La Scena Musicale

Saturday, 2 June 2012

MIMC / CMIM Semi-finals Start with Excitement

By Wah Keung Chan

The Montreal International Musical Competition (MIMC / CMIM) semi-finals began last night with six strong candidates. La Scena Musicale’s daily coverage also began with live tweeting on the LSM Facebook page and the La Scena twitter account, with a comment about each singer.

In our detail review of each session on the blog, we will discuss each singer and give a grade out of 100 in vocal technique and performance.

Emily Duncan-Brown, soprano, Canada
GIACOMO PUCCINI * « Donde lieta usci » ~ La Bohème
LEONARD BERNSTEIN * « My name is Barbara », « Jupiter has Seven Moons », « I Hate Music », « A Big Indian and a Little Indian », « I’m a Person Too » ~ I Hate Music
JOSEPH HAYDN * « Berenice che fai? »

Starting about 9 minutes late, MIMC led off with Canadian soprano Emily Duncan-Brown whose voice was at once warm with a clean timbre. However, when it goes in the upper register, along with power comes a quick vibrato that is somewhat distracting. Her opening piece of “Donde lieta usci” from Puccini’s La Boheme was careful and measured to the point of conveying little feeling to the audience, although there were one or two lovely crescendos. She followed with a good performance of Bernstein’s song cycle “I hate music”; better musicality, but at times over sang the part. Over singing was quite the problem for most of the singers this evening. She finally came alive with an emotionally charged performance of Haydn’s “Berenice che fai?” Duncan-Brown was dramatic and convincing through the recitative and the long aria. A common mistake is to choose a work that is too long, and the ending didn’t quite sit well with the soprano.
Score: Voice 87, Performance 80.

Yuri Gorodetski, tenor, Belarus
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART * « Il mio tesoro » ~ Don Giovanni
SERGUEÏ RACHMANINOV * « Vesennie vody » | « Pokinem, milaya… »
VLADIMIR SOLTAN * « Oi, kalinushka, oi malinushka »
RICHARD STRAUSS * « Auf, hebe die funkelnde Schale » ~ Heimliche Aufforderung
PIOTR ILYITCH TCHAÏKOVSKI * « Kuda, kuda » ~ Eugène Onéguine

Not the best technician, Belarus tenor Yuri began with a fast yet nimble reading of “Il mio Tesoro” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The voice sits in his mouth and was at times nasal, and didn’t project very well. However, Gorodetski seem to come alive in the second set of Rachmaninoff songs. His voice sat better in a more natural placement, and more importantly, he brought nuance and emotion to the text. His performance of Vladimir Solta’s “Oi, kalinushka, oi malinushka,” which starts softly before a crescendo and ends softly again, was the turning point; it was a dramatic and touching interpretation and Gorodetski’s style started to grown on me. It suddenly dawned on me that Gorodetski is the Philip Philips (2012 Amercian Idol winner) of the MIMC, not the best technique, but has a certain musicality. After a good performance of Strauss, Gorodetski ended with a convincing portray of Lenski’s aria from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegian. The tempo was a bit fast for my taste, but was probably chosen to suit the tenor’s limited technique. The audience responded with rousing applause.
Score: Voice 77, Performance 90.

Eric Jurenas, countertenor, United States
ANTONÍN DVORÁK * « Zigeunermelodien » Mélodies tziganes
JONATHAN DOVE * « Dawn, still darkness » ~ Flight
GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL * « Al lampo dell’armi » ~ Giulio Cesare

For me, American countertenor Eric Jurenas is a paradox. When he started Jonathan Dove’s “Dawn, still darkness,” he showed a good countertenor tone. However, too many high screaming lines resulted in a hoarse voice. His Dvorak songs sounded tired and he tended to over sing. More of the same in the Handel aria “Al lampo dell’armi” from Giulio Cesare. The crowd love it, but by the end, I concluded that Jurenas has only two dynamics, a medium soft unsupported sound and loud. My advice is to work on the dynamics in between and bring more nuance.
Score: Voice 80, Performance 85.

Sasha Djihanian, soprano, Canada
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART * « Deh vieni, non tardar » ~ Le Nozze di Figaro
FERNANDO OBRADORS * « El vito », « Al amor »
LEO DELIBES * « Les Filles de Cadix »
GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL * « Oh sleep, why dost thou leave me? » ~ Semele
VINCENZO BELLINI * « Qui la voce sua soave » ~ I Puritani

Poised is the best word to describe Canadian soprano Sasha Djihanian, who represented Canada at the 2011 Cardiff Singer of the World competition. She came out poised, with an inviting smile. Her five-second slow bow to the audience and jury however seemed contrived, perhaps something she learnt through the years; it’s a mannerism she should loose, as some audience members found her stuffy.
Nevertheless, when she started Mozart’s “Deh vieni, non tardar” from Marriage of Figaro, we heard the most professional voice yet in the competition; there was a clean, clear, well projected tone, with a perfect legato that cuts like butter. Moreover, it was a touching performance. A dramatic flare greeted songs from Obrados and Delibes, and she showed how to sing loud without shouting. Her Handel aria Semele was tender. Djihanian showed she has the voice for Bellini’s Puritani aria, but perhaps it was not such a wise choice, as she ran out of steam at the end of the long aria, as she had to cut her high ending short. The soprano recovered well enough in Strauss’s Cäcilie.
Score: Voice 95, Performance 90.

Miriam Khalil, soprano, Canada
BENJAMIN BRITTEN * The Tower Scene ~ The Turn of the Screw
HENRI DUPARC * " L'Invitation au voyage", " Le Manoir de Rosemonde"
GIACOMO PUCCINI * " Si, Mi chiamano Mimi" ~ La Boheme
FERNANDO OBRADORS * " Chiquitita la novia" ~ Canciones clasicas espanolas
FERNANDO OBRADORS * " Del cabello mas sutil", " Al amor" ~ Canciones clasicas espanolas

Canadian soprano Miriam Khalil showed good dramatics in the Britten, she sounded nervous as her voice was not sitting on the air. Same nervousness and unsupported sound was on show at the beginning of the Duparc, but in the middle of L’invitation au voyage, her singing improved and she showed dramatic flare. Khalil was very musical in Puccini’s “Si, Mi chiamano Mimi” from La Boheme, but she ran out of steam at the end. She recovered well in the Obrados songs, with some tender moments in the second song. Khalil has a warm timbre, but needs to improve her breath support to match her musicality.
Score: Voice 80, Performance 88.

John Brancy, baritone, United States
RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS * « Bright is the Ring of Words » ~ Songs of Travel
VINCENZO BELLINI * « Ah ! per sempre » ~ I Puritani
ANTONÍN DVORÁK * « Koljias », « Nereidy » ~ Opus 50 | « Mé srdce asto v bolesti » ~ Opus 2
AMBROISE THOMAS * « O vin dissipe la tristesse » ~ Hamlet

Twenty-three-year-old American baritone John Brancy came out with a friendly smile and a present voice in the Vaughan Williams. The voice sometimes has a shaky vibrato, but Brancy brought lots of musicality to his singing. In the Bellini, Brancy exhibited a nice legato and style, which he carried to the Dvorak songs. The baritone finished with flare in the aria from Thomas’s Hamlet, ending with nice top notes with a tenor-like ring.
Score: Voice 85, Performance 90.

> Listen to the semi-finals live online: RADIO-CANADA.CA/CMIM

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Yo Yo Ma and TSO in a Deeply Moving Elgar Concerto

Photo: Cellist Yo-Yo Ma

by Joseph K. So

Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Peter Oundjian, conductor
Yo-Yo Ma, cello

Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky / Night Music: Voice in the Leaves
Sergei Rachmaninoff / Symphonic Dances, Op. 45  
Edward Elgar / Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85

If I may allow myself a rhetorical question - is there another classical musician more beloved in Toronto than Yo-Yo Ma?  Based on the sustained thunderous ovations he received on Wednesday, the first night of his two appearances in Toronto, the answer is a resounding 'no'.  In my forty years of attending classical concerts in Toronto, I've seen many great artists with huge and fiercely loyal fan bases, from Pavarotti to Domingo to Bartoli.  (I'm using singers as examples simply because their fans are particularly rabid)  But the response from the audience on Wednesday surpassed them all. After the conclusion of the Elgar cello concerto, the hall erupted into a virtually complete standing ovation that lasted many minutes. The genuine affection from the audience to those onstage was palpable and the love was returned to the audience by Ma himself. It wasn't just applause for a job well done, but a heart-felt appreciation of an artist who is in his absolute prime, someone who has embraced Toronto and has returned time and again to our fair city to make joyous music.  Yes, a Yo-Yo Ma concert is always something special.

The program opened with a highly evocative piece by Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky, a composer from Uzbekistan.  It was commissioned by Ma himself a dozen years ago and has been featured in performances of his Silk Road Ensemble.  It lasts only 16 minutes, but to my ears the extraordinary sounds created by the small group of instruments (solo cello, flute, clarinet, percussion, harp, piano, violin, viola, bass and a previously recorded singing voice) evokes powerful imageries of nature and humans in its midst.  The subtle rise of the Uzbek lullaby and the way it's weaved into the musical patterns was magical. This soft-grained work was followed by Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, a piece that appears as brash, forceful, aggressive, driven, and even in a way artificial, aesthetically in stark contrast to the Yanovsky piece. Oundjian drew galvanizing torrents of sound from the Orchestra. To be honest, I don't think the two works go together very well.

After intermission came the heart of the concert - the sublimely poignant, autumnal cello concerto by Elgar. Ma has had a long association with this piece.  It was mentioned by Oundjian that Ma played it in his first TSO appearance in 1979.  The Elgar was a favourite of the great British cellist Jacqueline du Pre, and it's well known that when she became stricken with multiple sclerosis in the 1970's, she did the supreme gesture of leaving her Stradivarius Davidoff to Ma. Her studio and live recordings of the Elgar are considered among the very best in the catalogue.  Her playing is characterized by a certain "heart on sleeve" emotionalism that is extremely touching. To my ears, Ma's playing of this piece, however wonderful even in the earliest days, has gained a depth and a profundity of understanding that only comes with the passage of time.  On Wednesday, his every inflection, accent, phrasing, placement of rubato etc. was eerily reminiscent of du Pre herself, except Ma was even more emotional, more exaggerated.  The tempo was very, very slow.  The piece lasts about 26 minutes, but I checked my watch and I thought it was very close to 30 minutes all told. Some would call this playing self-indulgent or maudlin and sentimental. Not in my book.  Yes, it took me awhile to adjust in the beginning, and then I was totally drawn into the music. It was a deeply moving experience, something that one only experience on rare occasions in the concert hall.  I am so glad last Wednesday was one of them.


Wednesday, 30 May 2012

CMIM chant 2012 – Début de l’épreuve quart de finale

par Renée Banville

À l’issue du tirage au sort effectué le lundi 28 mai, la Direction du Concours Musical International de Montréal a annoncé l’ordre de passage des candidats et l’horaire détaillé de l’épreuve quart de finale. Sur les 26 candidats prévus, trois d’entre eux se sont désistés : Tim Mix des États-Unis, Simone Osborne du Canada et Anatoli Sivko de Biélorussie, L’un des membres du jury, M. Dominique Meyer, directeur de l’Opéra de Vienne, a également annoncé qu’il devait annuler sa venue à Montréal. L’épreuve quart de finale a lieu du 29 au 31 mai à la salle Bourgie. On peut voir l’horaire de présentation des 23 candidats sur le site du concours : ou en cliquant directement sur : CMIM Horaire quart de finale 

Seize d’entre eux seront retenus pour la demi-finale qui aura lieu vendredi et samedi. L’épreuve finale se tiendra les 5 et 6 juin à la Maison symphonique, de même que le Concert des lauréats le 8 juin. À noter que lténor russe Viktor Antipenko, qui a été victime d’un malaise à l’épreuve quart de finale de mardi, chantera mercredi à 21 h 30.


Sunday, 27 May 2012

Austin Symphony and Conspirare Partner to Present Psalm Settings by Stravinsky and Bernstein

by Paul Robinson

Maestro Peter Bay

Bach/Stokowski: Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565*
Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms**
Bach-Stokowski: Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor BWV 582**
Bernstein: Chichester Psalms*

Conspirare Symphonic Choir
Austin Symphony Orchestra
Craig Hella Johnson/ conductor*
Peter Bay/ conductor**
LongCenter for the Performing Arts
Austin, Texas

It was a clever idea to program together two important Twentieth Century musical settings of psalms, one by Igor Stravinsky and the other by Leonard Bernstein. While the texts are drawn from the same source, the music could hardly be more different. Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms is cool and austere while Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” is emotional and more popular in style.

The juxtaposition of these compositions was both absorbing and thought-provoking. The Stravinsky piece is from the composer’s neo-classical period and treats the psalm texts in a largely abstract way. One might say that Stravinsky - the man and the artist - was himself “abstract”. He famously postulated that music was by its very nature “incapable of expressing anything;” in other words, it should be understood as organized sounds rather than as a depiction of feelings or things outside itself.

Bernstein, on the other hand, was inspired by Mahler and the idea that music could express all manner of deep thoughts about life. Bernstein the conductor interpreted most music this way and in his own compositions, he was seldom abstract. His pieces are nearly always about something.

In the performances of these works by the Conspirare Symphonic Chorus and the Austin Symphony on this evening, there was another contrast to consider. Two conductors shared the podium over the course of the evening: Peter Bay, the Austin Symphony’s music director led the Stravinsky, and Craig Hella Johnson, (photo: right) the director of Conspirare conducted the Bernstein. Bay’s rather reserved and analytical persona was perfectly suited to the Stravinsky, and Johnson’s more physical and extroverted conducting style was ideal for the Bernstein.

The program’s two fine choral works were nicely balanced by two Stokowski orchestrations of organ works by Bach. These orchestrations are unabashedly romantic in style and sound more like Wagner or Richard Strauss than Bach. Purists indubitably find such orchestrations entirely inappropriate, but so much the worse for them. Not many concertgoers attend organ recitals and consequently rarely encounter these great works in their original versions. In orchestrating these pieces Stokowski made them available to a much larger audience.

Johnson conducted the famous Toccata and Fugue – one of Stokowski’s signature pieces in concert and in the film Fantasia – with excellent control and a fine sense of drama. Peter Bay handled the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor with equal mastery.

These organ pieces may sound like Wagner or Strauss to the purist “ear”, but the comparison is ultimately superficial. The “sound” comes from an enlarged orchestra and the instruments available to Stokowski, but the essence of the music remains the creation of the original composer – J.S. Bach.

The imaginative improvisatory music which opens the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, the glorious theme which is the basis of the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, the complex contrapuntal writing, and the beautifully constructed climaxes are all the work of one incomparable composer of the Baroque era – J.S. Bach. Bach’s compositional style was, and remains unique and these are two of his greatest works; they are in no way diminished by being orchestrated by a musician of the stature of Stokowski - quite the contrary.

The hit of the evening was undoubtedly the performance of Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. With its jazzy rhythms in the first movement and the heartfelt plea for peace which ends it, the work has become a favorite with audiences around the world. Tonight’s performance was superb, with the choir much more disciplined and scrupulous about intonation than it had been in the Stravinsky. Young boy soprano Lucas Revering was a little timid in his solo but his contribution was nonetheless touching.

Paul Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar, and Sir Georg Solti: His Life and Music. For friends: The Art of the Conductor podcast, “Classical Airs.”

Photo of Peter Bay by Marita

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This Week in Toronto (May 28 - June 3)

Cellist Yo Yo Ma (Photo: Stephen Danelian)

The good news this week is that one of the most spectacularly gifted and beloved of classical musicians, cellist Yo Yo Ma, is once again returning to Toronto.  He is soloist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in Elgar's Cello Concerto, an exquisitely poignant and autumnal work. Ma has had a very long association with this piece, and his interpretation, while wonderful from even his earliest days, has deepened with the passage of time. I find myself tremendously moved by his playing of this masterwork. Other pieces on the program are Voices in the Leaves for cello and orchestra by Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky, a composer from Uzbekistan; as well as Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances. TSO Music Director Peter Oundjian conducts. Performances on Wednesday May 30 and Thursday May 31 7:30 p.m. at Roy Thomson Hall.

Another orchestral concert of interest is Toronto Philharmonia Orchestra on Thursday May 31 8 p.m. at Weston Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts in North York. Czech pianist Boris Krajny, who has family in the Toronto area, is making a welcome return to play the Grieg Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16. Also on the program is Murray Schafer's Cortege, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 3. Toronto Philharmonia's Music Director Uri Mayer conducts.

Now that the COC spring season is history, there are still reasons to go the the Four Seasons Centre, as the Free Noon Hour Concert Series is still going on.  No singing, but a very interesting event is the 2012 preview of the Toronto Summer Music Festival at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at noon on Thursday, May 31.  There are many wonderful artists visiting this year. Of particular interest to opera fans is the appearance of the great Canadian baritone Gerald Finley. He will give a recital and masterclass. Pianist Andre Laplante is the headliner of the opening night, and the Borodin String Quartet is coming to play a program of Russian music. And there are many other gems in this year's Festival program, which you'll hear about from Artistic Director Douglas McNabney.  The centerpiece of this one-hour preview is a performance of Ravel's Piano Trio by Geistrio, a young Canadian chamber group.  And it's free! Be sure to line up an hour ahead to ensure a seat.


Russian Andrey Baranov Wins 2012 Queen Elisabeth Competition

Russian Andrey Baranov has won the 2012 edition of the Queen Elisabeth Competition, this year devoted to violin. He receives a prize of 25.000 eur and the ‘Huggins’ Stradivarius (1708), on loan for a period of three years by the Nippon Music Foundation. Tatsuki Narita won second prize, while Hyun Su Shin is third laureate. Fourth laureate is Esther Yoo, fifth laureate Yu-Chien Tseng, who has also won both prizes of the public, and sixth laureate Artiom Shishkov.

The six unranked laureates, in alphabetical order are Ermir AbeshiMarc BouchkovNikki ChooiDami KimJosef Spacek and Nancy Zhou.

> Watch their performances in the competition site's online video archive.

> List of prizes