Friday, 16 July 2010
Lepage's Nightingale Free on the Web
No serious opera fan should miss the astounding Robert Lepage production of Stravinsky's "Rossignol et autres fables," which is available for a limited time for free streaming on Arte Live Web. It is the same production that received rave reviews in October of last year at the COC. Seen as the triumph of
the Aix-en-Provence Festival and hailed in the European press as a highlight of the operatic year, the American press and public seem unconcerned and unaware of this even though the same director is to stage the new Wagner Ring Cycle at the Metropolitan Opera.
Recorded from the July 7 performance at the Grand Théâtre de Provence, it has the enchanting soprano Olga Peretyatko as the nightingale. The orchestra and chorus of the Opéra National de Lyon, one of the top orchestras in France, get as close to perfection as possible under their music director Kazushi Ono. There are lots of other musical goodies on this important site of a major European television channel.
The Montreal Symphony's Musical Masked Ball Raises One Million
On a sultry summer night on May 26, 2010, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra welcomed some six hundred supporters to their 12th annual Midsummer Night's Ball. The soirée's leitmotif was movement. Herewith, the high notes from this year's 'Un Ballo in Maschera' gala, in five movements:
Arriving attendees are amazed by an imaginative, labyrinthian entrance to Complexe Desjardins—disguised as an opulent Venetian ballroom—for the black tie, red carpet gala. Enhancing the mystique are costumed hostesses and ushers who distribute masks to intrigued guests. Upstairs on level four, the Hyatt Regency Hotel hosts a highly animated, 'supertonic' cocktail reception.
Allegro vivace assai
Andante molto mosso
Honorary ball co-chairs Monique F. Leroux, president/CEO of Mouvement Desjardins and Montreal Canadiens Hockey Club owner/board chairman Geoffrey Molson are introduced by emcee, actor Guy Nadon. Thanking sponsors and attendees, they make the melodious announcement that a cool million is raised. Desjardins Group's 110th anniversary is fêted via video montage, and all applaud the Habs' awe-inspiring playoff action in their 101st year. The harmonious soirée seamlessly segues into a sumptuous symphony of taste orchestrated by Cornellier Traiteur.
Andantino grazioso - Tempo di valse
A polyphony of post-prandial performances is presented by MSO musicians under the baton of first assistant conductor Stéphane Laforest. Two waltzes by Johann Strauss II, An der schönen blauen Donau, and Frühlingstimmen, gracefully open the dance floor to guests. Maestro Laforest later conducts Frédéric Bégin's Créer l'avenir, which also features the FACE children's choir and solo violinist Alexandre Da Costa.
Finale: Allegro con fuoco
The corporate gala sponsors were Desjardins Group, Club de Hockey Canadien, Fiera Capital, Aldo Group, Alimentation Couche-Tard, National Bank Financial Group, Bell Canada, BMO Financial Group, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, Cirque du Soleil, Ernst & Young, Garda, Hydro-Québec, La Coop fédérée, McKinsey & Company, PricewaterhouseCoopers, RBC Royal Bank, Samson Bélair Deloitte & Touche, Société des alcools du Québec and Solotech.
Next year will be the MSO's last at Place des Arts' Salle Wilfrid Pelletier, as their new concert hall is slated for delivery by September 2011. The 2010-2011 season starts in stentorian style with Carl Orff's monumental secular oratorio, Carmina Burana. A plethora of world renowned artists will perform, including piano virtuoso Anton Kuerti, who will play Beethoven's Emperor concerto, while Sir Andrew Davis wields his baton in a program of Prokofiev and Rachmaninov. A concert version of Wagner's magisterial masterpiece Das Rheingold will close the season. To consult the full calendar and order tickets, call 514-842-9951 or visit www.osm.ca
PHOTO BY Déclik Communications
CAPTION: Guests enjoy the MSO conducted by maestro Kent Nagano, amidst the magnificently decorated "Venetian grand salon" of Complexe Desjardins. An apropos piano keys motif appears on the sprawling dance floor.
Monday, 12 July 2010
Dallas Symphony Opens Extraordinary Summer of Music in Colorado!
SUMMER FESTIVALS 2010
Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival
Imagine a music festival that features three of the world’s top orchestras in successive week-long residencies. Throw into the mix the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, and Gil Shaham. Shake things up with some of the best conductors at work today: Jaap van Zweden, Alan Gilbert, Charles Dutoit, and Marin Alsop. And don’t forget to add lots of chamber music. Set all this talent up in one of the most spectacular mountain locations you can think of – say, Vail, Colorado - and run your festival for about six weeks. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But of course, who could afford to do it.
That is the question that kept crossing my mind as I sat in my seat at the awkwardly-named Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival: “How could anyone or any group of people find the money to mount such a festival, especially in the depths of a recession when every arts organization in the country is cutting back or packing it in?” But Bravo! is not a misguided new venture; this festival has been going strong for 23 years. So how do they do it?
It is surely true that Vail must have some of the most dedicated music lovers in the world. It must also be true that these extraordinary music lovers have the financial means to bring their dreams to life.
Classical Music on a Movie Set?
The town of Vail is almost a Disney version of an alpine ski village – charming Swiss chalets bedecked with flower boxes, bustling boutiques, cosy eateries. Since 1962 when it was created, Vail has become an increasingly popular “destination.”
Skiers flock to Vail by the thousands to enjoy some of the best downhill skiing in the world. Après-ski, they gather in their beautifully appointed chalets or in the fine restaurants, bars and upscale stores that abound in the village.
Everything in Vail is carefully managed to maintain the unified Swiss-style, tourist-friendly look. Yes, you will find a McDonald’s here, artfully camouflaged to blend with the alpine character of the buildings and the well-manicured streets. Even cars are controlled in Vail - one doesn’t really need one to get around. The village is compact enough so that one can walk from one end to the other without much effort. For those who are a little less energetic, there is a free shuttle bus that provides an excellent alternative. In the summer, the village and the area’s many mountain paths attract thousands of cyclists and hikers. For those who like some culture with their outdoor activities, there is the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival.
Dallas Symphony Bravo’s Opening Orchestral Act
I visited Vail for the opening concerts of Bravo! 2010. I just missed Yo-Yo Ma in recital, but arrived in time to hear the first of six orchestral concerts to be performed by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (DSO). The DSO will be followed later in the season by the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic in a similar residency.
One might wonder how the Dallas Symphony gets to share the spotlight with two orchestras generally touted as being in another league - certainly true as far as budgets go!
Among the highlights of the two Dallas Symphony concerts I heard in Vail were the Brahms’ Second Symphony, in which the string playing had a dynamic range and a richness that would be the envy of any orchestra; a high-speed Beethoven Fifth that reflected Maestro van Zweden’s fascination with the Gardiner-Harnoncourt original instrument movement; and an extraordinary interpretation of Barber’s Violin Concerto featuring Nadja-Salerno Sonnenberg.
I have heard Ms. Sonnenberg play this Barber concerto many times with different orchestras and conductors and each time I marvel at how deeply she probes the piece. In Jaap van Zweden, she had not only a friend and former class-mate, but an ideal collaborator. Both she and van Zweden – former concert master of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in The Netherlands - studied with the legendary Dorothy Delay in New York at about the same time and went on to make recordings of the Barber Violin Concerto.
In short, the Dallas Symphony, under Jaap van Zweden, is the equal of many of the finest orchestras in the world. There is, however, another reason why the Dallas Symphony belongs in Vail. This town has long been a favourite getaway destination for Texans: skiing in the winter and cooler and drier weather in the summer. To accommodate these Texas patrons, American Airlines even operates two daily non-stops from Dallas to Vail (actually nearby Eagle County Airport).
Challenges of Outdoor Venues Part of Summer Music Fest Fun!
One always has to make allowances for summer concerts. Even at the best facilities, weather and various distractions are inescapable factors. Vail is no different. The idea is to get away from the formality of winter season concerts in enclosed concert halls, and enjoy the beauties of nature with fine music filling the air. So what if the birds often add their voices to the soundscape (Tanglewood, Ravinia, Vail, etc.)? So what if commuter trains often intrude (Ravinia)? So what if traffic from I-70 sometimes makes its presence felt (Vail)?
The weather is unpredictable everywhere, but this year in Vail (and Aspen) the rains came almost every day, and often just when they could cause the most trouble. Lots of walking is required to get from buses and cars to the Ford Amphitheater in Vail and on the way to our first concert, Marita and I got thoroughly soaked. Fortunately, our seats were under cover – by the end of the concert we were dry again! - but how about those with lawn tickets? The first half-hour of the concert was accompanied by pouring rain! Well, the downpour seemed to be part of the experience for the lawn-folk; most came well-prepared with head to toe raingear and plastic sheets to put under and over themselves. And most seemed to be heartily enjoying the event!
Good Sound, Decent Ticket Prices, Glorious Scenery: Bravo, Vail!
What about the facility itself? It is much smaller than most of the summer concert venues used by the big orchestras - the Atlanta Symphony, for example, recently moved into a new summer home seating 12,000. The Vail facility - The Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater - seats about 1,200 and there is room on the lawn for about 1,200 more. This means that even the folks on the lawn are getting a pretty intimate experience.
The Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater was designed by Morter Architects of Vail and it could be characterized as elegant and graceful. There are five large wood ceiling panels, seemingly floating in air over the stage and audience area, and there are large spaces behind and beside the stage to reveal the ski slopes and trees characteristic of Vail. There does not appear to be much in the design that enhances the acoustics. In fact, executive director John W. Giovando informed me that on-going concern with regard to the acoustics has precipitated discussion of adding a solid back wall to the facility. But in the meantime, the sound system is quite good, and patrons under cover and on the lawn seemed generally pleased with what they were hearing.
I hate to keep coming back to money matters, but money does matter to nearly everything in life. There is no getting around it; the economics of the festival don’t make much sense. I have already mentioned the cost of bringing in large and famous orchestras for weeks at a time. And the venue is too small to generate much revenue. So the ticket prices would have to be astronomical, right? Wrong. For the Dallas Symphony concerts, the top price was a mere $65, very low by either winter or summer standards. Top price at Tanglewood this season is $89 and even higher for special events and at nearby Aspen orchestral concerts are priced at $70 and higher. To be fair, however, one must note that ticket prices for both the Philadelphia Orchestra and New York Philharmonic concerts – which perform at the height of the summer season in Vail - are higher.
Looking at the festival economics from another perspective, we should all be grateful to the folks who live in Vail and who care enough about music to support it for themselves, for their community, and for the tourists who have come to realize that Vail is a unique and magical place, not only in winter but in summer too!
Bravo! Artistic Director Eugenia Zuckerman Plays Mozart
Flutist Eugenia Zukerman has been artistic director of Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival for the past 13 years and this season she is stepping down. Among her farewell concerts was an appearance as soloist in Mozart’s Flute and Harp Concerto with harpist Yolanda Kondonassis, in a Bravo! concert with the Dallas Symphony, conducted by Jaap van Zweden.
Zukerman is largely responsible for putting together artists and programmes for the six-week festival and by all accounts she has done fine work. She will be succeeded next season by another well-known performer, pianist, Anne-Marie McDermott.
Music In The City: Toronto Summer Music Festival
Summer has traditionally been a quiet time musically in Toronto, with the opera, symphony and ballet all in hiatus. The little bit that were available - like the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Ontario Place and the Canadian Opera Company's Altamira Harbourfront Concerts, have long been consigned to history. Music-starved Torontonians, myself included, have had to venture out of town for our musical fix, to places like Elora, Parry Sound, Campbellford, Sharon, Niagara for example. While many of us continue to do that, those who would rather stay in town can still experience great music in our own backyard, in the form of the Toronto Summer Music Festival (July 20 - August 14). Thanks to the good work of conductor Agnes Grossmann, the TSMF has enriched the musical life of Toronto immeasurably the past five summers. I am a little sad to report that Grossmann is bidding farewell to Toronto and the Festival this summer. It was announced on June 8 that she is leaving her post as Artistic Director at the end of this season. She will be replaced by violist Douglas McNabney, who was Artistic Director of the Domaine Forget International Festival from 2001 to 2005. McNabney is also Chair of the Performance Department of the Schulich School of Music at McGill University, where he is presently Associate Professor and Coordinator of Chamber Music.