Vanessa Rodrigues, orgue : Artiste du mois au Upstairs Jazz Bar. [En reprise à tous les mercredis et jeudis du mois, sauf les 11, 25 et 26.] Infos : 931-6808. (20 h 30) » La série hebdomadaire de musiques improvisées Mercedismusics. La Casa Obscura (21 h) [Programmation en ligne : www.casaobscura.org] —Marc Chénard

Danse : Danse Danse présente un doublé : la nouvelle pièce très attendue de l’iconoclaste Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui avec les moines du temple Shaolin, Sutra, du 4 au 8 nov au Maisonneuve —Aline Apostolska

Jazz : Jeu. 5 »Trio du pianiste Steve Amirault. L’Astral, Maison du jazz Rio Tinto Alcan. (20 h) » Duo Marianne Trudel (pno) et Lévis Bourbonnais (harmonica). Maison de la culture Rosemont-la-Petite-Patrie, Studio 1. Infos : 872-1730. (20 h) » François Richard et le Nouvel Orchestre (Quartette jazz + quatuor à cordes + Yannick Rieu) Maison de la culture Côtes-des-Neiges, Série Jazzes-tu? (20 h) [En reprise à la -maison de la culture Mont-Royal le 3 décembre.] » Jean Zanella et invités. (Artiste du mois au Resto-bar Le dièse onze. Infos : 223-3543. (20 h 30) [En reprise les 12 et 19.] —Marc Chénard

Jazz : Ven. 6 » Trio de la chanteuse Carole Therrien. Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, série Jazz Nocturne. Infos : 872-5338. (22 h) —Marc Chénard

Opéra : Clavecin en concert – Francesca Caccini, femme de génie
 - Saviez-vous que la première femme à avoir composé un opéra est une Italienne du nom de Francesca Caccini ? Pour faire connaître ce personnage ayant vécu de 1587 à 1640, la série Clavecin en concert réunit pour un soir seulement, le vendredi 6 novembre, une pléiade de musiciens. Aux côtés de la soprano Shannon Mercer se trouveront Luc Beauséjour (au clavecin et à l’orgue positif), Sylvain Bergeron (au luth et au théorbe) ainsi qu’Amanda Keesmaat (au violoncelle). À la Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, à partir de 20 h. 514-385-6320, www.clavecinenconcert.org

Jazz : Ven. 6 et sam. 7 » L’ensemble de la contrebassiste Brandi Disterheft. Upstairs Jazz Bar. (20 h 30) —Marc Chénard

Orchestral music: Montreal meets Latin America - Support a blossoming generation of local musicians on November 7, when the Orchestre symphonique des jeunes de Montréal kicks off its 33rd season at the Salle Claude-Champagne. Louis Lavigueur leads some of the city’s finest young performers in a celebration of Latin American music, with works from Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Spain, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. 514-645-0311, www.osjm.org

Chamber music: On September 23, eXcentris reopened with two of its three theatres renovated as live performance venues allowing for an environment of innovation and cooperation between genres, styles and media. Renowned pianist Leon Fleischer inaugurated the hall. There this week: cellist Matt Haimovitz, Nov. 7. —Wah Keung Chan

Jazz : Dim. 8 » Pierre François Quartet ave invité Remi Bolduc (sax alto). Upstairs Jazz Bar. (20 h 30) —Marc Chénard

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Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Pappano and Balatsch Triumph with Beethoven's Missa Solemnis



Classical Travels
This Week in Italy

Beethoven's Missa Solemnis has always had a reputation for being monumental and impossibly difficult to perform - especially for the chorus. The difficulty stems in part from the fact that the work dates from late in Beethoven's life, by which time he was completely deaf and almost totally oblivious to the natural limits of the human voice. The great 'et vitam venturi' fugue in the "Credo" is a killer for sopranos and is rarely done well, particularly in "live" performance.

A recording of the piece that I have always treasured - one which still stands as an incomparable achievement - was done by Toscanini with the NBC Symphony and a chorus trained by Robert Shaw.

I once had the opportunity to ask Shaw how he had prepared his sopranos for the challenges of the 'et vitam venturi'; with typical modesty he responded that what one hears on the recording is pretty much an illusion, with the singers letting the orchestra do much of the heavy lifting.

In Rome this week, Maestro Antonio Pappano (photo: right) tackled the Missa Solemnis with the chorus and orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and there was nothing illusory about his achievement. The chorus, prepared by the legendary Viennese choirmaster Norbert Balatsch, was magnificently fearless.

The acoustics of the Sala Santa Cecilia in the Auditorium Parco della Musica are somewhat problematic, but the volume and accuracy of the 80-member chorus was remarkable by any standard.

While Maestro Pappano has been building a solid reputation as chief conductor at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, he is also much-admired in Italy for his work with the country's leading orchestra. Several weeks ago, EMI released a live recording of the Verdi Requiem by Pappano and the Santa Cecilia orchestra and chorus. It has received rave reviews.

Beethoven's Missa Solemnis is a very different kind of challenge. That too, Pappano met with distinction. Obviously familiar with all the trouble spots in this work, he took the time to sort them out in rehearsal; this performance was meticulously prepared.

Was it Pappano who encouraged the use of natural (i.e. no valves) trumpets here for a more authentic sound? His trumpeters appeared to have no problem at all with these demanding instruments, and the pure but penetrating sound was impressive.

He might also have encouraged his timpanist to use harder sticks more often in this piece, and play a more prominent role. Throughout the performance I had the impression the orchestra could have played much louder without coming close to covering the chorus, especially in the climaxes at the end of the "Gloria" and the "Credo".

This is where the acoustic deficiencies of the Sala Santa Cecilia come into play. I was sitting about half way back on the ground floor - surely a pretty good location - but the basses in the orchestra scarcely registered at all and the other string sections, for the most part, didn't fare much better. Concertmaster Carlo Maria Parazzoli was reasonably prominent in his extended solo in the Benedictus - he played beautifully - but the strings generally lacked warmth and presence.

This is a fairly common failing in most modern concert halls and in this respect the Sala Santa Cecilia is typical. It may be that at 2,800 seats, the hall is simply too big. I had anticipated better acoustics when I settled into my seat at the start of the concert and marveled at the fine wooden surfaces evident everywhere, including the ceiling.

Soloists for this performance were soprano Emma Bell, contralto Anna Larsson, tenor Roberto Sacca, and bass Georg Zeppenfeld. Bell's sound seemed unfocussed. Zeppenfeld could hardly be heard at all, except for his solo at the beginning of the "Agnus Dei".

The excellent programme notes revealed that Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis" had its first performance in Italy in 1924, with the Santa Cecilia orchestra conducted by Bernardino Molinari. Since then, this orchestra has made the piece part of its basic repertoire, presenting it on no fewer than eighteen occasions under conductors such as Victor de Sabata, Eugen Jochum, Carlo Maria Giulini, Giuseppe Sinopoli and Wolfgang Sawallisch. Norbert Balatsch has been the chorus master for every performance - five of them - given over the past twenty-five years.

On the whole, Pappano's performance of the Missa Solemnis was impressive. The choral work was outstanding and the discipline of his reading was altogether admirable. Tempi were well-considered and when they were a little quicker than usual, control was never in doubt.

In the darker moments of the work, however, I felt that Pappano's discipline seemed more than a little unyielding. This was especially true in the "Agnus Dei". This final movement of the Missa Solemnis has disappointed many a listener over the years. It is often felt to be abrupt and unsatisfying.

This, surely, is a place where the conductor must pay less attention to what the score says or doesn't say, and must enter into the spirit of the composer's vision.

Beethoven's 'dona nobis pacem' (give us peace) comes from the depths of the composer's soul and needs to be performed accordingly - with phrasing a little more expansive and emotional in the final bars. Pappano's reading was true to the letter of the score but missed the meaning of it all.

These disappointing final bars notwithstanding, one left the Sala Santa Cecilia grateful for having heard a superbly prepared Missa Solemnis in which Beethoven's fearsome technical challenges were met with fine musicianship.

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Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar rock Toronto opera house

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh 

It was good to be Venezuelan at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts last night. If you weren't, you certainly secretly wished you were. Just look at Toronto Mayor David Miller. He went off script on stage flaunting about marrying a Venezuelan and was cheered and applauded for it. 


The fuss? The Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. Led by 28-year-old dynamo Gustavo Dudamel, the 250-strong ensemble made their Canadian debut during the Glenn Gould Prize Gala, where Dr. José Antonio Abreu — the Venezuelan economist and amateur musician who made all this fuss possible in the first place — received the prestigious triennial prize.


Abreu, who entered the stage to a standing ovation at the Four Seasons Centre, founded the State Foundation for the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Venezuela, commonly known as El Sistema, in 1975. The system involves some 250,000 students across Venezuela and has been credited with improving the lives of young people who might otherwise have been drawn into crime, gangs, and drug abuse.


Instead of accepting the $50,000 award that comes with the Glenn Gould Prize, Abreu chose to turn it into musical instruments for his kids in Venezuela. The Glenn Gould Foundation then went to Yamaha, which turned the money into $150,000 worth of instruments. Abreu is receiving the instruments in Toronto today.


With the Simón Bolívar as its flagship, El Sistema has become one of the finest examples of music education admired and studied around the world. And Dudamel, who has led the orchestra since 1999, was selected by Abreu as the recipient of the $15,000 City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize.


The young conductor recently began his much-hyped tenure as music director for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Last night, before he and the orchestra even played one note, Dudamel was greeted zealously by Toronto's music and Latino communities, some brought with them large Venezuelan flags.


The Simón Bolívar treated a near full house to a program of Latin-American works and Tchaickovsky's Symphony No. 4, Op. 36 in F minor. It was clear within the first couple minutes of their playing why this orchestra has won audiences of all kinds wherever they go.
Whether it's the seductive Silvestre Revueltas' Sensemaya, the monstrous Tchaikovsky, or the saucy Mambo from Bernstein's West Side Story (one of two encores), the players — ages 12-26 — followed the lead of their maestro and were in synch with Dudamel's every signal, be it as minute as a jerk of a shoulder in the pizzicato movement of the Tchaikovsky.
Every musician, regardless where they are seated, played their instrument as if hugging and dancing with it. The orchestra swayed musically in a sea of wave accented by their spotlighted white cuffs. 


Dudamel, who conducted the entire program from memory, was an exciting wild thing to watch. A wrist toss here, a hand punch there — never did a conductor's back look so intriguing from the back of a hall.


The audience erupted into a roaring standing ovation before the last note was finished. After two encores, they wanted more. The applause went on for about 10 minutes, with people shouting "bravo" and "encore" from Ring 4 and 5.


The night ended with Dudamel hand-signing he's hungry and tired and the musicians waving their instruments good-bye on stage. The audience was left mumbling "bravo" all the more on their way out.

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Monday, 26 October 2009

This Week in Toronto (October 26 - November 1)

Photo: Gustavo Dudamel


Toronto music lovers can look forward to a number of high profile events this week. Top on the list is the appearance of conducting phenom Gustavo Dudamel leading the Simon Bolivar Youth Orhcestra. He is in town to receive the City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protege Prize, selected by his mentor, Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu, who is the Eighth Glenn Gould Prize Laureate. Dudamel conducts the concert this Monday evening at the Four Seasons Centre. Tickets have been on sale for some time, and they are expensive. However, I just heard that rush tickets are available in person at 5 pm this afternoon (Monday) at the FSC box office. Unfortunately I am not able to find out the exact price of the rush tickets, however you can be sure it is going to be much cheaper than the current cheapest ticket at $155. This young maestro from Venezuela is the hottest thing around in the conducting world and well worth experiencing. Below is from a press release of the Glenn Gould Foundation publicizing Dudamel as recipient of the City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protege Prize:

The Eighth Glenn Gould Prize Laureate, Dr. José Antonio Abreu, has selected Venezuelan Conductor Gustavo Dudamel as winner of the prestigious The City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize.

Maestro Dudamel, a native of Barquisimeto, Venezuela will receive a cash award of $15,000 from the City of Toronto as he joins an illustrious group of exceptional young musicians who have received this triennial honour. Previous Protégé winners are Roman Patkoló (2005); Jean-Guihen Queyras (2002); Wu Man (1999); Tan Dun (1996), and Benny Green (1993).

Hailed as one of the most exciting and compelling conductors of our time, the 28-year old Maestro Dudamel will begin his tenure as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in fall 2009. Recently named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2009, Maestro Dudamel continues as Music Director of the Gothenburg Symphony. Perhaps best known as Music Director of the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, his infectious energy and exceptional artistry have made him one of the most sought-after conductors by orchestras around the world.

This week also marks the opening of Opera Atelier's Iphigenie en Tauride, in a production premiered in 2003. A marvelous baroque gem, this Gluck masterpiece require great singing actors. OA's audience favourite Peggy Kriha-Dye returns in the title role, and Croatian tenor Kresimir Spicer, who made a huge impression as Idomeneo two seasons ago, sings Orest. This is a must-see for opera lovers. The show opens on Saturday, Oct. 31 7:30 pm at the Elgin Theatre. Go to http://www.operaatelier.com/season/iphigenie.htm for a video clip of the production, introduced by co-artistic director Marshall Pynkoski.

The COC continues with its long run of Madama Butterfly, with performances on Oct. 27, 29, and 31. Its production of Stravinsky's The Nightingale and Other Short Fables continues on Oct. 30. This show so wowed the critics and audiences that an extra performance was added on Monday, November 2. I am sure it is close to selling out, so if you want to experience opera at its most innovative, don't miss out!

Music Toronto is presenting piano virtuoso Simon Trpceski on October 27, 8 pm at the Jane Mallett Theatre. Trpceski was here just three years ago, also under the auspices of Music Toronto. I attended that show and can say he is a truly scintillating performer. On the program this time is Haydn, Mozart, and Chopin. Also on the program is a piece new to me, by Shavov, called Songs and Whispers.

Finally, to celebrate Halloween, North Toronto Institute of Music is presenting a "Monster Concert" at Massey Hall on October 31, at a rather strange time of 3 pm. According to the publicity material, "Monster Concerts" began in the 1830s by the composer Czerny to raise funds for flood victims of the Danube. The concerts featured a large number of grand pianos on stage (usually 10), with 2 players at each, and a conductor. This style of concert was later made popular in the United States by the pianist Gottschalk, and later Eugene List. This concert will feature a program of popular works by Gottschalk, Rossini, Liszt, Saint-Saens and Bizet, performed as solos, duets, and ensembles of 20 or 30 performers. It sounds like fun!

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Sunday, 25 October 2009

Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic: A New Era Begins!

by Paul E. Robinson


It seems like yesterday that Esa-Pekka Salonen announced he was stepping down as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, to be succeeded by the young Venezuelan phenomenon Gustavo Dudamel. In fact, it was two years ago, in April, 2007.
This month, Dudamel conducted his inaugural concert as music director of the LA Phil and a few nights ago, PBS broadcast the historic event to viewers around the country. On the whole, it was an excellent concert and gave the country a good look at the charismatic Dudamel.
Will Dudamel’s Appointment Build Hispanic Audience Base?
It was a stroke of genius by someone (Salonen? LA Philharmonic executive director Deborah Borda?) to grab Dudamel for LA; the city is more than half Hispanic and Latino and if the orchestra is to flourish in the 21st century, it will have to connect with that community.
In his work with the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, Dudamel has demonstrated a rare gift for making music and for making music meaningful and exciting to Spanish-speaking listeners.
I had expected that Dudamel’s opening concert in LA would reach out to the Latino community in a big way. Surprisingly, this side of Dudamel was conspicuous by its absence. Instead, we got the premiere of a new piece by John Adams and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1.
PBS had hired Andy Garcia as host for the broadcast. Hollywood celebrities Tom Hanks, Quincy Jones, Sidney Poitier and others were in the audience, but few recognizable stars from LA’s Latino community were caught by the camera. Very odd.
City Noir Could Have/Should Have Been Better
For the occasion, the LA Philharmonic commissioned a major new piece from one of the best-known and most respected American composers, John Adams.
Adams’ City Noir is a 35-minute symphonic suite inspired by Los Angeles generally and by Hollywood film noir of the 1940s specifically. Adams also alluded to the influence of the 1950s television series Naked City in remarks included in the broadcast.
Adams talks a good game, but all too often his music is disappointing – at least to me. City Noir was no exception. Last year, I sat impatiently through the pretentious Adams opera Doctor Atomic at the Met. City Noir proved to be just as much of an ordeal.
Other composers might have borrowed from the film scores of Bernard Hermann, for example, as a point of departure. They might have tapped into the work of all the great composers who have chosen to live in LA over the years – Stravinsky and Schoenberg being the most notable. Given the demographics of LA and the fact that it was Dudamel’s debut concert as music director, surely some celebration of Latino music would have been in order. Instead, we got endless impressionistic noodling and flat-footed uninspired rhythms. Finally, at the very end of the piece, the Latin percussion was brought into play, contributing to what sounded like an inferior rendering of the end of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps.
Either Adams has no comprehension of the essence of Latino music, or he deliberately neutered it in favour of some kind of abstract and distorted version of it. Dudamel appeared to conduct City Noir with great efficiency but then any number of conductors could have delivered the same level of competence. The piece was a huge disappointment and a great missed opportunity to say something relevant to the occasion. Many patrons may well have hit the bar at intermission wondering what all the Dudamel fuss was about. Fortunately, the best part of the evening was yet to come.
Dudamel’s Mahler Personal and Persuasive
Only 28-years old, Dudamel already has a long history with Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. He says it is the first piece he studied with his mentor José Antonio Abreu, the legendary founder of the ground-breaking El Sistema in Venezuela, and he has conducted it with leading orchestras around the world.
In this performance, Dudamel had the players in the LA Philharmonic on the edge of their seats and many in the audience too. But while he has a well-earned reputation for generating excitement, Dudamel’s Mahler was also well nuanced. I was greatly impressed with the maturity of his approach. even if I didn’t always agree with his decisions about tempo and phrasing. But there was no doubt about it. He had a point a view about the piece and it was consistently engrossing. His phrasing was often personal, but it was never self-indulgent or tasteless. He reveled in the sounds of nature that Mahler incorporated in the first movement, but treated them with subtlety and with a fine ear for balances.
The beginning of the second movement was the most controversial feature of Dudamel’s interpretation of the Mahler First. He took the first four bars very slowly, with heavy emphasis, before moving into a quicker tempo. I don’t know where he got this idea – there is no marking in the score to justify it – but I have to say that it made this quirky dance movement even more fun than usual.
To my ears, the last movement is too long and repetitious in almost anyone’s performance, but Dudamel kept it going and with some tremendous playing from the horn section, got just about all the excitement one could ask for.
Disney Hall Acoustics Well Served by PBS Broadcast
Earlier this year, I was in the Disney Concert Hall for one of Salonen’s last concerts and it was a wonderful experience. Salonen is an outstanding composer-conductor and the hall is excellent. A broadcast, even in HD, is not the same as being there, but some of the acoustical splendor of Disney came through nonetheless.
I was particularly struck by the sound of the bass drum. Even the soft notes had a wonderful resonance. On the other hand, the big climaxes never registered properly. But that was not the fault of the hall; it is an old problem with television sound. The limiters on the transmitter make sure that nothing is too loud or too soft. But this concert was recorded by Deutsche Grammophon and I am sure the DVD will sound a lot better.
LA Phil – Give Us the Dudamel We Know!
I mentioned at the outset that Dudamel was an inspired choice to lead the LA Philharmonic because of his Latino roots and their Latino needs. I also said that I found his inaugural concert somewhat disappointing because this Latino theme was totally ignored. Going further, I had the feeling that he had reined in his conducting style for the occasion. There was far less grimacing than we get in even the average Simon Rattle concert, and nothing like the hopping and jumping that made Leonard Bernstein such a popular podium personality. Even the hair seemed to have been cut back to suggest greater maturity.
But it could be that this image tweaking was a deliberate strategy. With the world watching, Dudamel was presented not as a Latino phenomenon. but simply as a fine musician ushering in a new era in Los Angeles. If this was the LA Phil’s goal, the concert was a great success, Dudamel came across as a very serious conductor and was seen to be very much at home in American contemporary music and in the mainstream German repertoire.
But at what cost?
Do we really want a cleaned-up, trimmed down ready for prime time Dudamel? What made him exciting and unique when he first burst on to the scene was his over the top personality on stage and his infectious enthusiasm. It was also the joy of music he conveyed to his young musicians and to audiences everywhere, and the wonderful Latin music he brought with him. For heaven’s sake let Gustavo be Gustavo and we will all be the richer for it, having more fun with music and discovering melodies and rhythms which can make our world a bigger and more interesting place.
Dudamel and Abreu inToronto
Gustavo Dudamel brings his Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra to Toronto (Canada) on October 26 for a week of concerts and educational activities. Both Dudamel and Abreu will be presented with prizes by the Glenn Gould Foundation.

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 Amazon.com.

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Friday, 23 October 2009

Cette semaine à Montréal (26 oct à 1 nov) / This Week in Montreal (October 26 to November 1)


Musique, danse, théâtre, et arts plastiques à Montréal cette semaine
Music, dance, theatre, and fine arts in Montreal this week

Theatre: This fall, Tableau D'Hôte Theatre ambitiously presents Suburban Motel, George F. Walker’s six-play cycle consisting of Problem Child, Adult Entertainment, Criminal Genius, Featuring Loretta, The End of Civilization, and Risk Everything. Try to catch more than one play in this cycle, as they echo and relate to each other through theme and character, thus enhancing the experience. —Jessica Hill

Art visuel : Gabor Szilasi. L’éloquence du quotidien, Ottawa, Musée canadien de la photographie, jusqu’au 17 janvier 2010. —Julie Beaulieu

Jazz : Lun. 26 Ensemble Denis Chang (Jazz manouche). Centre culturel de Pierrefonds. (19 h 30) —Marc Chenard

Classical music: Pianist Dang Thai Son takes the stage at the Salle Maisonneuve on October 26 as part of Pro Musica’s Emerald Series. Known for his dazzling technique and impeccable sense of style, Son will perform works by Ravel, Debussy and Chopin. 514-842-2112, promusica.qc.ca —Hannah Rahimi

Musique d’orchestre : Les 27 et 28 octobre, Bernhard Klee dirigera l’OSM dans l’orchestration de Ravel des Tableaux d’une exposition de Moussorgski ainsi que dans le Concerto pour piano no 27 de Mozart avec la soliste invitée Mari Kodoma. 514-842-9951, osm.ca —Hannah Rahimi

Danse : À l’Agora, Nuit_Nacht_Notte de Jocelyne Montpetit, du 27 au 31 oct. —Aline Apostolska

Jazz : Mer. 28 et jeu. 29 The Kandinsky Effect. (Trio du saxo Warren Walker.) Upstairs Jazz Bar. (20 h 30) —Marc Chenard

Jazz : Ven. 30 Yannick Rieu Quartet. Jazz bar resto Le dièse onze. (20 h 30) —Marc Chenard

Contemporary music: Let’s Talk About New Music - Montreal’s Molinari Quartet, a leading proponent of contemporary music, conducts its first Dialogue of the season on October 31 at the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur. Audiences are invited to discuss the works performed, which include quartets by Alexina Louie and Benjamin Britten. 514-527-5515, quatuormolinari.qc.ca —Hannah Rahimi

Jazz : Dim. 1er nov Trio du pianiste Tyler Summers. Upstairs Jazz Bar. (20 h 30) —Marc Chenard

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Thursday, 22 October 2009

TSO principal clarinetist delivers in Mozart concerto

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

It was sweet and robust at Roy Thomson Hall last night, when the Toronto Symphony Orchestra first featured one of its own on centre stage, followed by “the greatest symphony since Beethoven.”

Now in his 30th year with the TSO, principal clarinetist Joaquin Valdepeñas delivered Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s beloved Clarinet Concert in A Major, K. 622 with grace, temper, and delight.

Valdepeñas, also a founding member of Toronto’s celebrated Amici Chamber Ensemble, began the opening Allegro with flawless technique, in a courtly Mozartian style led by conductor Peter Oundjian. The tone Valdepeñas produced in both high and low registers of his instrument was warm and expressive.

In the Adagio, Valdepeñas displayed a deep and sensitive reading of the score. Both soloist and orchestra demonstrated first-class ensemble work in this poignant movement.

In the finale Rondo: Allegro, Valdepeñas tackled the composer’s intricate runs with lucid articulation and phrasing. Written in October 1791, the Clarinet Concerto was one of Mozart’s last fully completed instrumental works before he died two months later. Mozart did not write a cadenza for this concerto, but Valdepeñas showed off his polished fingering and controlled breathing effortlessly nevertheless.

However, the clarity of sound coming both from Valdepeñas and the orchestra was not always there, although that may have had to do more with the acoustics of the hall rather than the musicians.

With no intermission, the second and final piece of work on the program was English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, completed in 1934, which British composer William Walton once said was "the greatest symphony since Beethoven."

Valdepeñas didn’t get the star treatment and joined his colleagues on stage to tackle this brassy four-movement work.

Vaughan Williams, often known for his collection of English folk music and song, wrote nine symphonies. Fueled with anger, humour, and mania, the fourth is one of his most dissonant and frequently-performed works.

The TSO, under the baton of Oundjian, sculpted a sensible structure for the complex piece that is centred around a four-note motif.

Here, romantic at times and full of surprises, every attack, pizzicato, and pluck was powerful and reached the back of the hall.

The concert, which began at 6:30 p.m. and wrapped up five minutes before 8 p.m., was one of TSO's new Afterworks concert series. The program repeats Oct. 22 at 2 p.m. and Oct. 24 at 7:30 p.m., with the addition of the Canadian premiere of Sid Ramin's orchestration of Leonard Bernstein's Clarinet Sonata.

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Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Lepage's Nightingale and Other Short Fables a Feast

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

I never sat so straight at an opera as I did at the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Nightingale and Other Short Fables Tuesday night.

Only once 16 years ago, when I chanced on COC’s Bluebeard’s Castle/Erwartung at the then O’Keefe Centre and came out feeling like I had just seen something so cool that I was therefore cool from having seen it.

It’s no surprise then that the mastermind behind that still-talked-about double bill in Toronto is the very same one responsible for my straight back throughout the two-hour program at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts — Canadian director Robert Lepage.

Lepage’s new and second production for the COC is a collage of Igor Stravinsky’s two short operas —The Nightingale and The Fox — and other vocal and instrumental pieces, including RagtimePribaoutki, and three pieces for solo clarinet, played beautifully by Ross Edwards.

Yes, there was the much-publicized swimming pool (67,000 litres of water in the orchestra pit), in which singers stood and sang in The Nightingale, a three-act 45-minute fairy-tale opera set in ancient China.
The orchestra played on stage.

Different as the reversed arrangement may seem, when the opera premiered in Paris in 1914, singers were also placed in the pit by Sergei Diaghilev, who commissioned Stravinsky some of his best-known works — The FirebirdPetrushka, and The Rite of Spring.

Aside from the water, there were puppets, 75 in total, including eight Japanese Bunraku puppets and 37 Taiwanese and Chinese puppets.

Again, the puppets alone are not that different. Lepage said he saw puppetry used in an opera several years ago, and last year, in Anthony Mighella’s staging of Madama Butterly for the Metropolitan Opera, a Bunraku-style puppet actually took a child’s place to play Cio-Cio-San’s son.

What made Lepage’s production so mind-boggling is the way he pulls various elements together and layers them in seamlessly with the orchestration, the singing, and the drama.

Russian lyric soprano Olga Peretyatko, who launched her career in 2007 after placing second at Placido Domingo’s Operalia singing competition, was a seductive and charming nightingale, her night calls clear as a whistle.

One of the most spellbinding moment for me was the opening of The Nightingale, when German tenor Lothar Odinius as the fisherman, whose supple voice moved the story along, walked out in waist-deep water with a boat and a puppet, the orchestra's humming murmur under Jonathan Darlington's baton floating amidst the fog.

Even if I knew nothing about Stravinsky, or opera, or classical music, it was an arresting scene I would have paused and pressed replay if I could.

With lavish costumes for the singers and their puppets, Lepage's Nightingale is a feast to the human eye. There was so much to see, the only downside was deciding where to focus your gaze on.

The first half of the program, consisting of Stravinsky's short works, was presented continuously with intriguing and complex hand shadow and full-body acrobatic shadow puppetry on a scrim.

Quite frankly, I found the puppetry so fascinating I barely had time to look at the singers, who were propped up on either side of the swimming pool.

The Nightingale and Other Short Fables is by far the most visually imaginative creation I have ever seen in a musical performance. It was like watching Cirque du Soleil at the opera without the high jumps.

The music and the singing were fantastic, but opera has never looked so cool and I have definitely never been cooler.

The Nightingale and Other Short Fables continues at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Tickets for the remaining shows are sold out. However, the COC has added an extra performance on Monday, Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available online at coc.ca, by calling 416-363-8231, or in person at the Four Seasons Centre Box Office (145 Queen St. W., Toronto).

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Sunday, 18 October 2009

This Week in Toronto (October 19 - 25)

Franz Welser-Most conducts the Cleveland Orchestra (Photo courtesy of Roy Thomson Hall)









Stravinsky's The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, directed by Robert Lepage (photo: Michael Cooper)












For opera fans, the big news this week continues to be the COC production of Stravinsky's The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, directed by Robert Lepage. It opened on Saturday and it was a complete triumph. It was what an operatic experience should be but rarely is - one that dazzles, surprises, delights and inspires, all at the same time. Lepage turned operatic conventions upside down with a myriad of novel ideas regarding presentations, incorporating elements previously untouched and unrealized in the western opera. If you were struck by his Damnation of Faust at the Met last season, he has outdone himself here. The singing was uniformly excellent, particularly the clear, bell-like tones of Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko, whom I heard last year in Valencia, Spain, in the recording sessions I covered of Frederic Chaslin's new opera Wuthering Heights. She impressed me then, but she is even better here - this high coloratura role is tailor-made for her. As the Canadian reviewer for Opera, a UK magazine, I will write a full review there to be published in a future issue. As I understand it, all the tickets are pretty much sold, but there may be returns, so do check the COC website for updates. Performances this week are on Oct. 20, 22, and 24 at the Four Seasons Centre. The other show, Puccini's Madama Butterfly, continues on Oct. 21, 23, and 25. I have seen it twice already, and I am told that in recent performances, the audience have been extremely enthusiastic.

More operas are on offer this week. This being the Haydn bicentenary, University of Toronto Opera Division is presenting his Il Mondo della Luna, in a one-hour excerpt format, at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre at noon, Tuesday 20. The U of T publicity material also cites that this is the International Year of Astronomy - so it is a double celebration! It features students of the Faculty of Music, so this is a good chance to hear up and coming voices. This is a sneak preview to the fully staged production to take place on November 5-8 at the MacMillan Theatre at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto. The COC noon hour performance is free, but as usual, you will need to arrive at least 30 minutes before to line up.

Opera in Concert will be presenting another rarity, Rossini's La Donna del Lago, one of his relatively rare forays into opera seria. It is based on the Sir Walter Scott poem and the "lady" is a real star vehicle for a prima donna who has the chops to do the florid music justice. I have never seen it fully staged, and the OIC version obviously won't be staged either. It does have a very fine soprano in Virginia Hatfield, who has developed by leaps and bounds since her COC Ensemble Days. The show is on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2:30 PM at the Jane Mallet Theatre of the St. Lawrence Centre.

Symphonically speaking, the big event this week is the appearance of the august Cleveland Orchestra on Tuesday Oct. 20 8 pm in Roy Thomson Hall. The conductor is its current music director Franz Welser-Most. On the program is Fetes, a Debussy opener, followed by Haydn Symphony No. 85 and Shostakovich Symphony No. 5. Welser-Most exudes youthful vigor combined with a well-tempered, mature style. He is a bit of a controversial figure in Cleveland, where he is adored by the public but disliked by one particular critic who was subsequently released from his long-held position at the local newspaper. You'll get to see and hear what all the fuss is about on Tuesday. Any visiting orchestra is an event and this one is not to be missed.

Finally, the equally august Toronto Mendelssohn Choir presents Handel's Israel in Egypt at the newly minted Koerner Hall, with soloists Suzie LeBlanc and James McLennan. Noel Edison leads the Festival Orchestra. I attended the Frederica von Stade Farewell there last week and can truly say this new hall is a magnificent venue, not just for its beauty but its wondrous acoustics. If you haven't been to a concert there, this would be a good choice as the hall is very acoustically choir-friendly.

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Friday, 16 October 2009

Cette semaine à Montréal (19 à 25 oct) / This Week in Montreal (October 19 to 25)

Musique, danse, théâtre, etarts plastiques à Montréal cette semaine
Music, dance, theatre, and fine arts in Montreal this week

Theatre: The Segal Centre opens its season with Inherit the Wind, by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee, October 18 to November 8. The play is a fictionalized retelling of the famous “Monkey Trial” of 1925 when a Tennessee school teacher challenged the state law by teaching Charles Darwin’s theories to his students. The trial, hinging on justice, knowledge, and the everlasting fight between science and religion, became one of the greatest trials of the century. —Jessica Hill

Danse : par les GBCM en célébration, l’inoubliable Roméo et Juliette de Jean-Christophe Mailhot, jusqu’au 30 octobre au Maisonneuve. —Aline Apostolska

Théâtre : De l’impossible retour de Léontine en brassière - Depuis 2000, le Groupe de poésie moderne poursuit une démarche ludique fondée sur l’exploration sonore des mots. Cette déconstruction du langage confère à la petite troupe une niche originale. L’argument de leur quatrième spectacle paraît loufoque : la vengeance d’une comédienne renvoyée, pour cause d’âgisme, d’une pièce sur le peintre Paul-Émile Borduas. Jusqu’au 31 octobre, à la salle Jean-Claude-Germain. —Marie Labrecque

Art visuel : Le nu dans l’art moderne canadien, Québec, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, jusqu’au 4 janvier 2010. —Julie Beaulieu

Orchestral music: East Meets West - The Musicians of the World Symphony Orchestra presents East Meets West on October 19 at the Salle Pierre Mercure. Guest performers from China, India, Africa, the Middle East and South America mix traditional and contemporary repertoire from their respective cultures, including The Butterfly Lovers played by MWSO’s violin solo Venus Fu. These musicians will join the MWSO under the direction of Joseph Milo to give a unique performance of Dvořák’s New World Symphony. 514-790-1245, musiciansoftheworld.ca —Hannah Rahimi

Jazz : Mar. 20 Oliver Jones Trio. Salle Astral. (20 h) —Marc Chenard

Jazz : Mer. 21 International Polish Group avec le pianiste Jan Jarczyk. Upstairs Jazz Bar. (20 h 30) —Marc Chenard

Musique d’orchestre : Les 21 et 22 octobre marqueront les débuts au podium du violoniste Maxim Vengerov, qui dirigera les solistes de l’OSM Andrew Wan et Brian Manker dans l’émouvant Double concerto pour violon et violoncelle de Brahms. 514-842-9951, osm.ca —Hannah Rahimi

Jazz : Jeu. 22 * Trio de la pianiste Julie Lamontagne. Salle Astral. (20 h) [En reprise, 30 octobre, salle André-Mathieu, 475, boul. de l’Avenir (Laval). Info : 450-667-2040] * Félix Stüssi Give Me Five + J.N. Trottier (trb.) La série Les jeudis jazz. Maison de la culture Ahuntsic-Cartierville. (20 h) —Marc Chenard

Chamber music: On September 23, eXcentris reopened with two of its three theatres renovated as live performance venues allowing for an environment of innovation and cooperation between genres, styles and media. Renowned pianist Leon Fleischer inaugurated the hall. There this week: Cecilia String Quartet, Oct. 23. —Wah Keung Chan

Jazz : Sam. 24 * Jean-Nicolas Trottier Big Band. Maison culturelle et communautaire du Montréal-Nord. 328-5640. (20 h) * Projet Weather Report. Jazz bar resto Le dièse onze. (20 h 30) —Marc Chenard

World music : Rythmes irlandais par le ténor Michael Slattery - Direction Dublin et ses pubs avec la compagnie musicale La Nef, le samedi 24 octobre à 20 h. Dowland in Dublin: Lute Songs dans un pub irlandais s’annonce comme une soirée festive et conviviale, sous la direction de Sylvain Bergeron et Sean Dagher. Le ténor Michael Slattery sera de la fête et entonnera des airs issus du pur folklore du pays. La Nef propose depuis sa création en 1991 des concerts puisant tant dans la musique ancienne et nouvelle que la musique du monde. 514-523-3095, la-nef.com —Hannah Rahimi

Jazz : Dim. 25 * Oliver Jones avec les frères Doxas et, de Toronto, le trompettiste invité Guido Basso. Concert présenté dans le cadre de la série Power au Segal Center. 739-7944. (19 h 30) * De New York, le quintette The Story. Upstairs Jazz Bar. (20 h 30) —Marc Chenard

Chamber music: On October 25, a product of Juilliard, the American String Quartet, will be joined by the world-renowned clarinetist Richard Stoltzman in the exquisite Mozart and Brahms clarinet quintets. Pollack Hall. 514-932-6796, lmmc.ca —Hannah Rahimi

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Monday, 12 October 2009

This Week in Toronto (October 12 - 18)

Part of the set for The Nightingale, showing the terrace on the right side of the stage. Photo taken at the May 2009 workshop lab in La Caserne, Quebec. (Photo: Viviane Paradis)




The big event for opera lovers this week is the opening of Stravinsky's The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, directed by Canadian Robert Lepage. This is a unique presentation of Stravinksy's 50 minute short opera as the centerpiece, with the addition of several short piecesinto a full evening's entertainment, albeit a rather short one of two hours including an intermission. I attended a press preview/news conference a week and a half ago at the Tanenbaum Opera Centre, where Lepage and the whole creative team (minus the puppet designer Michael Curry) were there to give the media a tantalizing glimpse of the show. A few days ago, I had my first actual experience of the show in a working rehearsal at FSC. Unfortunately, they only rehearsed the first half of the program, so no Nightingale. However, it did give me a good idea what to expect in the finished product, which promises to be a show of exceptional creativity.

The performance begins with Ragtime, an orchestral piece that shows an amazing grasp of this American musical genre by Stravinsky, who after all spent significant time in the US. This is followed by three solo vocal pieces all sung in Russian: Pribaoutki by new COC Ensemble Studio soprano Simone Osborne; Berceuses du chat by German contralto Maria Radner; and Two Poems of Konstantin Balmont, with COC Ensemble Studio soprano Teiya Kasahara. There are two terraces on each side of the stage, with the orchestra out of the pit and on the stage. During the three solo pieces, the singer is on the right terrace, while on the left terrace is a bunch of artists engaging in shadow-play, projected onto a wide screen upstage. To say that to our western eyes unfamiliar with such performance aesthetic, the result is dazzling. Shadow play (and shadow puppetry) is very popular in almost all cultures save that of western Europe. In China for example, shadow play involving puppets, often composed of several movable parts, was extremely popular in the bygone days. Lepage uses this ancient theatrical technique to great effect in the story telling. The three solos are followed by Four Russian Peasant Songs featuring the COC Women's Chorus. Various clarinet solos are inserted in between these pieces. The last piece of the first half is made up of Renard. This was previously staged by the COC Ensemble Studio in June 2008, but of course this new production is entirely different. After an intermission, the second half is the centerpiece, The Nightingale, which was not rehearsed on Friday. This promises to be a truly unique show. If you have seen a fairly recent DVD of this opera sung by Natalie Dessay, you will not recognize the Lepage production, which could not be more different. I understand the COC production is essentially sold out, but I am sure there will be some returns. Performances on Oct 17, 20, 22, 24, 30, Nov. 1, 4, and 5 at the FSC.



> Hear It: Stravinsky's The Nightingale (Naxos Music Library, available free to La SCENA Card members)





Meanwhile, the COC's Madama Butterfly continues its long run this week, with performances on Wed. Oct. 14 and Fri. Oct. 16 7:30 pm, and Sunday Oct. 18 at 2 pm.

For something a little different, Canadian soprano/pop diva Measha Brueggergosman makes a return to Toronto since her much publicized open-heart surgery in June for a concert benefiting the African Medical and Research Foundation. It takes place at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church at King and Simcoe at 5 pm. Unfortunately it conflicts with the opening of the COC Stravinsky, which is at a very odd time of 4:30 pm. If you are not going to the opera, do go to hear Measha and support a good cause. Tickets are $60 to $175, with 50% off for students with valid ID. Call (416) 961-6981.

At Roy Thomson Hall, the Toronto Symphony this week (Oct. 13 and 14, 8 pm.) offers two performances of Broadway Classics, its pops concert series. With the beloved Erich Kunzel gone, the conductor will be Steven Reineke, who was Kunzel's associate at the Cincinnati Pops. Singers are soprano Kathleen Brett, tenor Colin Ainsworth and baritone Daniel Narducci. On the program are Sound of Music, Oklahoma, My Fair Lady, and South Pacific, all chestnuts of the musical theatre.

Finally, on Sunday Oct. 18 2:30 pm, the Aldeburgh Connection presents Alfred, Lord Tennyson, at Walter Hall, University of Toronto. Tickets are $50, with student rush seats at $12. Soloists are Virgina Hatfied, Lynne McMurty, Michael Barrett, and Alexander Dobson, with Stephen Ralls and Bruce Ubukata at the piano. Aldeburgh Connection is famous for its innovative program-driven recitals, in celebration of the art of the song.

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Sunday, 11 October 2009

Bay and ASO Bring Bruckner Back to Austin!

By Paul E. Robinson



Classical Travels
This Week in Texas

Anton Bruckner’s music has always been pretty popular in Europe, but in North America not so much. Perhaps Bruckner’s time has come. Yannick Nézet-Séguin is performing and recording all the Bruckner symphonies with his Orchestre Métropolitain in Montreal and the Dallas Symphony’s conductor Jaap van Zweden is also recording the cycle, albeit with his Dutch orchestra.

Last night, at the Long Center, the city’s new concert hall, Peter Bay and the Austin Symphony Orchestra (ASO) gave the capitol of Texas its first Bruckner performance in thirteen years – the Fourth Symphony, a work last heard here thirty-five years ago.

Fortunately for all Bruckner aficionados present, Maestro Bay and his players gave a terrific performance of the Bruckner Fourth and listeners plainly liked what they heard! Perhaps the positive reception will encourage the Austin Symphony to program more Bruckner – and soon.

Stops, Starts and Wagnerian Climaxes Challenge Orchestra and Audience
The problem with Bruckner for many listeners has always been sheer length, and a tendency on the composer’s part to stop and start with alarming regularity. Just when he gets a good thing going, they complain, he brings everything to a halt and after an interval of silence or dithering, sets off again with something completely different.

On the plus side, most listeners acknowledge that Bruckner wrote some lovely melodies, and even better, that every one of his symphonies has at least half a dozen massive and brassy Wagnerian climaxes. The ultimate challenge for many audiences is whether they can stay engaged long enough to relish those big moments when they come.

In my opinion, Bruckner’s symphonies are unique and profoundly moving essentials in orchestral literature. For all their imperfections, they remain remarkable achievements of the composer’s art and whether or not one shares Bruckner’s deeply-felt Catholic faith -this was a man who kept a daily record of the number of his prayers – they are ultimately incomparable spiritual journeys.

As do most Bruckner symphonies, the Fourth starts with a tremolo in the strings which sets up a horn solo a few bars later. Peter Bay made sure that the tremolo was not only soft, but ppp as the composer intended. Principal horn Thomas (Tom) Hale nailed his solo with complete assurance, and the performance was off to a great start.

The second movement Andante was taken at the comfortable walking tempo it ought to have and the viola and cello sections played their extended melodies with the utmost sensitivity and expression. The brass fanfares in the scherzo were fearless and thrilling. In the finale the horn playing was magnificent. Peter Bay got the best out of his players and showed great insight into how a Bruckner symphony works. All in all a great night for Bruckner.

Which of Bruckner’s Many Revisions is a Maestro to Choose?
In any discussion of Bruckner, one is inevitably compelled to deal with the question of all the different versions of the scores. Bruckner was an obsessive revisionist. He often allowed his colleagues Josef Schalk and Ferdinand Löwe to make revisions too, with the result that scholars and conductors today must wade through as many as twenty-five different published and unpublished versions of the symphonies and then decide which ones are the most authentic.

In the case of the Fourth Symphony, there are five different versions.

The Fourth symphony provides a good example of what Bruckner’s well-meaning colleagues did on his behalf. In the recapitulation of the first movement, the horn plays its melody once again over tremolo strings, but this time there is a beautiful arabesque around the melody played by the flute. It is a magical moment in the symphony. In the Schalk-Löwe revision, that flute is doubled by muted first violins. This version is lovely too, but quite without the simplicity and intimacy of Bruckner’s original conception.

Bay and ASO Score with Bruckner Society Edition
David Mead’s notes in the ASO program book state that Maestro Peter Bay opted for the Bruckner Society’s edition, and that he is using editor Leopold “Nowak’s version of the (Bruckner) version of 1878-80″, but that is not quite accurate. Bruckner revised this 1878-80 version in 1886 for a performance conducted by Seidl in New York, and it is this later version that Nowak used for the Bruckner Society’s edition of the work.

This 1886 revision, with one notable exception, is not radically different from Bruckner’s first definitive version of 1880. Notwithstanding the many minor changes in orchestration in the later version, there is one alteration of major significance.

The horn melody which opens the first movement, returns in the final bars of the symphony played by trombone and tuba. Unfortunately, this melody in the final bars is not heard in some versions, because it is drowned out by the other brass instruments. In the 1886 version, Bruckner reinforced trombone and tuba with the third and fourth horns, to help the melody come through more clearly.

Obviously, this change is key to understanding the compositional unity of the symphony. The composer was evidently concerned that the melody be heard; consequently, the conductor must strive to realize his intent. Kudos to Maestro Bay for his choice of this edition, and for his execution of Bruckner’s intentions in this performance.

Readers interested in learning more about the problems of the various Bruckner editions are referred to the following: Hans-Hubert Schönzeler: “Bruckner.” New York: Vienna House, 1978; Deryck Cooke: ‘The Bruckner Problem Simplified’ in “Vindications.” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Chee-Yun Opens Concert with Mendelssohn Violin Concerto
The concert began with a performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto featuring Korean-born violinist Chee-Yun who is now Professor of Violin at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas.

Although Chee-Yun played the familiar Violin Concerto with technical ease and beautiful tone, it was a soft-edged performance, somewhat lacking in personality. The ASO’s accompaniment was, to my mind, excessively deferential.

It’s all very well and admirable to keep the orchestra soft enough to enable the soloist to be heard, but there are times when the interplay between soloist and orchestra requires the orchestra to be more assertive. The melody in the slow movement, for example, is lovely but what is needed here is a ‘chamber music’, rather than an ‘accompanied solo’ texture.

This year is the 200th anniversary of Mendelssohn’s birth and next month (Nov. 20/21) the ASO will continue their tribute to the composer with the incidental music for Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

> Recommended Listen: Bruckner's Fourth Symphony, Klaus Tennstedt, London Phil (Naxos Music Library, available free to La SCENA Card members)




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 Amazon.com.

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Saturday, 10 October 2009

Opera Singer Fees Revealed


by Frank Cadenhead


In an remarkably candid interview yesterday, October 9, in the French newspaper, Le Figaro, Roberto Alagna talks about two subjects of particular interest. He confirms his separation from Angela Gheorgiu and speaks candidly about the money he earns and spends. The French daily takes the occasion to make separate report about singers fees in general. Below is a rough translation of the latter article. The report on artists fees is at http://tinyurl.com/ygb29fq


Fees for Opera's Stars

"Tonight (October 10), Anna Netrebko opens a revival of L'Elisir d'Amore at Paris' Opéra Bastille. Like Alagna's recent triumph in Carmen at Covent Garden and Karita Mattila's Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera, all of these will receive the same top fee: 15,000 Euros (or the equilivant in dollars). Not a centime more" says the article. Travel and living expenses are paid by the artist. Netrebko arrived in Paris with her husband, the baritone Erwin Schrott, their one-year-old son, Tiago, and the nanny, on commercial transportation. "There is no question of a private plane like those Sharon Stone or Mick Jagger might use."


"'Singers have a great sense of responsibility,' explains Thérèse Cedelle, agent for Natalie Dessay. 'In the spotlight, they cannot improvise. Their absolute existence is on their own shoulders and that gives a sense of the real life found in their contracts.' Natalie Dessay has brought an apartment in Manhattan. Renée Fleming has done the same in the Marais district in Paris. Sometimes Fleming makes this available to artist friends who could, in turn, welcome her to their lodgings in another city." 


The article continues by reminding the reader that the economics of opera is always in the red, "every evening." "The budget, whether supported by the state or financed by donations, has a ceiling. Unique in the world of the performing arts, the major house directors find an accord on these fees together and they are the same in London, Paris and New York."


"This fee, 15,000 Euros per evening, net, is reserved for the great voices. Stars like Diana Damrau or Sophie Koch receive in the range of 5,000 to 12,000 euros with smaller roles at least 1,000 Euros.  Gelb was quoted as saying 'Between the directors, we are on the telephone all the time.' 'We also share, two times a year, an accounting summarizing the fees, artist by artist.' explained Elisabeth Pezzino, director of programming at the Paris Opera." 


There are exceptions according to this article. With important government support, Bilbao in Spain pays 20,000 Euros a night in their Zarzuela theater. "'Before that, it was the Italians with their payments under the table,' complained Pierre Médecin, President of the Association of European Opera Directors."


"'The only angle for the singer to improve the ordinary fees is to issue a CD and link that to a recital series,' explains Jean-Pierre Le Pavec, who produces the recital series "Grandes Voix" in Paris, featuring this year Anne-Sofie von Otter and Jonas Kaufmann among others. Because the financing is private the law of supply and demand applies. According to the fame of the singer, the fee could vary between 30,000 and 200,000 Euros. Angela Gheorgiu and the other members of the "top fee" club balance their schedules. Only Cecilia Bartoli has abandoned the stage and only does "galas." 'It is likely the prestige of opera which helps secure the other contracts. In the long term, the public gets fed up with this,' says Gelb."


"Negotiations are now under way for the 2014-15 season. Their goal? To have a star on the posters and a homogenous cast. For the artists, it is difficult to anticipate where the voice will be in five years. They are also dealing with the crisis which hit American opera. Because of the decline in donations, some companies cancelled part of their season and others declared bankruptcy. The Met cannot offer work to everyone. Because the change of wind, the American Guild of Musical Artists has agreed that their members will not receive remuneration for the operas shown in cinemas. In her sunny office on the eighth floor of the Opéra Bastille, Élisabeth Pezzino is overloaded with calls from the other side of the Atlantic. 'The Americans have holes in their schedules. With Europe favored with a exchange rate, the exodus is under way.'"

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Thursday, 8 October 2009

Cette semaine à Montréal (12 à 18 oct) / This Week in Montreal (October 12 to 18)

Musique, danse, théâtre, etarts plastiques à Montréal cette semaine Music, dance, theatre, and fine arts in Montreal this week

Art visuel : Francine Savard (rétrospective de mi-carrière), Montréal, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, du 9 octobre 2009 au 3 janvier 2010. —Julie Beaulieu

Chamber music: Fibonacci at Ten - One of those rare piano trios that interpret contemporary works and traditional repertoire with equal brilliance, the Trio Fibonacci kicks off its 11th season with performances on October 12 and 13 at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal. The first concert includes works by Carter, Plamondon and Ives, featuring guest clarinetist and composer François Houle. The second concert offers a mix of old and new, placing Messiaen and Ravel alongside contemporary composers such as Christophe Bertrand and Bruno Mantovani. 514-270-7382, triofibonacci.com —Hannah Rahimi

Jazz/Classical music: On September 23, eXcentris reopened with two of its three theatres renovated as live performance venues allowing for an environment of innovation and cooperation between genres, styles and media. Renowned pianist Leon Fleischer inaugurated the hall. There this week: Marianne Trudel, Oct. 14. —Wah Keung Chan

Television: Prokoviev: The Unfinished Diary - In 1918, composer Sergei Prokofiev left Russia for the West, spending four years in America and then in Paris before being convinced to return to the new Soviet Union in 1936. During this period Prokofiev kept a detailed yet cryptic diary (he omitted vowels). Yosif Feyginberg’s documentary Prokofiev: The Unfinished Diary brings to life the composer’s daily struggles through his own words. The documentary was shown at the 27th FIFA in March and makes its Canadian TV debut on Bravo! (Oct. 14, 10 PM; Oct. 16, 7 PM). —Wah Keung Chan

Musique baroque : Telemann et quelques français, version Les Boréades - Francis Colpron et son ensemble baroque sur instruments d’époque vous convient, le 15 octobre à 20 h, à une expérience digne de ce répertoire jouissif. Des interprétations diverses, solo, quatuor et concerto, inspirées de l’œuvre de Georg Philipp Telemann : rien de moins pour une exquise soirée, à la Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours. 514-634-1244, boreades.com —Hélène Boucher

Jazz : Jeu. 15 * François Bourassa (solo piano). La série Les Jeudis Jazz. Maison de la culture Ahuntsic-Cartierville. 872-8749. (20 h) * L’ensemble Rodéoscopique, dir. Antoine Berthiaume. Maison de la culture Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. 872-2157. (20 h) —Marc Chenard

Jazz : Ven. 16 Alex Côté Quintette, Hommage aux frères Adderley. Jazz bar resto Le dièse onze. (20 h 30) —Marc Chenard

Jazz : Ven. 16 et sam. 17 Quartette Fr. Alarie, N. Guilbeault, M. Donato et Pierre Tanguay. Upstairs Jazz Bar. (20 h 30) —Marc Chenard

Contemporary music: From Flute to Hyper-flute - This year’s composer-in-residence at the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, Cléo Palacio-Quintin has reinvented the flute with the use of sensory wires and digital technology, creating an astonishing “hyper-flute”. For her first concert of the season October 16, Palacio-Quintin presents an autobiographical concert of her key works. Joining her are flutist Marie-Ève Lauzon and gambist Élin Söderström. 514-872-5338 www.smcq.qc.ca —Hannah Rahimi

Theatre: A slice of 1940s Canadiana awaits you at the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall from October 16-18. Daniel Langlois's Till We Meet Again is a WWII-era musical examining the impact of a CBC radio show on those on the homefront. Set in a time when radio was still the community event, this Panache Theatre production captures the struggles, foibles, and joys of a nation huddled around the family set, hanging on each word broadcast on the airwaves in the hopes of catching some good news. Labelled "one of the 10 Best Productions of 2005" when it first opened, the play's October dates will be followed by a tour ending again in Montreal from November 21 to 22. —Crystal Chan

Danse : Reprise du superbe Çaturn de Naomi Stikeman à l’Usine C du 13 au 17. —Aline Apostolska

Théâtre : Un Tramway nommé Désir - Il y a d’abord la pièce de Tennessee Williams, l’une des plus puissantes du théâtre américain. Puis la rencontre entre un grand rôle féminin, la sensuelle et fragile Blanche Dubois, et une actrice formidable, Sylvie Drapeau. Ajoutez que ce spectacle marque les retrouvailles de la comédienne avec le brillant metteur en scène de Marie Stuart, Alexandre Marine, et vous comprendrez pourquoi il constitue probablement l’un des rendez-vous incontournables de l’automne. Jusqu’au 31 octobre, au Théâtre du Rideau Vert. —Marie Labrecque

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Tuesday, 6 October 2009

COC Ensemble Studio Alumni in a Concert of Opera Arias and Duets

(l. to r.) Allyson McHardy, Yannick Muriel Noah, David Pomeroy, James Westman. Seated at piano: Steven Philcox
(Photo: Joseph So)











"Alumni Reunion" Concert
Yannick Muriel Noah, soprano
Allyson McHardy, mezzo
David Pomeroy, tenor
James Westman, baritone
Steven Philcox, piano
"Ai capricci della sorte" from L'Italiana in Algeri - McHardy and Westman
"Vogliatemi bene" from Madama Butterfly - Noah and Pomeroy
"Di Provenza il mar" from La Traviata - Westman
"Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix" from Samson et Dalila - McHardy
"Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Das Land des Lachens - Pomeroy
"Ebben! Ne andro lontana" from La Wally - Noah
"Au fond du temple saint" from Les Pecheurs de Perles - Pomeroy and Westman

Following an auspicious opening concert given by current COC Ensemble Studio members two weeks ago, the Vocal Series continued today with an "Alumni Reunion" opera concert starring four former members who have gone on to significant careers - soprano Yannick Muriel Noah, mezzo Allyson McHardy, tenor David Pomeroy, and baritone James Westman. McHardy and Westman were members in 1997, Pomeroy in 2001, and Noah in 2005. All four are currently starring in the season-opening Madama Butterfly. I've seen both casts and can honestly say they all gave fine performances. This concert was highly anticipated - by the time I arrived 30 minutes before the show, a huge lineup had already formed in front of the opera house, and as usual, it was standing-room only.

McHardy and Westman kicked off the proceedings with a scintillating Isabella-Taddeo duet from L'Italiana in Algeri. This show was last staged by the COC in 2003. Judging by the performance of McHardy and Westman, it is time for a revival with these two artists! McHardy's rich, dark mezzo is perfect as Isabella, and Westman, with his warm, robust baritone and irrepressible stage persona, is a marvelous Taddeo. Given their razor-sharp comic timing and excellent chemistry, even I, a non-Rossinian, enjoyed it. They were followed by Noah and Pomeroy in the love duet from Act One Madama Butterfly. Being in different casts in the current run of the Puccini, the two have not sung together until now. Noah has a huge, dark-hued soprano which she is able to scale it down to a lovely pianissimo, an absolute requisite for Butterfly. Pomeroy has an ardent quality that makes him an engaging Pinkerton. The two big voices rang out excitingly in the hall, and they capped the duet with a powerful high C - it lasted a good four seconds, but who's counting...

Westman returns for Germont's aria from La Traviata. "Di Provenza" has become his calling card the last few years. I heard his Germont at the ENO three years ago, and Westman was easily the best singer on stage. This afternoon, his warm, rich baritone with its totally secure high register was a pleasure. McHardy may look a little too youthful as the dangerous Dalila, but vocally, "Mon coeur" fits her like a glove. Even with the leisurely tempo adopted by pianist Steven Philcox, McHardy sustained the long lines beautifully, capping the end with a lovely mezza voce. Pomeroy's "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" is a party piece, which he delivered with gusto. Noah's solo piece was "Ebben, ne andro lontana" from the rarely staged La Wally. Following her win at the Hans Gabor (Belvedere) Vocal Competition, Noah was offered a chance to sing this role at Klagenfurt, which she did to excellent notices. This aria, made famous by Wilhelmina Fernandez in the movie Diva many years ago, requires a voice of spinto weight and strong high notes. Noah, with her opulent tone and lively vibrato, fit the bill perfectly. Her climactic high B was particularly exciting. The last piece on the program - there was no encores - was the Pearl Fishers' Duet, an audience favourite if there ever was one. Pomeroy and Westman gave their all, and their voices, even with very different timbres, blended well. The audience rewarded them with a rousing ovation. The whole cast then came back to vociferous applause from the enthusiastic crowd.


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