La Scena Musicale

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Commendable Performance from Louis Lortie and TSO

by L. H. Tiffany Hsieh

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Robert Schumann and Frédéric Chopin's birth — both were born in 1810 — and Gustav Mahler’s 150th, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra has creatively put together a jam-packed program that features all three composers, with Canadian composer Robert Turner to boot.

Sandwiched in the middle is one of Canada’s favourite sons, pianist Louis Lortie.

A perennial performer in Toronto, Lortie is a veteran when it comes to pulling off not one, but two contrasting piano works with orchestra back to back, separated only by an intermission.

On Sept. 30 at Roy Thomson Hall, he began in Schumann’s heroic A-minor piano concerto with the utmost regal presence of mind and ended the piece with striking force and power. It was a commendable performance, but it wasn’t his best. While his able fingers did most of the work on their own, it seemed, Lortie savoured each and every passing moment between him and the orchestra, partly thanks to some great work from long-time TSO members, oboist Keith Atkinson and clarinettist Joaquin Valdepenas.

For the most part, Lortie was a perfect soloist in this Schumann concerto. His interpretation of the music was uniquely intimate, intellectual, and subtly imaginative. It was just too bad that as a whole, he didn’t come across as the precision, powerhouse player he’s usually known for.

That being said, Lortie succeeded in delivering some top-notch work in Chopin’s Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise after the intermission. The poetic lyricism in the solo Andante Spianato was unmatched and Lortie triumphed in giving the Grande Polonaise pulse and fanfare.

His orchestral partner on stage backed him up with great sensitivity in both the Schumann and the Chopin, even though the two weren’t always in synch.

Peter Oundjian on the podium, along with the very zealous concertmaster of the night, Mark Skazinetsky, led the TSO in a more exciting venture in Schumann’s second symphony in C major, as re-orchestrated by Mahler. Technically, the music is a polished version of the work by Mahler, who, despite changes here and there, kept the symphony mostly in tune with what listeners would expect Schumann to sound like.

Oundjian and the TSO gave one of the most daring performances of the scherzo on stage.

The concert opened with a salute to Turner’s 90th birthday this year, with his Opening Night: A Theatre Overture. Composed in 1955 for a commission from the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the short orchestral work is a sunny outburst of energy and festivity. The TSO delivered all the right ingredients here.

The concert repeats Oct. 2 at 8 p.m.


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Culture Budget in France Up 2.7%

by Frank Cadenhead

In contrast to the struggling art and music scene in America and the expected cuts in the culture budget in England, both France and Germany have guaranteed full financial support for their cultural programs.

In early July, the German Federal Council of Ministers approved the budget bill for 2011 with the Culture budget unaffected. Culture Minister Bernd Neumann indicated that this decision shows the importance the German government attaches to the role of culture in society.

On September 30, the French Minister of Culture, Frederic Mitterand, announced that the French Culture budget will actually increase a modest 2.7%. "Though most of the countries of Europe has chosen to trim, often substantially, their culture budgets, France has made a different choice. The cultural offering is a determining element in our attractiveness as a country and its economic development."

Mitterand also, in response to a question, indicated that his ministry was active in supporting the new and architectually dramatic concert hall, La Philharmonie, in the La Villette section of Paris. A project "on hold" for the past several months, the next phase is expected to resume shortly.

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Friday, 1 October 2010

Cette semaine à Montréal / This Week in Montreal 4-10 oct

Cette semaine à Montréal / This Week in Montreal 4-10 oct

Le « Ralliement festif de la rentrée » du Groupe Le Vivier a eu lieu le 14 septembre dernier dans l’édifice de la Bibliothèque Saint-Sulpice, jalonné de performances qui ont fait « sonner les lieux » de ce bâtiment magnifique qui abritera les musiques nouvelles. Le Vivier y présentait sa 2e saison de 18 concerts et annonçait un colloque « 50 ans de création musicale au Québec » qui aura lieu en février 2011. En attendant l’ouverture de l’édifice prévue en 2013, les concerts se tiendront hors murs. Ceux du 4 octobre (Bradyworks) et du 7 octobre (Quatuor Bozzini) ont lieu à la Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur. 
-Renée Banville

Lundi 4 Monday
» 19h30. PdA TM. 20-40$. Société Pro Musica, série Émeraude. Haydn: Variations, Hob.XVII: 6; Mozart: Sonate, K.310; Liszt: Venezia e Napoli; Liszt: Sonate, Marc-André Hamelin, piano. 842-2112, 800-361-4595
» 20h. CHBP. 15-20$. Saison Le Vivier. Launch concert for the “24 Frames-Trance” CD+DVD on the Ambiances magnétiques label, Tim Brady, composer, electric guitar, electronics; Martin Messier, video. 872-5338
» 20h. PdA SWP. 46-136$. Opéra de Montréal. Verdi: Rigoletto, Orchestre Métropolitain; Tyrone Paterson, chef; Anthony Michaels-Moore, David Pomeroy, Sarah Coburn, Ernesto Morillo, Lauren Segal. 842-2112, 985-2258

Mardi 5 Tuesday
» 9h. UdM-Laval. 12$. Mat-Opéramania. Moussorgsky: Boris Godounov, Robert Lloyd, Alexander Morosov, Vladimir Ognovenko, Alexei Steblianko, Yevgeny Boitsov, Olga Borodina; Valery Gergiev, chef. 343-6479
» 16h30. UdM-MUS B-484. EL. Conférence. Olivier Messiaen au seuil de la musique sérielle; Ordre numérique et création, Jürgen Maehder. 343-6427
» 20h. PdA SWP. 28-100$. Les soirées signature Panasonic. Dutilleux: Sur le même accord; Goubaïdoulina: In tempus praesens; Mahler: Symphonie #5, O.S. de Montréal; Kent Nagano, chef; Anne-Sophie Mutter, violon. (19h causerie: Kelly Rice, chroniqueur, CBC Radio; Kent Nagano, chef d’orchestre) 842-2112, 842-9951
Mercredi 6 Wednesday
» 13h30. UdM-Longueuil. 12$. Mat-Opéramania. R. Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos, Gundula Janowitz, Edita Gruberova, Trudeliese Schmidt, René Kollo, Walter Berry; Karl Böhm, chef. 343-6479
» 20h. CHBP. EL. Dialogues à la Chapelle. Minimalisme américain. Philip Glass: Quatuor #3 “Mishima”; Terry Riley: Salome Dances for Peace; Steve Reich: Different Trains, Quatuor Molinari. 872-5338, 527-5515
» 20h. PdA SWP. 28-100$. Les soirées signature Panasonic. OSM, Mutter. (19h causerie: Kelly Rice, chroniqueur, CBC Radio; Kent Nagano, chef d’orchestre) 842-2112, 842-9951 
» 20h. UdM-MUS SCC. 5-20$. Hommage à Xenakis. Xenakis: Anaktoria; Échange; Ikhoor; O-Mega; Thalleïn; György Kurtág: Quatre chants sur des poèmes d’Anna Akhmatova op.41, Nouvel Ensemble Moderne; Lorraine Vaillancourt, chef; Lori Freedman, clarinette basse; Julien Grégoire, percussion; Natalia Zagorinskaya, soprano. 790-1245, 343-5636

Jeudi 7 Thursday
» 20h. CHBP. 10-20$. Saison Le Vivier. Série montréalaise. Les Visionnaires. John Cage, James Tenney, Christian Wolff, Walter Zimmermann, Quatuor Bozzini. 845-4046
» 20h. Église Jean-XXIII, 7101 de l’Alsace, Anjou. 10$. Aventure au pays de l’amour. Janácek: Idyla; Lekeu: Adagio; Grieg: Heart’s Wound; Last Spring; Mozart: Serenata notturna, Ensemble instrumental Appassionata; Daniel Myssyk, chef. 493-8266, 493-8271
» 20h. MC NDG. LP. Musique du monde. Tangos, Romulo Larrea Trio. 872-2157
» 20h. McGill TSH. FA. Master’s Recital, Stephanie MacAlpine, French horn. 398-4547
» 20h. PdA SWP. 46-136$. Opéra de Montréal. Rigoletto. 842-2112, 985-2258

Vendredi 8 Friday
» 18h30. UdM-MUS SCC. EL. Fin maîtrise. Debussy, Messiaen, Moussorgsky, Poulenc, Mireille Santerre, piano. 343-6427
» 19h. UdM-MUS B-421. 9$. Opéramania. Stravinsky: The Rake’s Progress, Laura Claycomb, Andrew Kennedy, William Schimell, Julianne Young, Dagmar Peckova; Kazushi Ono, chef. 790-1245, 343-6479
» 19h30. McGill TSH. 10$. McGill Jazz Year, McGill Jazz Ensembles. 398-4547
» 20h. CHBP. LP. Les Malcommodes. Félix Stüssi, Félix Stüssi, piano; Daniel Lessard, contrebasse; Pierre Tanguay, batterie. 872-5338

Samedi 9 Saturday
» 13h. Ciné-Met MTL1. 15-25$. The Met in HD, Live. Wagner: Das Rheingold (Robert Lepage, stage director; approx. 3 hours), James Levine, cond.; Wendy Bryn Harmer, Stephanie Blythe, Patricia Bardon, Richard Croft, Gerhard Siegel, Bryn Terfel, Eric Owens, Franz-Josef Selig, Hans-Peter König.
» 14h. PdA SWP. 46-136$. Opéra de Montréal. Rigoletto. 842-2112, 985-2258
» 20h. Église St-François-Xavier, 994 Principale, Prévost. 25$. Diffusions Amal’Gamme. Le piano prodigieux. Mozart, Chopin, François Morel, Saint-Saëns, Lucille Chung, piano. 450-436-3037
» 20h. Église St-Hubert, 5310 chemin Chambly, St-Hubert. 25$. Concert sous les chandelles. Beethoven/Liszt: Symphonie #5, Ève Bourgouin, piano. 450-419-9148

Dimanche 10 Sunday
» 14h30. St. John’s Lutheran Church, 3594 Jeanne-Mance (coin Prince-Arthur). Freewill offering. Serenata at St. John’s. Bach: Concerto for oboe and violin, BWV 1060; Purcell: Incidental music from “The Gordian Knot Unty’d”, Z.597; Telemann: Tafelmusik prod. 3-1, Suite in B flat major, Ted Baskin, Alexa Zirbel, oboe; Susan Pulliam, Andrew Beer, Sara Bohl Pistolesi, violin; Michael Krausse, viola; Karen Baskin, Donald Pistolesi, violoncello; Eric Chapell, double bass; Susan Toman, harpsichord. 844-6297
» 15h. CCPCSH. LP. Rendez-vous du dimanche; musique classique. De Bach à Zappa. Bach, Zappa, Glazounov, Will Gregory, Gilles Tremblay, Michel Frigon, Quasar. 630-1220
» 16h. UdM-MUS B-484. EL. Bach, Haydn, Ichmouratov, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Wieniawski, Classe d’Eleonora Turovsky, violon; classe de Yuli Turovsky, violoncelle. 343-6427
» 20h. La Sala Rossa, 4848 St-Laurent. 15-20$. Multi-media, new music, video, dance, graphic notation, graphic improvisation, Ensemble Mujirushi. 284-3804

arr. arrangements, orchestration
conductorchef / dir. / cond. chef d’orchestre /
(cr) création de l’oeuvre / work premiere
FD freewill donationCV contribution volontaire =
(e) extraits / excerpts
EL entrée libre = FA free admission
LPlaissez-passer obligatoire / free pass required
MCMaison de la culture
O.S. orchestre symphonique
RSVPveuillez réserver votre place à l’avance / please reserve your place in advance
S.O. symphony orchestra
x  poste (dans les numéros de téléphone) / extension (in phone numbers)

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Wednesday, 29 September 2010

TSO Overachieved with Lang Lang in Liszt Concerto

by L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

What a difference a superstar pianist can make.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s special one-night-only concert on Sept. 27, featuring the Chinese phenomenon Lang Lang, began with two very good performances — Mozart’s colourful Magic Flute overture and Brahms’ to-die-for third symphony in the first half of the program.

However, both performances became relatively pale and unmemorable the instant music director Peter Oundjian gave cue to the Liszt Piano Concerto No. 1, with a relaxed and polished Lang sitting at the keyboard.

The TSO rarely sounded so concentrated and unapologetic, with beautiful lush tones that marinated the hall, and with the absolute confidence of a major metropolitan orchestra in top form.

Liszt’s four-movement work, performed as a single continuous piece and lasts for about 20 minutes, is a firecracker that requires full-on buoyancy and coolness from all players. Oundjian and the TSO delivered all that and much more, mastering the back and forth play of the powerful main theme and every little dialogue between orchestra and soloist. They looked like they had fun and when not playing they turned their eyes to the pianist at the helm.

Lang, still just 28 years old, gave the concerto a satisfying bravura-style treatment both he and Liszt are known for, yet not a single note was out of place. Every phrase was thought out, every turn of passage embraced, and every cadence bang on and choreographed with hand gestures not unlike tai chi or martial arts. He’s a bit like the Elvis Stojko of classical music in athleticism, except there’s much more poise and artistic vision.

Under Lang’s much-blessed fingers, the music danced, lamented and tumbled effortlessly. He could have easily played the whole thing with his eyes closed and, in fact, he closed his eyes or looked away from the keyboard most of the time.

Following an undying standing ovation from the audience, Lang performed two encores while the orchestra sat still on stage. But it was the Liszt that lingered at the back of the mouth at the end of the night.

Oundjian announced during the concert that the TSO administration is currently working with Lang’s people to have the pianist in town for an extended period of time next year. Let’s hope so, because pianistically speaking anyway, no one can touch him right now.


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Sunday, 26 September 2010

This Week in Toronto (Sept. 27 - Oct 2)

Tenor Salvatore Licitra in town for a Bel Canto Foundation Gala Concert (Photo credit: Olivier Wilkins)

Sondra Radvanovsky is COC's newest Aida
Photo: Nigel Dickson

There are lots of big events happening for opera fans this week. The biggest news is undoubtedly the opening of Canadian Opera Company's Aida. The last time COC staged this Verdi opera was April 1986 - that's twenty-four and a half years ago! Despite its huge popularity, Aida isn't staged all that often because of the difficulty of finding the great voices needed to do this piece justice. Torontonians have the great good fortune of engaging American-born Canadian soprano Sondra Radvanovsky in the title role. To my ears, she is the genuine article - the best Verdi soprano in front of the public today. The voice is huge, dark, gleaming, and gorgeous, with an easy top, and supported by a solid technique and used with exemplary musicality. She is married to a Canadian and has been making her home in Southern Ontario for quite some years, but this will be her first major engagement and her first complete opera in Toronto. And it is her role debut as well! She is sharing the role with another Canadian, soprano Michele Capalbo, who has made a name for herself in the Italian spinto repertoire. Capalbo is famous for her high pianissimos, so this run of twelve Aidas will be a real vocal showcase. In addition to the two prima donnas, this production also features fast-rising Australian tenor Rosario La Spina, a name new to Canadian audiences. However, La Spina has made a name for himself in his native Australia, including a very notable Pinkerton a few years ago in Sydney. Jill Grove, known for her contralto low register, is Amneris, while baritone Scott Hendricks, the Iago last season, is Amonasro. Canadian bass Phillip Ens is Ramfis. COC music director Johannes Debus conducts. Performances on Oct. 2, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27, 30, Nov. 2, and 5. For more information and tickets, go to

Speaking of tenors, we also have in town Sicilian tenor Salvatore Licitra, one of the best known tenors today. Signor Licitra's star rose quickly when he jumped in at the last minute to replace an indisposed Luciano Pavarotti at a Met Tosca almost ten years ago. He has since established himself as a lirico spinto in great demand around the world, especially in the Italian verismo repertoire. His appearances in Canada include appearances in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. This time, Licitra is brought to Toronto to headline the Bel Canto Foundation's 2010 Gala, with Conductor Kerry Stratton leading the Toronto Concert Orchestra in its debut. This event will take place this Wednesday, September 29 at the Le Parc Conference and Banquet Centre 8432 Leslie Street at Highway 7 in Thornhill. The event is a fundraiser and it includes a dinner and concert. I am not sure of the ticket situation at this late date, but for more information, go to or call 647-454-7664.

Last week, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra opened the new season with the monumental Mahler Second. It was a most impressive opening night, I must say. Kudos to Peter Oundjian for leading the massive forces in an exciting performance, drawing torrents of galvanizing sounds from the augmented orchestra. But don't interpret the comment as indicating a bombastic performance - there were moments of delicacy and poetry as well. If the opening movement was somewhat episodic, the performance continued to build and at the end, the audience was left emotionally drained but elated. The musicians were given a complete, unreserved standing ovation that lasted many minutes. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir is one of Canada's treasures, and it was in fine form. Mezzo Susan Platts has a contralto-like low register, and her "Urlicht" was wonderful, while not erasing memories of the great Kathleen Ferrier or Canada's own Maureen Forrester. If memory serves, soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian has recorded this in a live performance with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony. Her voice has become richer the last two or three years, so she made a warm, full-bodied sound in her brief moments near the end, and it blended well with the choir. It was a performance to remember. This week, the TSO is busier than ever with two different programs. On Thursday and Saturday, we have Schumann and Chopin - Canadian Louis Lortie, a frequent visitor to TO, plays the Schumann Piano Concerto and Chopin's Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise. Peter Oundjian conducts. The concert is at 8 pm in Roy Thomson Hall. On Monday, the peripatetic Lang Lang makes a return visit, playing Liszt No. 1. Also on the program is Brahms Symphony No. 3. This concert is repeated on Friday. For details and tickets, go to

Elsewhere, the COC's noon hour Free Concert Series continues at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre on Tuesday with pianist Darrett Zusko playing Mozart, Schumann and Chopin; and an intriguing program on Thursday called Beyond Bellydance, on traditional and contemporary Arabic dance. As usual, show up early if you want a seat! For more information and program details, go to On Sunday afternoon at 2 pm, the Off Centre Music Salon opens its season with Tears and Laughter, featuring works by Shostakovich and Dunayevski, among others. It features tenor Ryan Harper, baritone Vasil Garvanliev, soprano Ilana Zarankin, cellist Winona Zelenka, plus Inna and Boris Zarankin. The concert takes place at the Glenn Gould Studio. For more information, go to

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