La Scena Musicale

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Peter Hofmann : In Memoriam

German tenor Peter Hofmann (b. 22 Aug 1944 - d. 29 Nov. 2010)

The celebrated German heldentenor Peter Hofmann died of pneumonia in the early hours of Tuesday, in a hospital in Upper Franconia in Germany. Hofmann was born in Marienbad on the German-Czech border in 1944. He made his debut as Tamino in Lubeck, but soon switched from lyric tenor to the Wagnerian repertoire. His most celebrated work was as Siegmund in the legendary 1976 Bayreuth Centennial Ring directed by Patrice Chereau. His Act 1 Die Walkure scene with American soprano Jeannine Altmeyer is still considered unsurpassed by many, for its vocalism but also for the sexual energy and chemistry between the two artists. It was captured four years later on video. Hofmann sang and played guitar in a rock band as a young man, before he started studying to become an operatic tenor. He had a parallel career singing pop and soft rock throughout the 80's. His 1982 album, "Rock Classics" released on the CBS label, went platinum on the charts. In addition to Siegmund, he was a celebrated Tristan, Parsifal, Lohengrin, and Walter von Stolzing in Bayreuth, Met, San Francisco. His career was cut short in the early 1990's when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's. He ended his career in musical theatre, singing the title role in Phantom of the Opera 300 times. Although he developed Parkinson's as early as 1994, he made it public in 1999 and officially announced his retirement from singing in 2004. He is survived by two sons from his first marriage to soprano Deborah Sasson, and a daughter from his second marriage, as well as his brother Fritz.

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Sunday, 28 November 2010

This Week in Toronto (Nov. 29 - Dec. 5)

German violinist Christian Tetzlaff plays Tchaikovsky at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra this week (Photo: Alexandra Vosding)

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has a surefire program this week - a winning combination of Wagner, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff! Back in town is the terrific Christian Tetzlaff playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D Major Op. 35 Also on the program is the Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 3 in A Minor Op. 44 and Wagner's Prelude to Parsifal. British conductor Mark Wigglesworth is at the helm. The energetic Mr. Tetzlaff has great musicality and technique to burn, so this is my choice of exciting event this week. Two performances, Wednesday Dec. 1 and Thursday Dec. 2, both at 8 pm. For more information, go to

Toronto opera fans will likely remember bass-baritone Pavlo Hunka, who has sung many times with the COC, in such roles as Falstaff, Hunding, and Golaud, among others. He is back in Toronto this week for the launch of the 6 CD set of Mykola Lysenko Art Songs. This lavishly produced and beautifully illustrated box set is the brainchild of Hunka, a UK born singer to a Ukrainian father and English mother. It is the lifelong dream of Hunka to introduce Ukrainian art songs to the world, through the recording of the approximately one thousand classical songs composed by Ukrainian composers. This release follows the 2 CD set of Stetsenko songs released in 2006. I recently interviewed Hunka about this project, and you can read about it in Fall/Winter 2011 issue of The Music Scene, available for view and download at Well, the launch takes place on Sunday Dec. 5 at 4 pm, at RCM's Koerner Hall. The centerpiece of the launch is a concert with the participation of sopranos Monica Whicher and Krisztina Szabo, baritone Russell Braun, and bass-baritone Pavlo Hunka. They will be singing selections from the collection of 124 songs of Lysenko. For more information, go to

Tafelmusik presents a program of concertos and symphonies of Mozart and Haydn this week with British harpsichordist Richard Egarr as the guest orchestra leader and soloist at the fortepiano. The symphonies are Mozart's No. 1 K. 16 and Haydn's No. 44 in E Minor, "Trauersymphonie". The two concertos are Mozart's No. 12 K. 414 and Haydn's No. 11. There are four performances, Dec. 1, 2, 4 and 5 at their usual venue, Trinity St. Paul Centre. The Wednesday Dec. 1 performance is "Wednesday Night Talkback" where the audience has an opportunity to meet Maestro Egarr after the show. For ticket information and the various start times, go to

With Christmas drawing ever closer, many organizations, particularly choral groups, are gearing up! The excellent choral group, Pax Christi Chorale is presenting Bach's Christmas Oratorio 1 and 4, Cantata 140 "Wachet Auf. " Howard Dyck, retired since last May as the conductor of the Grand Philharmonic Choir in a memorable Verdi Requiem, is the guest conductor. The soloists are soprano Agnes Zsigovics, mezzo Iasmina Pataca, tenor Cory Knight and baritone Matthew Zadow. I am only familiar with Zadow's voice. He was a student of Canadian baritone Bruce Kelly, and I heard Matthew as a fresh-voiced Count in Opera York's Le nozze di Figaro about five years ago. He has since relocated to Belgium, so it is good to have him performing on this side of the pond. Two shows on Saturday 7:30 pm and Sunday 3 pm at Grace Church on the Hill. Go to for more information.

The Amadeus Choir under conductor Lydia Adams is putting on the ever-popular Messiah at the Metropolitan United Church in downtown Toronto. With a choir of 115 strong voices, their choral performances are always enjoyable. Soloists are soprano Jennifer Taverner, mezzo Jennifer Enns, tenor Patrick Huang and bass-baritone Giles Tomkins. The performance is on Friday Dec. 3 at 8 pm. Go to for more information.

For something different - definitely un-Christmasy - is An Evening of Kurt Weill presented by students of the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music. On the program are cabaret songs. One doesn't often get to hear young voices singing Kurt Weill - perhaps because the world-weary quality of some of the songs are often associated with mature voices. So this is definitely worth hearing. Performances on Friday Dec. 3 and Saturday Dec. 4, both at 7:30 pm -

On Sunday Dec. 5 at 2:30 pm, Aldeburgh Connection is presenting The Year of Song: a Schumann Celebration. The concert celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Schumann. On the program are two fine singers, soprano Erin Wall and baritone Philip Addis. Usually, 1840 is referred to as Schumann's "year of the song." A sufferer of bipolar affecting disorder, Schumann was on his manic high in 1840 and he produced some of his greatest works on that year. I assume some of these songs from 1840 will be on the program. As usual, Stephen Ralls and Bruce Ubukata at the piano. No program details at the website -


Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Usual Best from Gryphon Trio

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

The Gryphon Trio is the kind of chamber music ensemble that tends to please listeners even when playing something as demented as Charles Ives’ Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano.

Actually, make that demented with a sick joke and some right notes and some wrong ones, said Gryphon Trio’s pianist, Jamie Parker, in his pitch to try and “undersell” the piece from the stage.

It worked. The listeners took in Ives’ witty, dissonant and satirical piano trio, which shifts its mood from dark to light to drunkenness and fury, with delight and admiration. Of course, Parker, violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon and cellist Roman Borys delivered their usual best at their Music Toronto concert at the Jane Mallett Theatre Nov. 18. Much intelligence and many biting harmonic renditions were on displayed from all three players here. The second movement, titledTSIAF (“This Scherzo Is a Joke”), was at times riveting with excitement and the moderato con moto finale evolved from one of the weirdest landscapes of sound to one of the most ethereal and lovely ever written and played.

The Gryphon Trio opened the concert with something much tamer than the Ives’ trio, Beethoven’sTrio in B flat, Op. 11, written originally for clarinet, cello and piano and featured in the Gryphon Trio’s latest CD of Beethoven trios. The trio demonstrated probing musicianship in this cheeky three-movement work, also known as the Street Song Trio, with stylish phrasing and a liquid chemistry. The variations in the finale rolled gracefully with virtuosity. Everything sounded so natural, so easy.

After intermission, listeners were treated to a young Canadian composer’s work that came out of one of Gryphon Trio’s educational initiatives. Rothko Sketches, inspired by the Russian-born American painter Mark Rothko, was composed by Joseph Glaser, an alumnus of the 2010 Young Composer Program at Earl Haig Secondary School’s Claude Watson School for the Arts. Glaser, who is currently enrolled in the composition program at the University of British Columbia, probably wrote the short piece with synesthesia in mind, creating minimalistic segments based on colours such as orange, blue and yellow. Whether or not you can hear the colours, the result of the composition is a surprisingly tender and organic undulation of Rothko’s signature abstract and blurry blocks of paintings. It left me wishing there was more to explore after the last note was played.

The program concluded with Dvorak’s Piano Trio in F minor, Op. 65. Here, the Gryphon Trio dispatched bursts of uncanny richness throughout this defiant yet poignant piece of work. Borys’ cello solos sizzled each time, Patipatanakoon matched him with unfaltering poise and Parker, who looked and sounded totally relaxed, was in top form from beginning to end.

The concert will be heard on In Concert on CBC Radio 2 on Feb. 13.

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Monday, 22 November 2010

Austin Symphony Celebrates Mexico!

Last weekend (November 19 and 20) the Austin Symphony under music director Peter Bay presented an all-Mexican programme. And there was a good reason for it. This year, Mexico is celebrating the 200th anniversary of its independence, and the 100th anniversary of its revolution. A big year for Mexico and President Calderon duly named it “Año de la Patria.”
Surprisingly, given the inspiration for this concert, there was virtually nothing in the programme book to let the audience know what it was all about. All we got were the cryptic words “Mexico’s 200/100” on the main programme page.
Surely a concert such as this provides not only an opportunity to preach to the choir, presumably the Hispanic population in Austin – about 30% of the city’s total population - but also to educate the wider public. At a time when all we hear about Mexico these days is illegal immigration, murders and drug cartels, it is even more important to try to convey a positive message.
For the record, readers might be interested to know that one of the Austin Symphony’s performances fell on November 20, the very day that Mexicans celebrate as the start of the revolution in 1910. So important is this day that in all the Mexican state capitals and many other cities besides, giant clocks were installed in the main squares this year to count down the hours and days to November 20.
Folk Music of Mexico Goes Classical
All the music chosen for this concert had folkloric elements. It was Antonin Dvořák, during an extended residency in the United States in the 1890s, who advised American composers to find their own voice through study of the indigenous folk music of their own country. Eventually, that advice began to bear fruit as composers such as Charles Ives and Aaron Copland did just that.
In Mexico, the same thing happened and a powerful new Mexican classical music began to emerge in works like ChavezSinfonia India (1935). Then came some of the composers represented in the Austin Symphony’s Mexican concert: Silvestre Revueltas and his score for the film Redes ( 1935); Blas Galindo and his Sones de Mariachi (1940); Manuel Ponce and his Violin Concerto (1942) and Moncayo’s Huapango (1941). The other work on the programme, Arturo MárquezDanzon No. 2 dates from 1994, and it too shows folkloric influence. Interestingly, while Aaron Copland was busy creating a distinctly American music, he also found time to show Mexicans the way in his El Salón México (1933).
The concert began with Galindo’s Sones de Mariachi. As the title would indicate, this is music suggesting the sound of the mariachi band. We hear the familiar guitars and trumpets, but not much in the way of development. Although this piece is little more than a transcription, it was nevertheless a pleasant way to open the concert. The trumpet section showed a nice appreciation of authentic mariachi style in their use of a wide vibrato at every opportunity.
Masterful Performance of Pedantic Ponce Piece
Next came Ponce’s Violin Concerto, a much more substantial piece. Ponce was best known in his lifetime for the song Estrellita, and he incorporates elements of the song into the slow movement of the concerto. Unfortunately, the rest of the piece is pretty pedantic and uninspired. It sounds like the work of an academic fulfilling his tenure requirements. Surprisingly, for a Mexican composer of this period with so much lively folk material to draw on, the rhythms are dull and plodding. No wonder it is seldom played. Ponce seemed to be at his best in the short guitar pieces he wrote for Andres Segovia.
The soloist in the concerto was Francisco Ladrón de Guevara-Finck, a young Mexican violinist who studied with Dorothy Delay at Juilliard and who has won several international competitions. He showed great command of his instrument and a beautiful tone. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine him making a major career unless he reconsiders how he presents himself. To come out on stage with wrinkled clothes, baggy pants and unshined shoes makes one wonder about his maturity, and his respect for his colleagues and for the audience. And did I mention that he didn’t bother to comb his hair? The nodding and grimacing didn’t make the music sound any better either.
Brilliant Revueltas and Mesmerizing Moncayo!
After intermission Peter Bay conducted a suite from the film Redes (Nets) by Revueltas. Even without benefit of seeing the film, one can imagine very well the scenes described in the music. Revueltas had a real talent for vividly capturing drama in just a few pages of music. Interestingly, Revueltas spent some time living in the United States including almost a year in Austin (1917-18 not 1916-18 as stated by David Mead in his programme notes for this concert) studying at what is now St. Edward’s University (for more about Revueltas in Austin see below). Sadly, Revueltas ruined his health and his career by drinking too much and died at the age of only 40.
The concert ended with two folkloric showpieces. The first of them, Márquez’s Danzon No. 2 is well-known as one of Gustavo Dudamel’s party pieces with the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. It begins as a slow tango and builds to exciting climaxes. Peter Bay and the Austin Symphony played it brilliantly and the audience loved it. Finally, came Moncayo’s Huapango. The folk music on which it is based comes from the state of Veracruz. There is an important part for the harp recalling the arpa jarocha from that region. The climax of the piece comes in a thrilling call and answer sequence between trumpet and trombone.
Both the Danzon No. 2 and Huapango are based on the idea of taking a catchy rhythm, repeating it incessantly and ultimately culminating in loud climaxes. Sounds a lot like Ravel’s Bolero, doesn’t it? But while each piece succeeds in what it sets out to do, I wonder about programming them back to back. Having heard one of them, the other coming right after inevitably sounds anticlimactic.
It must be said, however, that the Austin Symphony was in great form throughout the concert and had complete control of some very complex rhythms. Peter Bay prepared everything with his usual attention to detail and found poetry and excitement in all the right places. And the tempo he set for Huapango was bracing, to say the least.
For Something More…
Readers interested in knowing more about Revueltas’ time in Austin are referred to Lorenzo Candelaria’s article in American Music (Vol.22 No. 4 Winter, 2004), “Silvestre Revueltas at the Dawn of His 'American Period'”: St. Edward’s College, Austin, Texas (1917-1918). This article provides not only significant detail about the composer’s student days in Austin, but also about musical life in Austin in those early years. Revueltas was eighteen when he lived in Austin and attended school for only one year, a period of about ten months. At the school, and in Austin generally, he was known as a gifted violinist, and according to Candelaria, had not yet written any music of substance.

Paul E. Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar, and Sir Georg Solti: His Life and Music. NEW for friends: The Art of the Conductor podcast, "Classical Airs."

Photo by Marita

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This Week in Toronto (Nov. 22 - 28)

Photo: Conductor Nicholas McGegan

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is presenting two performances of Beethoven's Symphony No. 8, conducted by Nicholas McGegan. Also on the program is Saint Saens Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor Op. 33, with cellist Joseph Johnson. British conductor McGegan is an internationally renowned baroque specialist, but he is also known for his Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss and Britten. He has received numerous awards, the most recent was on October 29 in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace, when HRH Charles, Prince of Wales, formally made McGegan and Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in recognition of his "service to music overseas." The concert on Wednesday Nov. 24 is at an early starting time of 6:30pm, the so called "Afterworks" series where a concert typically lasts 75 minutes and performed without an intermission. In the TSO website, it specifically states that the TSO "encourages all beverages to be enjoyed while in your seat" - hand it to the TSO for being so accomodating! The concert on Thursday Nov. 25 is at its usual start time of 8 pm, and there is an addition of two more pieces to the program - Rameau's Suite from Dardanus, and Vivaldi's Concerto in B Minor for Four Violins Op. 3 No.10. On Saturday Nov. 27 1:30 and 3:30 pm, the TSO is presenting Meet the Orchestra, a program aim at children between 5 and 12, in an effort to demystify classical music and build an audience base for the future. Featured will be the Vivaldi Concerto for Four Violins, as well as the the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra concerto competition winner Blake Pouliot. Go to for information and tickets.

With the Christmas season drawing ever closer, various musical organizations are gearing up for a feast of Holiday music, the earliest of which are taking place this week. To put you in the mood, the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto is presenting Humperdinck's ever-popular Hansel and Gretel. It is not exactly clear why - perhaps because it involves children and it has a happy ending , this piece is typically Holiday fare. This is a good opportunity to hear the young, fresh, up and coming voices at the U of T Opera Program. All performances take place at the MacMillan Theatre, Faculty of Music on Nov. 25, 26 and 27 at 7:30 pm, and Nov. 28 at 2:30 pm.

The Vienna Boys Choir is another Christmas staple, and this year they are in Toronto to give a concert of Austrian folk songs, waltzes, classical and pop pieces as well as holiday favorites. It is at the Markham Theatre 171 Town Centre Blvd. on Thursday Nov. 25 - well worth a trek north!

Opera Kitchener, which I believed was formed after Opera Ontario (with Hamilton and Kitchener branches) ceased to exist a few years ago. This company will be performing La boheme at the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga on Friday, Nov. 26 7:30 pm. This follows a staged performance in Guelph on Nov. 15 and a concert performance in Kitchener on Nov. 21. The Mississauga performance will be staged. The only soloist I am familiar with is tenor James Ciantar who recently sang the same role for Opera York at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts. Similarly Sabatino Vacca conducted the run of three performances at Opera York. Other soloists are sopranos Tina Winter and Anne-Marie Ramos and baironte Jeremy Ludwig. Go to for more details.

On the subject of opera, Opera in Concert will present the rarely heard La Dame Blanche by Boieldieu, on Sunday Nov. 28 at 2:30 pm at the Jane Mallet Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre.
I admit this piece is unfamiliar to me, and this represents a great chance to hear it. Go to for more information. Overlapping this performance is the Off Centre Music Salon with Tea With the Mighty Four - and intriguing title! Well, the "mighty four" turned out to be Mendelssohn, Chopin, Liszt, and Schumann! Soloists are sopranos Alison Angelo and Eve-Rachel McLeod, and mezzo Erica Huang. For more information, go to


Friday, 19 November 2010

Pianist Olga Kern Delivers an Unstoppable Rush in Recital

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

There were two beautiful things to look at on stage at Toronto’s Koerner Hall Nov. 16: Russian pianist Olga Kern and the newly handcrafted Yamaha CFX 9-foot concert grand.

Together, the two created a wealth of sounds that, depending on where you sat in the hall, either gave you goose bumps, made your pupils dilate, popped your veins through your sleeves or all of the above.

Kern, 35, gave a solo recital for the Canadian launch of Yamaha’s latest beast in a program that began with Haydn’s Piano Sonata No. 50 in C major, Hob. XVI: 50, Schumann’s Carnaval and, after intermission, finished with Rachmaninoff’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor and Balakirev’s Islamey: Oriental Fantasy.

For the most part, Kern delivered the entire program with such incredible speed, power and absolutely to-die-for techniques that there was little room for anything else other than to sit tight, buckle up and pray she doesn’t crash. A normal human being would have tangled up those fingers in her chosen speed — the fastest of anything I have ever heard (live or recorded), including the slow movements — but Kern’s fingers buttered over the shining keys with a kind of graceful and exact execution that only she can pull off.

Her Haydn sonata was bouncy and youthful, while pregnant with an unmistakable articulation and individuality that is classy on the outside and bad-girl on the inside. In Carnaval, those fat opening chords in Preambule sounded under her hands blatantly glorious and impressive, even though there were no big movements coming from her slender arms and model-thin body. Her expressive and imaginative musical ideas shone through vividly through all of the contrasting scenes that Schumann had so ingeniously composed, ending triumphantly with theDavidsbundler march.

The all-Russian second half of the program got under way with a change of evening gown and a loud cheer from the audience. Kern tackled Rachmaninoff’s stormy elephant-like sonata in a fierce manner with aggressive attacks in the lower register of the piano, which buzzed in agony at times. The pure intensity of Kern’s playing here was enough to set the piano on fire, but her lyricism in the second movement would just as soon calm the tsunami into a placid lake. She was that good, and capable of anything.

In Balakirev’s virtuosic showpiece Islamey, Kern was a firecracker in full speed from beginning to end. The unstoppable rush of her performance took the audiences’ breaths away, making them stand on their feet, while the pianist indulged them, and herself, with four fabulous encores that included Rachmaninoff’s C-sharp minor prelude and Moment Musical No. 4.

As for the CFX, it did whatever Kern wanted it to do.

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Monday, 15 November 2010

This Week in Toronto (Nov. 15 - 21)

Photo: tenor Joseph Calleja

The big news for opera fans this week is the belated appearance of Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja in the Roy Thomson Hall Vocal Series. He was first announced for November 2009 as part of last year's Vocal Series. His recital was postponed to May of 2010. Then it was again delayed to November 19th. Let's hope Mr. Calleja will appear as scheduled this Friday. He is of course no stranger to Toronto audiences, having appeared as Rodolfo in a COC La boheme way back in April 2000. He was near the very beginning of his career at the time, and even in those early days, his voice was exceptionally beautiful, with an interesting fast vibrato that recalled the tenors of the past. Now, ten years later, Calleja at 32 is a big star, one of a handful of tenors on the highest international level and with a big label recording contract. He appeared as Hoffmann on the Met Live in HD series last season, and this season, he will appear as Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor opposite French diva Natalie Dessay (March 19 - check your local listings on the Cineplex network). The Roy Thomson Hall concert is a program of opera arias from Rigoletto, Macbeth, Tosca, Romeo et Juliette and Le Cid, plus songs by Tosti and Leoncavallo. This is your great chance to hear this bel canto tenor. Go to for more information.

On Tuesday Nov. 16 8 pm, the wonderful Russian pianist Olga Kern will be in town to play a recital of Haydn, Schumann, Rachmaninov and Balakirev. Kern was the gold medal winner of the 2001 Van Cliburn Competition. The concert takes place at RCM's Koerner Hall. For more information and tickets, visit

The Mozart Society of Toronto has had a long and distinguished history. It was started by the late Peter Sandor, and when he passed away some years ago, the Society continued under the guidance of his colleagues and associates, all of them believed in their mission of promoting the music of Mozart. But in the current time of the internet and easy access to live and music online, attendance has dwindled. And maybe young people today aren't so interested in joining a group devoted to the music of a composer who lived two hundred fifty years ago. The Society has decided to come to an end with this last concert, a recital given by soprano Charlotte Corwin, in a program of Haydn, Handel and Mozart, with Nicole Bellamy at the piano. Corwin is a very fine singer - I saw her Gilda at the Opera York Rigoletto last March and thoroughly enjoyed it. The recital takes place at 7:30 pm in Sunderland Hall, First Unitarian Congregation, 175 St. Clair Avenue West. Admission for non-members is $20 at the door.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra continues with it Slavic Celebration this week. I attended both performances of Glagolitic Mass last week and was blown away by the power and sweep of this great piece by Janacek. The audience was enthralled by the performance and gave the artists a rousing ovation - it was just too bad the Roy Thomson Hall was far from full. If you missed last week, by all means attend this week's concerts. On Wednesday Nov. 17 at 8 pm, TSO presents Swiss pianist Andreas Haefliger in Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2. Also on the program is Glinka's Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila, and the ever popular Moldau by Smetana and Janacek's high energy Taras Bulba. Peter Oundjian conducts. This is an excellent program well worth attending. Andreas Haefliger of course is the son of the great Swiss tenor Ernst Haefliger who passed away a few short years ago. The last time Haefliger senior was in town was as the Speaker in the Schoenberg Gurrelieder, which marked the swansong of the TSO music director Jukka-Pekka Saraste. That was about 2001 - how time flies! The show is repeated on Thursday at 2 pm.


Sunday, 14 November 2010

Friday Night Shadows and Light With the Theatre of Early Music

By Hannah Rahimi

On November 12, Daniel Taylor and the Theatre of Early Music filled Montreal’s Chapelle Notre-Dame de-Bon-Secours with the sounds of sacred polyphony. Exploring the shadows and light of unaccompanied choral harmonies, Taylor compiled works from some of the best 16th and 17th century composers, including Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Henry Purcell, and the lesser known Manuel Cardoso. With many of his works lost to the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, the Portugese Cardoso is a rare gem in the history of choral polyphony, merging the Italian Baroque School with the influence of the great Renaissance composer Palestrina.

While Taylor chose to intersperse various movements of Cardoso’s Requiem with the works of other composers, it would have been a pleasure to hear the Requiem in its entirety to get a fuller sense of Cardoso’s unique compositional voice. In the opening “Introitus,” the choir brought out Cardoso’s six-voiced harmonies with clarity, carefully unfolding his startlingly exquisite dissonances and resolutions. Other highlights of the evening included performances of Byrd’s simple and somber “Ave Verum” and Purcell’s highly chromatic “Hear my prayer,” which ended the concert on a contemplative note. The members of the choir, particularly the strong tenor section, sang with beautifully clear tone throughout the evening, allowing the purity of the lines to emerge without any distracting flourish or ornamentation.

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Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Bye Bye Mister Don McLean: McGill Music Dean Fêted in Montreal

By Naomi Gold
Photos by Owen Egan
Photos, from top to bottom: 
Outgoing music dean Don McLean
Alexis Hauser conducting the McGill Symphony Orchestra
Pianist Anton Kuerti with the Cecilia String Quartet

McGill University's Laudatoria Gala recently honored former music dean Don McLean, who sings his Montreal swan song before returning to Toronto. During his nine-year tenure which began in 2001, the Faculty of Music emerged as a leader in both pedagogy and research.  In 2005, a $20 million gift was made by Canadian billionaire/philanthropist Seymour Schulich. And thus the new music building was constructed. It houses a state-of-the-art research/production facility known as the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology, or the CIRMMT (pronounced KERMIT) lab. McLean also recruited renowned grammy-winning music producers, engineers and professors from the USA to McGill's Schulich School of Music.

Funds raised by this soirée are specifically earmarked towards the completion of CIRMMT's recording studio, the Music Multimedia Room.

Following a black-tie dinner, guests were treated to an über-eclectic concert which featured Hank Knox directing McGill's Baroque Orchestra with Vincent Lauzer on recorder, piano virtuoso Anton Kuerti interpreting Schumann, those sneaky Canadian Brass dudes, the Cecilia String Quartet, maestro Alexis Hauser leading McGill's Symphony Orchestra, McGill's Jazz Orchestra conducted by interim dean Gordon Foote, pianist Philip Chiu, trumpeter Jens Lindemann, and opera students performing Musetta's Waltz from La Bohème. Musical talent (and comedic schtick) abounded—both onstage and off—as many local luminaries filled the audience. Current and former professors, students, friends, staff and benefactors of the faculty were in attendance, including CBC broadcaster Kelly Rice, who served as the congenial gala emcee.

Post-performance, patrons proceeded to the new music building's Multimedia Room for a dazzling reception which featured appetizers aplenty, lotsa schmoozing, cool jazz, and oodles of fizz. Long after midnight, hearty revelers sang a chorus of Bye Bye Miss American Pie as the party spilled out into the 'starry starry'—and snowy night.

To access the full roster of concerts at the Schulich School of Music, click here

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Monday, 8 November 2010

Jaap van Zweden Masterly in Shostakovich Eighth

by Paul E. Robinson

Classical Travels
Meyerson Symphony Centre
Dallas, Texas
October 22, 2010

Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 8
Nicola Benedetti, violin
Dallas Symphony Orchestra/Jaap van Zweden
Jaap van Zweden took most of the summer off to nurse a sore shoulder. The recuperation seems to have been successful and he is back in town leading the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (DSO) with even more energy than before. Among his specialties are the symphonies of Bruckner and Mahler and Shostakovich is not far behind. Last season in Dallas he conducted a stunning performance of the Symphony No. 7 and this season he followed it up with an equally fine reading of the Eighth Symphony.

Benedetti's Mendelssohn a Tad off Track

This evening’s concert program opened with a perennial favourite, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor. To give it some new life, we had a vivacious young British violinist of Italian heritage, Nicola Benedetti. She brought to the stage not only an attractive appearance, but a solid technique and a ravishing tone that carried well over the orchestra. Van Zweden made sure that the DSO provided a discreet accompaniment, and only let loose in the tuttis.

Benedetti is certainly a young artist to watch, although she might want to reconsider her role vis à vis that of the orchestra. The last movement of this performance of the Mendelssohn was more than a bit scrappy as the strings and winds tried to match Benedetti’s tempo. Listening to the orchestra as much as it listened to her would have worked to Benedetti’s benefit here.

Shostakovich Eighth Transcends Politics

Although the Shostakovich Symphony No. 8 is played far less often than many of the other Shostakovich symphonies, it is quite familiar to Dallas musicians and audiences. Andrew Litton recorded the piece with the DSO in 1997. Taking up where his predecessor left off, van Zweden has the DSO playing at a higher level than could have been imagined during the Litton era and that new standard makes nearly every concert a joy to hear.

The Eighth Symphony is a long, sprawling piece that can easily descend into annoying bombast alternating with egocentric navel-gazing. Shostakovich was very much a man of his time – the worst of the Soviet era – and it could be argued that the music loses much of its power without the historical context. That was certainly not the case with this performance. Maestro van Zweden maintained focus from beginning to end, and in so doing probably convinced many listeners that this was music not just for its own time, but for all time.

In spite of attempts to describe this and many other symphonies in programmatic terms, it seems to me that most great symphonies stand or fall by their musical quality, not by the events which inspired them or the stories they purport to tell.

The Eighth Symphony ultimately passes this test.

The long first movement is an excellent example of
motivic development culminating in massive climaxes, followed by catharsis in the haunting English horn solo.

There are two scherzos, structured after models provided by Mahler. The second of them is rhythmically infectious and contains an unprecedented workout for the trombones, and great fun too in the section with the trumpet solo that could have been taken from the repertoire of a circus band.

The fourth movement is one of the great passacaglias in symphonic music, right up there with the finale of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony. In this performance, basses and cellos repeated the theme over and over with extraordinary accuracy of intonation and with beautiful tone and mesmerizing phrasing.

In the last movement, the music becomes deeply personal and probing. In her excellent notes in the DSO programme book,
Laurie Shulman expressed the feeling of this movement perfectly: “These [instrumental] soloists come across as voices, a manifestation of Shostakovich’s faith in the indomitability of the individual human spirit.”

In these solos, the members of the DSO outdid themselves with the most refined and beautiful playing.

In the composition’s final pages, van Zweden worked miracles with sustained soft playing. The conductor appeared to be doing nothing at all to achieve such finely-honed dynamics; but make no mistake – this kind of musical perfection comes only after the most demanding rehearsals.

DSO Quest for New Concertmaster Continues

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra (DSO) is currently between concertmasters – long-time leader Emanuel Borok retired last season and a new person has yet to be appointed – but a variety of guest concertmasters have been doing excellent work.
William Preucil (Cleveland Orchestra) and Andres Cardenes (Pittsburg Symphony) have already appeared this season.

Guest concertmaster for this performance was
Nathan Olson, a protégée of Cleveland Orchestra concertmaster William Preucil. Olson may be a little young and inexperienced to lead the DSO but it all depends on how he relates to the players and to conductor van Zweden. Some exceptional young violinists have leadership as well as virtuosity in their veins; Olson may be one of them. We shall see.

Coming later in the season are more guest concertmasters including
David Kim, concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra. The official word is that the new DSO concertmaster will “not necessarily be one of the guest concertmasters.”

The process of finding the right concertmaster is certainly interesting and cannot help but create an exciting, season-long guessing game for concert-goers in Dallas.

Paul E. Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar, and Sir Georg Solti: His Life and Music. NEW for friends: The Art of the Conductor podcast, "Classical Airs."

Photo by Marita

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Sunday, 7 November 2010

This Week in Toronto (Nov. 8 - 14)

Soprano Christine Brewer (photo: Dario Acosta)

With the Canadian Opera Company and Opera Atelier having wrapped up their fall season, there are fewer vocal events on offer this week. However, a major piece of news is the return of American soprano Christine Brewer to Toronto, as soloist in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's Glagolitic Mass. This work, sometimes called the Slavonic Mass, is one of the glories of the 20th century oratorio repertoire and has earned its rightful place in the standard repertoire. It requires massive forces - four soloists, a double chorus, organ, and a large orchestra. It is the opening show of the TSO's two-week Slavic Celebration. Brewer is one of my very favourite singers. I've heard her many times, as Ariadne, Ellen Orford, Aegyptische Helena, Alceste, a concert Isolde, and most recently as Lady Billows - her soprano is a magnificent instrument and any chance to hear this phenomenal singer is not to be missed! Other soloists include Canadian tenor John Mac Master, mezzo Nancy Maultsby, and baritone Tyler Duncan. Peter Oundjian leads the TS forces. Opening night is Wednesday Nov. 10 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall, and the concert is repeated on Thursday. The second TSO program on Saturday Nov. 13 and Sunday Nov. 14 is Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, together with Glinka's Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila. Also on the program are two concertos, Lutolawski's Cello Concerto with cellist Colin Carr, and Dvorak's Piano Concerto in G Minor with pianist Natasha Paremski. For information and tickets, go to

Another very interesting event is the first Toronto International Piano Competition that has been going on all the past week. The event is sponsored by the Chinese Cultural Centre. The finals will take place at Koerner Hall, 7:30 pm this Monday. It is the concerto round, with orchestra conducted by Kerry Stratton. The semi-finals was last Saturday, so the three finalists have already been chosen, although not yet announced on the website. If you are interested in attending the finals at Koerner Hall, go to their website to see if there are still tickets available. The renowned jury panel includes Arie Vardi (Yundi Li's teacher), Yong Hi Moon, Marietta Orlov, and Marc Durand, among others. The jury chair is Yoheved Kaplinsky, the head of piano department at the Juilliard. Vardi, Kaplinsky and Moon gave masterclasses last week. This finals is well worth attending. For more information, go to and/or

UPDATE: I have just heard from the Competition publicist Linda Litwack. The three finalists have been chosen: Vakhtang Kodanashvili, 32, originally of the Republic of Georgia, now living in South Bend, IN (Tchaikovsky: Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor) Jiayan Sun, 20, of China, currently studying in New York (Prokofiev: Concerto No. 2 in G minor) Kirill Zvegintsov, 27, of Ukraine, currently living in Bern, Switzerland (Ravel: Concerto in G) Each will perform a piano concerto with the Toronto Concert Orchestra and conductor Kerry Stratton, Monday, November 8, 7:30 p.m. at the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall, 273 Bloor St. W. Tickets, $25-35, are available from (416) 408-0208 or At the conclusion, the distinguished jury will name the winners, who will be presented $28,000 U.S. in prizes. The first-prize winner receives $15,000 U.S. along with orchestral and solo concert engagements. Second prize is $8,000 U.S., and third, $5,000 U.S. The event will also stream in live video at More info may be found on the website. This is going to be an exciting event Monday evening and it is well worth attending!
Tafelmusik is presenting a program of Handel, Rameau, and Charpentier this week at their usual venue, Trinity St. Paul's Centre. Soloists are soprano Johannette Zomer, mezzo Vicki St. Pierre, tenor Lawrence Wiliford, and baritone Peter Harvey. Ivars Taurins conducts. Concerts are on Thursday Nov. 11, repeated on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For information and tickets, go to

On the opera scene, there's the Toronto Operetta Theatre presenting A Gala Offenbachienne, starring soprano Leslie Ann Bradley, tenor James McLennan, and baritone James Levesque. It takes place at the Jane Mallett Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre at 2 pm on Sunday Nov. 14. Go to for more information.

Finally, a most intriguing event! Urbanvessel presents Voice-Box, a new opera by Juliet Palmer with libretto by Anne Chatterton. According to their own website at, the work is "a genre-crossing, interactive performance that blows the lid off gender and power dynamics with cheekiness, raw talent and real fighting. Voice-Box brings together the sweet science of boxing and the power of the singing voice, defying assumption about female aggression." The show takes place at Harbourfront Centre and runs Nov. 10 to 14.

This is of course not specific to Toronto, but the Met Live in HD continues with Don Pasquale starring the Russian soprano sensation Anna Netrebko as Norina. Ernesto is Matthew Polenzani, and Dr. Malatesta is Mariusz Kwiecien. The conductor is supposed to be James Levine, but a friend attended the performance on November 10. James Levine took ill after act 2 and was replaced for act 3. He has been in frail health in recent years, and it remains to be seen if he will conduct the HD transmission on Saturday Nov. 13.