La Scena Musicale

Friday, 9 July 2010

This Week in Montreal: July 11 - 17


Saviez-vous que le Théâtre La Roulotte a été fondé en 1953 par Paul
Buissonneau, à la demande de la Ville de Montréal, dans l’objectif
d’initier les jeunes aux joies du théâtre à la belle saison et dans les
parcs de la ville? Devenue une tradition respectée, la Roulotte offre
de plus aux finissants de l’École nationale de théâtre – comédiens,
décorateurs ou professionnels de la production – l’occasion de se
mesurer une première fois au milieu professionnel.
Il faut surtout savoir que le Théâtre La Roulotte offre cet été dans
39 parcs de la ville 49 représentations de la célèbre histoire de Lyman
Frank Baum: Le magicien d’Oz. Le jeune et talentueux Félix
Beaulieu Duchesneau signe la libre adaptation et la mise en scène du
spectacle. Rendez-vous sur le site de la Ville de Montréal pour
connaître l’horaire des représentations, découvrir des idées d’activi-
tés en lien avec la pièce et même un concours de dessin!

The Domaine Forget International Festival presents the virtuoso Italian
classical guitaristAniello Desiderio on July 9. The prizewinning Desiderio
will perform a varied programme thatincludes works by Albeniz, Rodrigo
and Scarlatti as well as the lesser-known Torroba and Guilani.
On July 21, the venerable French pianistAlexandre Tharaud appears in
concert with works that include Fauré’s Dolly and Masques et
Bergamasques. Pianist Éric Le Sage joins Tharaud to perform Poulenc’s
Sonata for Two Pianosand Caplet’s piano reduction of Debussy’s La Mer.
418-452-3535, 736-00361120h30. DForget. 20$.

Piano enthusiasts should check outthe concerts atthe Maison Trestler this
summer. Winner of 2004 Montreal International Music Competition, the
young Serhiy Salov will perform works by Scarlatti,Beethoven,Chopin and
Gershwin on July 4. On July 11, Italian pianistCinzia Bartoli will enchant
audiences with Chopin and Ravel. The brilliantAnton Kuerti will perform
Brahms and Schumann on July 28.450-455-6290, 2010.
Chopin: Ballade #2, op.38; 12 Études, op.10; 12 Études, op.25;
Fantaisie, op.49; Rondo pour deux pianos, op.73; Scherzo #4, op.54;
Variations sur “La cì darem la mano”, op.2, Valentina Lisitsa,
Alexei Kuznetsoff, piano. 800-561-4343

Le bicentenaire de naissance de Frédéric Chopin est souligné avec faste
au Festival de Lanaudière, alors que l’intégrale de son œuvre est présen-
tée en neuf concerts. On pourra notamment y entendre Valentina
Lisitsa, interprète chouchou du Festival depuis trois ans, Edna Stern qui,
à ses débuts, interprétera la monumentale Sonate en si bémol mineur,
Angela Cheng, Wonny Song et Sa Chen, quatrième place au Concours
international Frédéric Chopin en 2000. Festival de Lanaudière, 12
juillet au 5 août. 450-759-4343, Mathieu Lussier, chef;
Renata Pokupic,soprano. 800-561-4343

Le violoniste Alexandre Da Costa, qui vient de remporter le prix Virginia-Parker
du Conseil des Arts du Canada, sera l’invi- té au prochain concert de la 46e
édition des Concerts Populaires. Il sera accompagné par la Sinfonia de
Lanaudière sous la direction de Stéphane Laforest. Au programme: Mozart, Schubert,
Kreisler, Lehar et Strauss. Les grands Viennois, mercredi 7 juillet.
Les amateurs d’opéra apprécieront, le mercredi 14 juillet, les
Grands airs d’opéra français, avec la soprano Marianne Fiset, le ténor
Marc Hervieux et l’Orchestre Métropolitain sous la direction d’Alain
Trudel. Au programme: Bizet, Berlioz, Massenet et Saint-Saëns. Les
concerts ont lieu à 19h30 au Centre Pierre-Charbonneau. 514 899-
0644, poste 202,


Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Wagner at the Welsh National Opera

By Frank Cadenhead

Wagner as compelling dramatist?  Who knew? The wordy, inflated and repetitive tales we are so accustomed to were nowhere to be seen in the new and revelatory production by Richard Jones of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürenburg with Cardiff's Welsh National Opera.   

This Meistersinger boasted an enjoyable cast that would be envied in Vienna, New York, Berlin, London or Paris, led by the grand Welsh baritone Bryn Terfel as Hans Sachs. Terfel only seems to grow as an artist. After his definitive Don Giovanni at the Verbier Festival last July, his Hans Sachs could be a model for any aspiring singer of that role. With impeccable German, a compelling stage presence and outstanding musical artistry he is deservedly a leading star of our time. With the help of the towering man of the theatre, Richard Jones, his Sachs was seen as an anguished giant, torn between his physical attraction to young Eva, who was clearly offering herself, and his proud, high-minded role as artistic leader of his town. 

The new production, by the grand stage designer Richard Jones, was evocative without getting lost in Medieval detail and told the tale with a humanity of remarkable impact. It gave a surprise boost to the the reputation of Wagner as a dramatist, something not often revealed in more typical productions. Beckmesser was not your usual clown but a nuanced yet grandly flawed man. The costumes were not historical. In the first act the chorus resembled a 1930s American mid-Western town meeting and the last act seemed more like medieval costumes as imagined by 1950s Hollywood. But the stage pictures were uniformly handsome and always contributed to the focused drama. 

Terfel was supported here by a radiant Eva by Amanda Roocroft and a carefully drawn and droll Beckmesser by Christopher Purves. The one weak cast link was tenor Raymond Very as Walther von Stolzing; his voice seemed mostly under duress, although there was no announcement. The orchestra, after an unfocused overture, sharpened considerably to provide keen and passionate support under their musical director, Lothar Koenigs. 

My seat, in the center of the top balcony, cost a very democratic 15 pounds: less than one fifth of the same seat at London's Royal Opera. The sound was luscious, the stage was not far away, the seats comfortable. Londoners who want a sample can try for an already scarce ticket when the same forces appear (without the staging) as the second offering of the summer Proms series on July 17. 

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Monday, 5 July 2010

Round Top, Texas: The Impossible Dream?

Summer Festivals
Round Top Festival Institute, 2010

Never underestimate the dreams of a concert pianist - especially those of an adopted son of Texas!
Van Cliburn, you say? Yes, he had an impossible dream and realized it when he won the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow in 1958, but there is another, lesser-known, Texas pianist who dreamed big and succeeded; James Dick, who was born in Hutchinson, Kansas, attended the University of Texas, and has lived in Texas ever since, built his own concert hall and music festival, in one of the least likely places - Round Top, Texas, population 77.
Each summer, the Round Top Festival Institute brings together 85 gifted young musicians with a faculty comprised mostly of leading members of the Dallas and Houston Symphony Orchestras. This year, the little festival that could – and did - celebrated its fortieth anniversary.
Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Some Rarely Heard Classical Treasures
The afternoon concert I attended was conducted by Christoph Campestrini of Austria and featured music by Brahms and Tchaikovsky.
I found the playing of these young musicians not only enthusiastic, but remarkably secure - even virtuosic, when called for by the music. The horn solo in the slow movement of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony was played flawlessly and with unusual maturity, and the double bass playing was exceptional for its beauty of tone and accuracy of intonation. And what a concertmaster! Nazig Tchakarian led with both grace and commitment. She will be an asset to any orchestra she chooses to join. Brahms’ Double Concerto featured two outstanding faculty members – violinist Federico Agostini and cellist Emilio Colón – and the orchestra provided a well-balanced accompaniment.
The evening concert featured a mix of faculty artists and outstanding students in music that for the most part is rarely heard. I had never come across D’Indy’s Chanson et Danses for Wind Septet Op. 80 and was mesmerized by its Straussian sonorities and by its freshness. The figuration given to the two clarinets in the second movement had to be heard to be believed. Jean-Michel Damase’s 17 Variations for Wind Quintet Op.22 was equally inventive, with a healthy dose of humour added for good measure.
James Dreamed a Dream…
Having last visited Round Top many years ago, I was not prepared for the current quality of musicianship or for the uniqueness of the surroundings. The Festival Concert Hall, as I remember it, was very much a work in progress. It was little more than a barn with chairs, and plastic ones at that. Now it is a real and magnificent concert space seating about 1,100.
The concert hall grew with the festival itself. Instead of raising millions of dollars and then building the hall all at once, James Dick and his supporters built what they could each successive year with the money they had in the bank. Construction began in 1981 and continued until the concert space was essentially complete in 2007. James Dick is a dreamer but also a patient man: the important thing was not to do it quickly but to do it properly, and to do it without going bankrupt.
The Townsfolk Made That Dream a Reality…
The hall’s interior is constructed entirely of wood. And while the intricate designs were all selected by Dick, they were carved and put into place by local folk. The master carpenter was Larry Birkelbach, whose mentor was Arnold Prosifka.
One’s first impression of the Festival Concert Hall is of a church somewhere in Europe - perhaps Eastern Europe. But there is no altar. Only a stage designed for music. No acoustician is credited with designing the hall, but whoever conceived it got it exactly right. Individual instrumental timbres are accurate and clear in both soft and loud passages, and there is plenty of bass response. The hall easily supports both the large orchestra I heard in the afternoon concert, and the chamber ensemble I heard in the evening.
At the rear of the hall there are a small gift shop and two modest, but fascinating, museums. The day I visited, there were well-informed docents in each museum to guide patrons through the wonders close at hand.
The first museum is devoted to David Guion (1892-1981). Don’t know the name? Well, he was famous in his day and his music will probably live forever. He was the man who wrote Home on the Range and the Yellow Rose of Texas. He was born in West Texas, but lived most of his working life as a composer in New York. In later years, he lived in Dallas. The “Texas Cowboy Composer” he was called, and the room is filled with his music, recordings, photos and furniture.
The other museum is equally fascinating. Did you know there was Swedish royalty living in La Grange near Round Top, Texas? Catharina Oxehufwud and her husband Olof lived there years ago and many of their personal items have found their way into the museum. Among them is a beautiful chest dating from 1635.
There’s more. James Dick’s Round Top property has grown to 200 acres and includes many more buildings: Menke House - moved from its original site in nearby Hempstead; the Edythe Bates Old Chapel – formerly Travis Street Methodist Church in La Grange; and several residences for students and faculty.
The Dream Realized: A Gift that Will Hopefully Keep on Giving
The Festival Institute has quite literally put the town of Round Top on the map. It is now a destination – with shops featuring the work of local artists and craftsmen; excellent restaurants; and B&Bs for those staying overnight - rather than a town with barely more than a post office and a gas station. Certainly, local folk patronize these businesses, but surely concert traffic can’t be discounted.
And yet, getting patrons to drive the 100 miles or so from either Austin or Houston is not as easy as it might seem. Day-trippers will find the festival attractive for afternoon concerts, but evening performances - unless one is staying overnight - perhaps not so much. Leaving Round Top, post-concert, at 10 pm to drive a second-class highway for 1 ½ to two hours may be an unwelcome challenge for many music-lovers; the evening concert I attended had an audience of approximately 50 - granted, the programme was somewhat esoteric - whereas for the afternoon concert, the hall was about 70% full!
Perhaps the way to go, whenever possible, is to avoid presenting evening concerts at this festival. And why aren't there more Sunday concerts? Surely Sunday afternoon is prime time for concerts at a summer music festival!

Photo by Marita

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