La Scena Musicale

Friday, 15 July 2011

Strings of Summer / Songs of Summer

Strings of Summer / Songs of Summer
Toronto Summer Music Festival's new Artistic Director Douglas McNabney talks about his vision for the future
Joseph K. So
Toronto-born violist Douglas McNabney is a man on a mission. Last September, he took over as Artistic Director of the Toronto Summer Music Festival replacing Agnes Grossmann, who had led the fledging organization since 2006. In the few short years under Grossmann, TSMF and its accompanying Academy have developed a loyal following in a city not exactly brimming with summer classical music. Now as her successor, it’s McNabney’s mandate to continue its tradition of excellence, while keeping the organization on a firm financial footing. Given the fragility of Toronto’s recovery from the last recession, the increasingly “niche market” nature of classical music, not to mention the thunder-stealing, high profile Black Creek Summer Music Festival with its big advertising budget, TSMF faces major challenges. Success calls for a leader with vision, acumen, ingenuity, dedication, and good old-fashioned hard work. Dynamic, articulate, erudite and personable, Douglas McNabney combines experience in arts administration (he directed Quebec’s Domaine Forget for ten years) with first-hand knowledge as a respected chamber musician, the very qualities that make him a good fit. McNabney has garnered the confidence of Jane Smith, former board member and a driving force behind TSMF: “Douglas has, in a few months, built upon Agnes' exemplary foundation to a new level. As an international chamber player and teacher, he counts all the best chamber musicians as colleagues. His emphasis on performance within the revised Academy will see TSM "Fellows" in mainstage concerts playing with their Mentors in a true collaboration. I am most excited by the Art of Song program which Douglas rightly views as an integral part of chamber music.”
Two weeks before the opening, McNabney took time out from his busy schedule for a chat. Over a quick bite and an espresso at a local café around the corner from TSMF’s modest office on Bathurst Street, McNabney spoke candidly about his new job and the challenges facing TSMF. With mere weeks to go before opening night, the inevitable cancellation reared its ugly head. The American soprano Christine Brewer has bowed out of her song recital for health reasons. McNabney was philosophical: “this is part and parcel of running a festival. For the 10 years at Domaine Forget, every season inevitably problems of one sort or another arose – artists couldn’t arrive because of visa problems, sudden deaths, births… Every occasion like this becomes an opportunity. We’ll be looking at somebody unknown to Toronto audiences. This will be an occasion to discover something new for Toronto, a bit like what we are doing with (pianist) Kirill Gerstein. He’s one of the new strong voices…a major artist.”
[NOTE: On July 15, TSMF announced that soprano Kiera Duffy and tenor Nicholas Phan will replace Brewer in the August 4 recital. True to his word, McNabney has engaged two artists new to Toronto audiences. Duffy and Phan are two young singers with very promising careers. The soprano was featured in the 2007 Met documentary The Audition. She will be singing Strauss songs, while Nicholas Phan will sing Schumann’s Liederkreis and Britten’s Winter’s Words. The two will also sing a few duos as well]
LSM: Toronto doesn’t have a strong tradition of summer classical music, yet TSMF has in a few short years managed to develop a loyal following. What accounts for its success? What do you think are the strengths of TSMF, and what’s your vision for the future?
DM: When I was first approached for this position, I looked at what has gone well in the past. It’s obvious that chamber music was extremely strong – it had the best students and the best audiences. The solo recitals also did well, and there was a huge continent of the public interested in voice. So it makes sense to do an academy combining chamber music and the art of the song – these two go together really well. It’s often said that art song is to vocal music what chamber music is to instrumental music – it’s a nice pairing. We also have incredible fundraisers – they’ve been so effective with the private sector. The support is extraordinary – I’m in awe! We’re still young, so government support is where we have to work on if we want to expand. For the long term, we have the potential to expand, especially in Koerner Hall with its great location and great acoustics, the perfect size for giving our audience a high quality experience. At some point in the future TSMF will expand its horizons and move into the orchestral world.
LSM: Any plan to revive the opera program? I am thinking of the very enjoyable Ariadne auf Naxos...
DM: Not in the immediate future…long term yes. You’ve picked a really successful production. To do it well, it takes a lot of our resources and you need to do only opera, in places like Santa Fe and Glimmerglass. Otherwise you get a very uneven production because of the differences in the level of the voices and in the pit. I can’t see us hiring an orchestra or producing an opera. What we welcome is someone else’s productions. To bring opera back to Toronto Summer Music, we’ll need to partner with other organizations like Haliburton, Glimmerglass, Canadian Opera, which is blank in the summer. Toronto Summer Music can act as the host of productions of others.
LSM: So partnership is what you are looking for?

DM: Absolutely! Putting together partnerships is the key. That’s what we’re already doing. I’ve managed to convince Roman (Borys) to take us to Ottawa Chamberfest, and Domaine Forget is taking us for a concert. We do all our classes at the U of T Faculty of Music, and we are bringing students from all over the country and they get to see the facility and meet the staff. We are also booking more performances at RCM’s Koerner Hall…

LSM: What about programming? What do you have planned for the next few seasons?
DM: This year it’s heart of the repertoire – the Romantic Period. Next year we’ll move into the music of the nations, the national identities in music, music influenced by the folk idioms…Russian, Spanish, and the Bohemian composers. From there we’ll do “music of the Colonies”. I’d love to do music of England, France, Spain, and Italy, and how this music found its way into North America. That’s three years from now.
LSM: I noticed that you recently played a piece by George Crumb. What are you thoughts on new music? Do you plan to program something like this in TSMF? Canadian audiences, especially older audiences, tend to be resistant to contemporary music. At classical music concerts these days, the auditorium is mostly a sea of gray hair...
DM: I loved playing that George Crumb piece. Introducing new music? At some point, yes, but we have to find the right formula, to make sure we have the public with us. New music is a difficult sell. As to old audiences - I go to experimental theatre and the halls are always full of young people. I want to see these people in the halls for new music as well. Do you know that people spend almost twice as much on arts events than on sporting events? The statistics are there ( – if somebody has not heard a classical music concert by age 18, they’ll never go. But if they’ve gone to one symphony concert by age 18, then when they are 55 or 60, they might go to something like Black Creek Festival because it’s such a big thing. But they have to have gone to at least one concert…it only takes one! How to get young people to classical music is my big challenge. Funny thing is, Romantic music (in this year’s TSMF) is all about youth – unrequited love, passion and sorrows of young Werther etc., but we have old people on stage and old people in the audience. We have as part of our chamber music institute this year where young musicians in the academy play with their mentors on stage. We have a series of concerts like this – it’s the Marlboro (Music) formula. It’s the best way to teach young people about tradition, and the mentors also rediscover the excitement and enthusiasm of youth. Once we get young people on stage, we can get young people in the audience…
LSM: If interest in classical music may be dwindling in the general population, it’s certainly not true in the non-European immigrant communities. Have you thought of reaching out to them?
DM: Yes, especially the Asian communities. Do you know in China, they open a concert hall a week? We want someone from the Asian communities on our board. Next year, we have Dong-Suk Kang, a leading violinist in Korea. He has the Seoul Spring Chamber Music Festival and he’s coming for a week and bringing five of his musicians. We hope to build around that, and bring in the whole of Toronto’s Korean community. We are trying to get the Russian community to come out to hear Kirill Gerstein. Building our audience means building connections to the public that actually listens to this music. That’s what we have to move towards.


Thursday, 14 July 2011

A Tale of Two Festivals: Castleton and BlackCreek

by Paul E. Robinson
Every summer Marita and I drive from Austin, Texas back to our native Canada, varying our route each year according to events of particular interest on the road and the availability of friends we enjoy visiting.
This year we decided to make a stop in Charlottesville, Virginia, a favourite place we hadn’t visited in too many years. This charming, lively, petite (pop: 40,000) mountain town is home to the University of Virginia where we fondly recalled once having inspected the tiny room inhabited by Edgar Allen Poe during his short tenure as a student here. The literary stature of Poe notwithstanding, Charlottesville is most famous for Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers and the third president of the United States.
Castleton Farms Home to Castleton Festival
180castletonAs we plotted our route from Charlottesville to the Eastern Townships of Quebec, we decided it would be unconscionable to pass within a few miles of Lorin Maazel’s new Castleton Festival without seeing what all the excitement was about; with Maazel in mind, we set out along the back roads of western Virginia.
The town of Castleton turned out to be little more than a general store. Mostly, we were greeted by lush green rolling hills and farmland, with just enough signage to remind locals where they are and to give visitors the feeling that one wrong turn could get them hopelessly lost.
There were few signs directing one to the Castleton Festival. Upon arrival at what we took to be the festival headquarters, our first impression was that everyone had either gone for a walk in the woods or was attending to farm chores. We walked through the small lobby into a tiny jewel of a theatre. We could hardly believe that La Bohème had been performed here the day before. The pit could scarcely hold more than a dozen players and the house appeared to have no more than 100 seats.
Back outside, looking off the deck, we could see well-tended gardens and a pond in the distance. Further along the deck we could see a fair number of people in the cafeteria attached to the theatre. It was lunchtime and dozens of young people were either enjoying a meal or working away on laptops – some doing both at once. All in all, it was a beautiful estate, a glorious place for work and leisure.
We continued our explorations, looking now for someone in administration. Across the road from the theatre building was a small barn. Lots of out-of-state license plates in the driveway indicated visitors, but this was clearly a working farm. There were pigs in pens, some cattle, and a zebra – or was it a “zonkey?” Someone with a sense of humour had put up a sign describing an even more unusual animal on the premises - a zonkey - an exotic blend of donkey and zebra. There was even a picture to aid in recognition.
Next door, as we stepped out of the car, one of two young women walking towards us stopped to introduce herself as “one of the Maazel children” and kindly offered to find someone to help us. She disappeared through a hedge and emerged a few minutes later with a strikingly attractive woman, who introduced herself as Dietlinde Maazel. I knew that Dietlinde was the maestro’s wife of 23 years and that she was one of the masterminds of the festival. Lorin Maazel is the president and artistic director and she is vice-president and associate artistic director.
180dmMs. Maazel (photo: right) exuded tremendous pride in and enthusiasm for the Castleton Festival, and in spite of being interrupted in the middle of what must have been another hectic day, she offered to give us a tour of the facilities. The first thing she set us straight about was the role of the little theatre we had just seen. It was indeed the starting point for all the musical activities at Castleton Farms and many concerts had been held there over the years, and some of the festival’s chamber operas were still presented there.
The main festival performance space, which from the exterior looks like a massive modern barn, was just a half mile up the road. A barn as an opera venue? What an ingenious concept! We entered through the reception area, which had been set up for a gala dinner preceding the opening of La Bohème the night before, and then stepped into the auditorium, where a rehearsal for Ravel’s L’enfant et les Sortilèges was in progress.
This facility, we learned, had been completed just in time for this year’s Castleton Festival. The centre of attention was the very large performance space with ample backstage area for storing and moving sets, and a pit that seated about 100 musicians. While, for the time being, the 400 seats in the venue are little more than benches and the walls are bare, some upgrading will doubtless take place in years to come.

There was only piano accompaniment at this rehearsal, with the resident festival director, William Kerley, blocking moves for some of the soloists and chorus. Soprano Cecelia Hall, who sings the lead role of the child, sounded wonderful. All the voices projected easily from the stage.
Ms. Hall is typical of participants at the Castleton Festival. She, like most of the other 100 or so singers and the 89 members of the festival orchestra, is a young artist well into a professional career. In most cases, participants have completed their college or conservatory studies and have some professional experience. What they need to really advance their careers is more training from the best in the business, and this is the exceptional opportunity that the Castleton Festival provides: two months working almost daily with Maestro Lorin Maazel and his associates.
The Castleton Festival is a summer music school primarily for opera singers and orchestral players but also for stage directors and administrators. The intensive workload is undertaken in a very nurturing environment designed to enrich young lives. Married participants are encouraged to bring spouses and children, and all performers are housed either in buildings on the 600 acre Maazel farm property or at neighbouring farms. Ms. Maazel acknowledged that the responsibility of keeping track of the 200 plus young artists at Castleton Farms over the summer, particularly given the propensity of some for fast driving on winding country roads, was quite a challenge.
Castleton Festival participants, including singers and orchestra members, are often recruited personally by Maazel as he travels the world guest conducting. The current orchestra, for example, includes players from Qatar, Turkey, China and London.
As we watched the Ravel rehearsal with her, Ms. Maazel seemed to have all the time in the world to answer our questions and to point out the features of her festival, casually remarking at some point in our conversation that the Castleton Festival Orchestra and some of the singers had to be in Toronto, Canada the following evening for a major performance at the BlackCreek Festival, and that the ensemble of about 110 would be leaving that very night. Enviable calm under pressure!
We know that Lorin Maazel is a force of nature among conductors. At the age of 81 he is conducting as much as he ever did, and even finding time to compose and to create a new festival. In his wife Dietlinde, he has obviously found the ideal partner; a magic-making multi-tasker who also thrives on a busy schedule.
After Ms. Maazel’s gracious introduction, we came away anxious to hear a performance by the Castleton Festival participants. We didn’t have long to wait; we had only to drive to Toronto by the following night. A second incentive was the BlackCreek Festival itself, which had opened the week before with a highly-praised event featuring Placido Domingo. Garth Drabinsky’s enterprising new summer offering, the coming together of two major but very young festivals with very different visions - the Castleton, with a focus on mentoring young classical music talent and the BlackCreek, with a focus on big-name extravaganzas and music of many genres - is a new and exciting concept for Toronto.
Sky Traffic, Sound Technology and Top Dollar
I must admit that when I heard about plans for the BlackCreek Festival, I was skeptical. Who would want to pay high prices - $52-$135 for most concerts and a top price of $280 for Domingo – to sit outside on a tennis court listening to amplified classical music?
The Rexall Centre at York University was built to accommodate professional tennis tournaments and physically, it serves that purpose well; situated right under the flight path for landings at Pearson International Airport, however, the location surely cannot be considered ideal for tennis. If less than ideal for tennis, it should be disastrous for classical music performances. At the concert we attended, a plane whirred overhead every 3-4 minutes during one 20-minute period; fortunately, there were more quiet times than noisy during this concert. Clearly, the management of the BlackCreek Festival operates at the mercy of the weather and air traffic controllers.
To be fair, however, summer concerts in the great outdoors cannot really be judged by indoor standards. The Ravinia Festival in Chicago has been thriving for decades in spite of the trains that pass by with annoying frequency. As a matter of fact, festival directors there recently made a virtue out of imperfect conditions by commissioning a series of new train-related compositions for the festival.
So...while one might wish the planes to be seen and not heard, does the Rexall Centre have some offsetting advantages?
Opening night at BlackCreek was apparently utter chaos due to the traffic congestion, whereas at the concert I attended, there was no trouble at all; that is, if you don’t mind paying $20 to park, then boarding a school bus to the venue itself. And did I mention that if it rains, ticket-buyers are just out of luck - no rain checks are given and no umbrellas are allowed in the facility.
What about that bane of music-lovers’ existence these days - miked singers and musicians? Amplifier technology has taken over Broadway to the point where genuine singing ability is almost irrelevant and ear-splitting volume is the norm. With 11,000 seats in the Rexall Centre, no shell to assist in the production of high-quality natural sound, and the aforementioned sky traffic, Drabinsky and Co. really had no choice; it was truly amplified sound or nothing.
I am happy to report that the BlackCreek Festival has achieved the impossible: amplified orchestral sound that gives us a reasonable facsimile of the real thing. To be sure, the harp and celesta in excerpts from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet were too loud, but otherwise there was warmth, nuance and depth in the string sound and timbral accuracy in the winds and brass. The volume was robust but never excessive.
180mirrenironsEven more impressive, perfect for a concert in a venue such as this, was the imaginative use of video. On the big screen overhanging the stage we saw useful facial and profile shots of Maazel and of the vocal soloists positioned with the chorus behind the orchestra and all but invisible to the audience. Most importantly, we had close-ups of Dame Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons (photo: right) as they played a dozen different characters from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Without the video, the audience would have missed completely Irons’ vast range of facial expressions and the subtle interplay with Mirren.
Nor was this “basic video” to spice up the proceedings. Clearly, the video team had taken a great deal of time and trouble to match their shots to the words and the music. This was excellent work that would greatly enhance concert hall performances of similar repertoire.
Orchestra of Maazel’s Making
The Castleton Festival Orchestra had been virtually hand-picked by Maestro Maazel and had been working with him for several weeks. If it did not rise to the level of the New York Philharmonic, his most recent orchestra, it was nonetheless a fine body of players.
Maazel has long been known as a superior technician. His stick technique is clear and decisive and his knowledge of a vast repertoire is legendary. As Maazel ages, he seems less concerned with dazzling effects and more with beauty and expression. Watching him on the podium I am reminded of Fritz Reiner – not that I am old enough to have ever seen Reiner “live” – whose technique and demeanor, on DVDs and by reputation, was similar. Reiner never “acted out” the music and his face was virtually immobile. His expression was severe, to say the least, as Maazel’s, for the most part, is today. Such demeanor often elicits greater discipline and closer attention – even fear – on the part of the musicians, especially the young and impressionable.
Maazel like Reiner and all the best conductors, works out the thousands of details of phrasing, articulation and colour in rehearsal. When it comes to the performance what is needed most on the podium is accuracy, reliability and inspiration. Professional players can be depended upon to remember the details and execute them as agreed in rehearsal.
Under less than ideal concert conditions at the Rexall Centre, Maazel and the Castleton Festival Orchestra made music on a gratifyingly high level. The Prokofiev excerpts were powerful and exciting. Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture was even better. Maazel had added some dynamics of his own to Tchaikovsky’s score, but they always made musical sense. Rhythms were crisp and the love music was as passionate as one could hope for. Maazel’s articulation of the final chords was unusual but compelling. The timpani crescendo at the end was brilliant.
There are no cheap effects in Mendelssohn’s Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and any conductor who attempts to add them is looking for trouble. Maazel obviously loves this music and played it as Mendelssohn surely intended it to be played. His tempi for the Overture and the Scherzo were far slower than those chosen by many conductors who should know better, and to my ears, perfect. With slower tempi, there is time for accurate execution of the rhythms and accents, as well as time for expressive phrasing. Maazel brought out the beauty of the music without wallowing in romanticism.
180el-khourySpecial mention should be made of Ottawa-born Joyce El-Khoury, (photo: right) one of Maazel’s favourite sopranos, who recently scored a major success as Mimi in his new production of La Bohème at Castleton. El-Khoury’s brief solos in the Mendelssohn had a youthful tone that was a joy to hear.
Mirren and Irons recounted the Midsummer Night’s Dream plot line for us and spoke some of its most memorable lines as they played the various characters. This play is magical in its exploration of young love and the interplay of human and supernatural forces. Irons amazed the audience with his command of accents and voices, and Mirren lived up to her reputation as one of the most skilled and versatile actresses of our time.
It was a glorious concert, with the music, poetry, actors and musicians all combining magnificently to overcome the risks of performing in an open air venue.
But did the people come? I would guess that there were fewer than 2,000 people in attendance on this night in a facility that holds 11,000, a much smaller audience than had shown up for Domingo on opening night.
I suspect that while we had the crème de la crème in Maazel, Mirren, Irons et. al., only the pop stars and classical superstars like Domingo will be able to fill a place as big as the Rexall, and at such inflated prices.
Something has got to give; either Drabinsky gives up trying to present classical music in such a venue or he drastically reduces the prices for such events.
Maazel in for More than a Midsummer's Night at BlackCreek
As suggested earlier in this piece, the two festivals covered here are a study in contrasts but they also intersect in interesting ways.
Castleton is one artist’s vision of how to develop young talent. Maazel economizes by using his own property and a lot of his own money but the scope of the vision requires more resources in the long run. Maazel is thinking long-term. I note that on the Staff List for the BlackCreek Festival, Maazel is listed as “Artistic Advisor, Classical Programming.”
This is where Castleton and BlackCreek come together. Maazel wants the exposure that BlackCreek can give his young performers but he also needs the income. Fees from appearances such as this, beyond Castleton, surely help to subsidize the basic programme back home. On the basis of his reputation and contacts, Maazel has been able to set up similar arrangements in California (Berkeley), Maryland (Bethesda), Virginia (Manassas), and China (Beijing).
After all, it makes no economic sense to be mounting full-scale opera productions and concerts in Castleton with a large orchestra in a facility seating 400; only by repeating them elsewhere can the costs be recouped.
Castleton and BlackCreek are both exciting, new ventures, albeit it with very different goals. Time will tell whether their visionary founders have understood their markets and accurately crunched their numbers.
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."

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Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Pierrette Alarie - Décès d’une grande personnalité du monde musical canadien

par Jean-Pierre Sévigny

La soprano lyrique et professeure Pierrette Alarie s’est éteinte dans la nuit du 10 juillet 2011,  à Victoria (Colombie Britannique) à 89 ans.  Alarie était née dans une joyeuse famille de musiciens et de chanteurs. Son père Sylva Alarie était chef d’orchestre ; sa mère Amanda (née Plante) était chanteuse et comédienne.  Elle jouait Maman Plouffe dans le téléroman Les Plouffe de l’auteur Roger Lemelin.

Alarie débuta sa carrière à la radio comme comédienne et diseuse.  À 17 ans, elle fit ses débuts à l’opérette au Monument-National avec la troupe des Variétés lyriques.  En 1940, elle s’inscrivit au cours de chant du studio de Salvator Issaurel où elle fit la rencontre du ténor Leopold Simoneau, qu’elle épousera en 1946.

Elle s’imposa sur la scène montréalaise au cours des années 1940 dans les premiers rôles des opéras La Fille du régiment, Mireille, Le barbier de Séville et La Traviata.  En 1943, elle a vécu un des grands moments de sa jeune carrière en interprétant le rôle de Barbarina dans Les Noces de Figaro sous la direction du légendaire Thomas Beecham au théâtre His Majesty’s. Déterminée plus que jamais à raffiner son art, elle sollicita et obtint une bourse d'études à l’institut Curtis de Philadelphie où elle étudia le chant avec Elisabeth Schumann (1943-46). Schumann demeurera tout au long de sa carrière son inspiration et son modèle.

Lauréate des « Metropolitan Opera Auditions of the Air », elle débuta au Met de New York en décembre 1945 dans l’opéra Un Ballo in Maschera. Un grand succès et elle n’a pas encore vingt-cinq ans. Elle fit trois saisons au Met puis fut sollicitée avec son mari par l'Opéra-Comique de Paris où elle incarna les rôles-titres dans Lakmé et Lucia di Lammermoor.  Seule ou en duo avec son mari, elle s’illustra sur les grandes scènes d’Europe et dans le cadre de plusieurs festivals prestigieux dont Aix-en-Provence, Glyndebourne et Vienne.  Le couple Simoneau-Alarie fit sa marque notamment dans le répertoire mozartien.  D’ailleurs, l’Académie Charles-Cros lui décerna en 1961 le Grand Prix du disque pour l’enregistrement des airs de concert et duos de Mozart.

De retour au Canada, Alarie poursuivit sa carrière à l’opéra, et comme soliste avec orchestre ou en récital, seule ou avec son mari, sur les plus grandes scènes nord-américaines jusqu’à la fin des années 1960. Elle fit ses adieux à la scène le 24 novembre 1970, dans une production du Messie: Alarie et Simoneau étaient solistes invités de l’OSM.  Devenue pédagogue, Alarie enseigna à Vincent-d’Indy, au Centre des arts de Banff et à San Francisco jusqu’au début des années 1980. La chanteuse a reçu de nombreuses récompenses dont un Prix Opus (2007) du Conseil québécois de la musique pour l’ensemble de sa carrière.  Elle était Officier de l'Ordre du Canada, Chevalière de l'Ordre national du Québec ainsi que Chevalière de l'Ordre des arts et des Lettres de France.

Adulée du public et comblée d’éloges par la critique internationale pour sa voix pure et cristalline, sa carrière fut sans doute l’une des plus illustres de l’histoire de l’art vocal canadien. Elle rejoint ainsi dans la légende les Albani, Donalda et sa contemporaine Maureen Forrester, décédée en 2010.  Pierrette Alarie laisse dans le deuil ses deux filles Isabelle et Chantal et, selon ses dernières volontés, il n’y aura pas de service funéraire.

> Pierrette Alarie - Madame Mozart, La Scena Musicale, Juillet-août 2010

> Écoutez : MOZART / Die Zauberflöte – O Zittre Nicht (1955) 4’58 (MP3)

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Le chant du dindon - Nostalgic Circus Tale Enchants

By Taylor White and Aleshia Jensen 

Le chant du dindon: Until July 24

The North American premiere of Le chant du dindon, performed by the family-run French circus troupe Rasposo, enjoyed a warm reception Tuesday night. Part of Montréal's Complètement Cirque Festival, the intimate performance took place under the company's big top to around 400 spectators of all ages. Amid rich-coloured tapestries, cleverly designed lighting effects and a versatile set the performers tell a seemingly simple family tale of daily circus life, beginning with breakfast and ending around the campfire. The costumes are reminiscent of the early 20th century, and the music is a blend of Slavic and French folk with a slightly contemporary flavour.

The quartet of talented musicians supports the plot development perfectly, interacting with the rest of the cast in feats of contortion, balance and acrobatics. As the cello and its cellist are carried around stage upside-down—with the cellist still playing—the audience realizes how multi-talented these performers really are. Musicians become actors, actors become acrobats, and acrobats become musicians in this seamlessly executed performance. 

Highlights include an exhilarating Chinese pole routine by the graceful and athletic Julien Scholl, a trapeze performance by the Molliens brother-sister duo (son and daughter of actress-director Fanny Molliens and her actor husband Joseph Molliens), as well as solo juggling, hand-to-hand and tightrope performances. Not to mention the live (Quebecois) turkey and gaggle of dogs, who seem as well-trained as their human counterparts.

This enthralling two-hour performance captivated every member of the audience—despite the heat. A must see European import.

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Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Canadian Music Competition: 2011 Grand Prize winners

By Rona Nadler

The Canadian Music Competition has announced its 2011 Grand Prize winners. Over two hundred young musicians from all over the country competed in the finals, held in Montreal from June 20-July 4. Grand Prizes for each age category were awarded to Kirsten MacKinnon, soprano (Burnaby, BC), Jason Kangsan Lee, piano (Missisauga, ON), Nicole Li, violin (Toronto, ON), Stephen Nguyen, piano (Calgary, AB), and Tiffany Yeung, violin (Richmond Hill, ON). The winners will give three performances with the Orchestre Métropolitain under the baton of Alain Trudel: a gala concert on July 14 at Centre Pierre-Charbonneau, at Parc La Fontaine on July 18, and in Dorval's Parc Millénaire on July 21.

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Sunday, 10 July 2011

This Week in Toronto (July 11 - 17)

Photo: 16-year old piano phenom Jan Lisiecki plays Liszt at the Brott Music Festival and at the Glenn Gould Studio

The Toronto classical music scene is pretty quiet this week, as the Black Creek Festival is not programming classical this week and the Toronto Summer Music Festival won't open until the following week. But if you are a fan of musicals and other genres, you are in luck as there are a number of shows to choose from. There's Mirvish Productions' Billy Elliot: The Musical at the Canon Theatre Alternately, DanCap Productions is presenting Donny and Marie Live at the Four Seasons Centre. The Black Creek Summer Music Festival has John Fogerty and the Levon Helm Band. on July 16.

For classical music, Torontonians will do well to venture out of the GTA. Top on my list is 50 minutes down the QEW at Mohawk College's McIntyre Theatre where Brott Summer Music is presenting the 16-year old piano phenom Jan Lisiecki is playing Liszt's Piano concerto No. 2, with Boris Brott leading the National Academy Orchestra. Performance on Thursday July 14 at 7:30 p.m., to be repeated the following day at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto at 8 p.m.

In the picaresque town of Elora, the Elora Festival is presenting a recital by lyric tenor and former COC Ensemble Studio artist Lawrence Wiliford and the Talisker Players. I haven't heard him live for some time, although in the recently released Mulroney: the Opera, he sings the role of Pierre Elliot Trudeau and the voice is as sweet as ever. Wiliford is singing songs by Britten, as well as the song cycle, Songs In Time of War, by Alec Roth. It takes place at St. John's Church on Sunday July 17 at 4 p.m. The Cecilia String Quartet is giving a recital of Haydn, Shostakovich and Dvorak at St. John's Church on Saturday July 16 at 2 p.m. If you enjoy competitions, be sure to attend the finals of the TD Canada Trust Festival Competition on Wednesday July 13 at 7:30 p.m. There will be finalists in voice, piano, saxophone and clarinet. The event takes place at St. John's Church. Canadian icon Michael Burgess, together with soprano Rebecca Caine will give an evening of Broadway standards at the Gambrel Barn on Friday July 15 at 8 p.m.

The Westben Arts Festival is presenting six evenings of Broadway At The Barn: Send In the Sondheim. Billed as "from Bernstein to Sondheim", the soloists are soprano Donna Bennett, mezzo Gabrielle Prata, tenor Colin Ainsworth and baritone Robert Longo, with Brian Finley at the piano. It opens on July 14 at 2 p.m., and continues on July 15, 17, 21, 22, 23 at 2 p.m.

Last but not least, the Festival of the Sound opens on July 15 with a Piano Gala featuring piano duo Anagnoson & Kinton, pianist Andre Laplante, violinist Emma Carina Meinrenken and pianist Alex Seredenko. On the program are pieces by Strauss, Debussy, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Saint-Saens, Handel and Gershwin. The concert takes place at the Charles W. Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts.