La Scena Musicale

Friday, 16 July 2010

Stratford Summer Music 2010: A Preview

Tenor Ben Heppner headlines Stratford Summer Music
(Photo: Kristin Hoebermann)

Stratford has long been famous for its Shakespeare, but for classical music lovers in southern Ontario, the Stratford Summer Music is a welcome musical oasis in the months of July and August, while major musical organizations the likes of the Toronto Symphony and the Canadian Opera Company are in hiatus. Billed as "Stratford's Other Festival", SSM is now in its 10th season under the directorship of John Miller. With the news this week that the attempt to start a classical music festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake has been met with failure, classical music lovers can doubly appreciate SSM for its excellent music making. The highest profile artist this summer is undoubtedly Ben Heppner. Given the Canadian tenor is usually busy singing in European festivals, it was quite a coup for Stratford Summer Music to engage him for not just one show, but for the better part of a week! Heppner will give three hour -long rectials that start at the unique time (to SSM, that is!) of 11:15 a.m. at St. Andrew's Church (July 22, 23, 24). CBC broadcaster Barbara Budd joins Heppner in a tribute to Canadian tenor Edward Johnson, who was also the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera back in the 30's and 40's. This show is now called Edward and Beatriz: A Love Story, conceived by CBC's Neil Crory. With John Hess at the piano, Heppner will sing songs and arias that featured prominently in Johnson's career, including "If With All Your Hearts" from Elijah, "Aprile" by Tosti, "Donna non vidi mai" from Manon Lescaut, "Amor ti vieta" from Fedora, and "Waltzes and Wine" from Oscar Strauss' A Waltz Dream. Other Heppner programming includes a solo recital on July 20, a masterclass for three young Canadian singers (tenors Joey Niceforo and Van Abrahams and baritone Vasil Garvanliev). Heppner is also the soloist with the 100-member National Youth Orchestra under the baton of Jacques Lacombe on Sunday evening, July 25.

Heppner is by no means the only game in town. SSM also features many other fine artists. If jazz is your thing, be sure to catch Jackie Richardson, Peter Appleyard, Gene DiNovi and others in the Festival Finale on Sunday Aug. 22. Jean-Philippe Tremblay conducts musicians from the L'Orchestre de la francophonie canadienne. Other classical musicians appearing in the festival includes cellist Winona Zelenka , violinist Benjamin Bowman and pianist Jan Lisiecki, who happens to be a 15-year old piano sensation. I look forward to his all Chopin recital on Aug. 12 at 11:15 a.m. For complete program and ticket information, go to

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Lepage's Nightingale Free on the Web

By Frank Cadenhead

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.


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The Montreal Symphony's Musical Masked Ball Raises One Million

by Naomi Gold

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:

Andante -- Allegro con anima e con brio (chinotto)
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
Onstage at Complexe Desjardins' Grande Place, masked music director Kent Nagano conducts the MSO in a vivacious performance of Verdi's Preludio from Un Ballo in Maschera.  This is followed by Stravinsky's Fête populaire de la semaine grasse, an excerpt from Pétrouchka.

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
A whopping $60,000 worth of prizes is drawn including two trips to Paris, London, Los Angeles or San Francisco, courtesy of Air Canada and Starwood Hotels.  Consistent with the gala's obbligato theme of movement, Gilles Caplan's band inspires guests to move 'n groove well into the finale.

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

PHOTO BY Déclik Communications
  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.


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Monday, 12 July 2010

Dallas Symphony Opens Extraordinary Summer of Music in Colorado!

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.

Photo by Marita

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Music In The City: Toronto Summer Music Festival

Conductor Agnes Grossmann (Photo courtesy of TSMF)

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.

Undoubtedly there will be changes at the TSMF with a new Artistic Director. But we can be assured that it will continue its tradition of making beautiful music in the heart of our city in the future. In the meantime we can enjoy Grossmann's last season with its interesting lineup of concerts featuring international artists. The Opening Night Concert has always been a "blockbuster" and this year it will be pianist Anton Kuerti playing Schumann. This opening event was at the Carlisle the last two years, but this year it will take place in the visually and acoustically superb Koerner Hall of the Royal Conservatory of Music on Tuesday, July 20 at 8 pm.

This being a Mahler year celebrating the 150th anniversary of his birth, we can look forward to a feast of his music. The Vienna Piano Trio will be in town for Mahler And Friends, a program of Mahler and his contemporaries - Alexander Zemlinksy and Arnold Schoenberg on Saturday, July 24 8 pm at Walter Hall. The Vienna Piano Trio will also be giving a masterclass on Friday July 23, in Room 330 at the Edward Johnson Building, Faculty of Music from 3 to 6 pm.

Among the many highlights is the great German baritone Matthias Goerne appearing in a liederabend of Schumann and Brahms on July 27 with Andreas Haefliger at the piano. Goerne will also give a masterclass the next morning from 9:30 am to noon at the Geiger-Torel Room at the Faculty of Music. Andrew Burashko and the Art of Time Ensemble will offer Musical Transformations Erich Korngold: Source and Inspiration - a program of the music of this rarely heard Austrian composer on July 29 at Walter Hall. The centerpiece is the Suite Op. 23 for Two Violins, Cello and Piano. This piece inspired the creations of the six songs on the program by Martin Tielli, John Southworth and Danny Michel. Finally, the most significant concert of the 2010 TSMF is Song of the Earth, the farewell concert of Agnes Grossmann. On the program is the chamber version of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, performed by Romanian mezzo Roxana Constantinescu and Canadian tenor Gordon Gietz. Also on the program is a chamber piece by composer Glenn Buhr, Red Sea. Buhr "offers his reflections on the timeless subjects of the earth, nature and the intricacies of life." The concert takes place at the MacMillan Theatre on August 7, 8 pm. For full program and ticket information, go to

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