La Scena Musicale

Friday, 22 March 2013

Maestro Peter Bay/ASO: Heroic, Soaring Sibelius Second!

by Paul E. Robinson

Maestro Peter Bay (photo by Marita)

Beethoven: Leonore No. 2 Overture
Ginastera: Harp Concerto Op. 25
Sibelius: Symphony No. 2

Yolanda Kondonassis, harp
Austin Symphony/Peter Bay

Austin, Texas
March 8, 2013

It’s not often that one hears a harp soloist with a symphony orchestra. There are good reasons for that; most importantly, it is not a fair fight. The harp by nature can produce only a modest amount of sound, and is easily drowned out by even the smallest orchestra. The sound a harp makes is produced by the fingerpicking of strings and even a player with strong fingers can do only so much. Guitar sound is similarly limited. While in modern times, harp (and guitar) soloists have sometimes chosen to amplify their instruments, purists frown on this solution.

Ideal Compositional Textures Showcase Harp 
In Austin last week, Cleveland-based harpist Yolanda Kondonassis (photo: right) presented Alberto Ginastera’s Harp Concerto, one of few frequently performed harp concertos. There was no amplification and thanks to Ginastera’s very clever orchestration and conductor Peter Bay’s command of balances, the audience had no problem hearing the harp.

Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) is Argentina’s foremost composer. Much of his music makes use of folkloric elements from his native country, but his compositional techniques were often extremely complex and experimental. Ginastera was also innovative in his use of percussion instruments. All these elements come into play in the Harp Concerto, and as mentioned earlier, Ginastera was unusually successful in creating ideal textures for showcasing the harp.

The first and last movements are full of sparkling colors and rhythmic ingenuity and Kondonassis played brilliantly. The slow movement, however, is to my mind the great weakness of this concerto. It seems to go on forever – aimlessly – and the harp cadenza that follows it does not really provide much of an opportunity for the soloist to shine.

Fidelio Overtures: No Contest?
The concert opened with another installment in conductor Peter Bay’s traversal of all four overtures written by Beethoven for his opera Fidelio. This concept is interesting in theory but not so successful in practice. Audiences can’t really appreciate how the composer rewrote and reorganized the thematic material unless the overtures are played back to back. Also, if the truth be told, the Leonore No. 3 Overture is Beethoven’s last word on the subject and far superior to any of the others; the Leonore No. 2 played at this concert sounds like a failed experiment by comparison.

Sibelius Performed with Joy and Conviction
The main work of the evening, Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2, was given a wonderful performance. It is curious how this composer’s reputation has ebbed and flowed. In his lifetime he was a veritable colossus, recognized almost universally as the greatest living symphonist. Then, in the latter part of the Twentieth Century his reputation faded and his music was consigned to the fringes of the repertoire.

I must confess that I have always been an ardent Sibelian. There are elements of Tchaikovsky in his early works, but on the whole, Sibelius was unique in his expression and in his compositional techniques. The Second Symphony is a case in point; the “vamping” in the strings at the beginning is fresh and unexpected, and the way Sibelius weaves the various motives of the movement into the recapitulation is inspired. Consider, as well, the lovely little cello solo in the Trio of the Scherzo. The joining of the Scherzo to the Finale is Beethovenian in its grandeur and the cumulative effect of the ostinato building to a magnificent peroration is still a wonder to the ears. Peter Bay and the Austin Symphony put this all this together with joy and conviction. The brass was heroic and the strings soared. Douglas Harvey (photo: right) was exemplary in his cello solo.

For Something More…
For lovers of Ginastera’s music, an important addition to his discography has just been released. The Pierian Recording Society (Pierian 0048) has given us two first recordings of major Ginastera compositions: the Concierto “Argentino” and the original version of the Piano Concerto No. 2. The soloist in both works is Barbara Nissman, with the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kenneth Kiesler. This CD also contains Ginastera’s Piano Concerto No. 1. All the performances are authoritative; Barbara Nissman has long been associated with the music of Ginastera and is the dedicatee of his final work, the Sonata No. 3.

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.”

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Thursday, 21 March 2013

In Memoriam: Rise Stevens (July 11 1913 - March 20 2013)

Mezzo-soprano Rise Stevens (July 11th 1913 - March 20th 2013)

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Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Jean-Willy Kunz Named Organist-in-Residence at the MSO

by/par Christine Lee

Jean-Willy Kunz:  Organist-in-Residence at the MSO
Nominated by a selection committee via a three-part audition, Jean-Willy Kunz will be the first Organist-in-Residence at the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. In the first stage, Kunz charmed the audience with music from his native country, France, with a 30 minute organ recital at the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church. At the Maison Symphonique, Kunz, joined on stage by concertmaster Andrew Wan, realized the imposed figured bass with such musicality that left the audience wondering if he was sight reading at all! In the final stage, organist, conductor and MSO musicians moved as one in two imposed ensemble pieces. Kunz’s ability to perform as a soloist and chamber musician was stunning.

Jean-Willy Kunz : Organiste-en-Résidence à l’OSM
Nominé par un comité de sélection à travers une audition publique en trois partie, Jean-Willy Kunz est nommé Organiste-en Résidence à l’Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. Durant la première épreuve, Kunz charme le publique avec une musique de son pays natale, la France, avec un réciatl d’orgue de 30minutes à l’Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste. Par la suite, à la Maison Symphonique, Kunz accompagne premier violon Andrew Wan avec la réalisation d’une basse continue imposée d’une telle musicalité que le publique se doutait c’était vraiment du déchiffrage. Pour la dernière épreuve, l’organiste, le chef ainsi que les musiciens jouaient comme un seul être dans les deux pièces imposées. Kunz se démarque comme soliste, et chambriste exceptionel.

Press Release


Montreal, March 18, 2013 – The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal is happy to announced the nomination of Jean-Willy Kunz to the position of organist in residence. This nomination concludes an extended selection process led by a committee created specifically for the occasion. It also marks an important step towards the inauguration of the Grand Orgue Pierre Béique, which will take place on May 28, 2014 and will close the 2013-2014 season.

In addition to playing with the Orchestra during the season, Jean-Willy Kunz and will see to the development and the showcasing of the Grand Orgue Pierre Béique, notably through the coordination of concerts and organ recitals along with outreach activities. His mandate will also be to make this magnificent instrument better known thanks to programs designed to heighten awareness among the general public, young listeners and the upcoming generation (graduate students). He will answer questions of a technical nature from guest organists and partners and will be responsible for maintenance of the instrument in collaboration with Casavant Frères. The organist in residence is expected to take up his duties (2-year mandate) in November 2013.

Over 500 people attended the final auditions held at église Saint-Jean-Baptiste and at Maison symphonique de Montréal on Sunday, March 17.


Jean-Willy Kunz discovered the piano and the organ with Joseph Coppey at the Conservatoire de Grenoble and later studied organ with Louis Robilliard at the Conservatoire de Lyon. At the conclusion of his classical studies he expanded his activities and studied jazz piano with Mario Stantchev at the Conservatoire de Lyon and founded a saxophone-organduo with Frédéric Lagoutte. He returned to classical studies, in organ and harpsichord, with Mireille Lagacé at the Conservatoire de Montréal, and in 2011 completed his doctorate in organ performance with John Grew at McGill University.
Mr. Kunz earned second prize at the Concours international d’orgue in Chartres in 2008, as well as third prize and the Richard Bradshaw Audience Prize at the Canadian International Organ Competition in Montreal in 2011. He now divides his time between organ recitals, teaching a course in analysis and harmony at Université de Montréal,and concerts with the Société de Musique Contemporaine du Québec (where he is organist) and with the Caprice ensemble (where he is harpsichordist and organist).

Created specifically with the mandate of selecting the organist in residence of the OSM, the selection committee is made up of specialists in the organ field and of recognized musicians:

Kent Nagano, music director of the OSM
Pierre Grandmaison, tenured organist for the organs of Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal
John Grew, organist at McGill University and artistic director of the Summer Organ Academy
Olivier Latry, tenured organist at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris and OSM organist emeritus
Jaquelin Rochette, artistic director of Casavant Frères
Noël Spinelli, cofounder of the Canadian International Organ Competition
Patrick Wedd, music director and organist at Christ Church Cathedral in Montreal

As organist emeritus, Olivier Latry’s duties will consist of performing with the Orchestra as soloist or presenting a recital annually, in addition to serving as music consultant for all organ programming. Moreover, he will evaluate the condition of the instrument on an annual basis.

The Grand Orgue Pierre Béique

The Maison symphonique de Montréal organ, which will be INAUGURATED ON MAY 28, 2014was designed and built on behalf of the OSM by the house of Casavant with the collaboration of architects Diamond Schmitt + Ædifica for its visual design, and will be the Orchestra’s property. This is a large organ intended for orchestral use, and is recorded in the books of the Saint-Hyacinthe builder as Opus 3,900. It consists of 109 registers, 83 stops, 116 ranks and 6,489 pipes.

It bears the name Grand Orgue Pierre Béique in tribute to the OSM founder and first general manager (from 1939 to 1970). An astute administrator and a committed music lover, Pierre Béique took over from Mrs. Athanase David, who had acted, since 1934, as secretary of the Board of Directors of the Société des concerts symphoniques de Montréal, the forerunner of the OSM.

The purchase of this organ was made possible courtesy of Mrs. Jacqueline Desmarais, who assumed the total cost and wished to perpetuate, through its name, the memory of Mr. Pierre Béique’s irreplaceable contribution to the OSM’s mission of excellence.

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The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal wishes to thank
Loto-Québec, the Canada Council for the Arts and the Conseil des arts de Montréal for their generous support.

Information: 514 842-9951 or

The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal is presented by Hydro-Québec.

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Sunday, 17 March 2013

This Week in Toronto (March 18 - 24)

Violinist Karen Gomyo plays Lalo with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (Photo:

When it comes to classical music events this week, the cup truly runneth over, with multiple events happening at the same time at the more popular time slots like Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon.  Top on my list is the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's two programs. On March 20 8 pm and 21 2 pm at Roy Thomson Hall, the TSO is presenting a program of Ravel, Lalo and Dvorak's Symphony No. 8, with violinist Karen Gomyo as the soloist in Lalo's Symphonie espagnole.  TSO Conductor Laureate Andrew Davis makes one of his welcome returns to conduct. On Saturday March 23 7:30 pm and Sunday March 24 3 pm, Pianist Charles Richard Hamelin, winner of the 2011 TSO National Piano Competition, is playing the ever-popular Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2. The rest of the program is chockfull of chestnuts - Wagner's Prelude to Act 3 of Lohengrin, and overtures to Fidelio and Don Giovanni, Suite No. 1 from Peer Gynt, and Sibelius' FinlandiaMelanie Leonard, Montreal native and Resident Conductor of the Calgary Philharmonic, is at the helm.

Glenn Gould School, the professional arm of the Royal Conservatory of Music, is presenting Mozart's Don Giovanni on March 20 and 22, 7 pm at Koerner Hall. Uri Mayer conducts the RCM Orchestra; Ashlie Corcoran is the stage director and Camellia Koo the set designer. The soloists are voice students of the GGS. 
Baritone James Westman sings Athanael in Thais (Photo: Dario Acosta)

Voice Box, formerly known as Opera In Concert, is presenting its final production this season, Massenet's Thais on March 24 2:30 pm at the Jane Mallett Theatre. Soprano Laura Whalen is Thais, baritone James Westman sings Athanael, and tenor Adam Fisher is Nicias. This opera is hardly ever done, so a concert version is probably closest we're going to get in Toronto. The pianist is Raisa Nakhmanovich, and I am happy to see that the all-important Meditation, probably the most famous violin solo in the world, won't be played on a piano, but by violinist Carolina Herrera Sanchez!

Mezzo Wallis Giunta at Glenn Gould Studio (Photo: Barbara Stoneham)

As part of the Canadian Voices series, mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta, former member of the COC Ensemble and now a member of the Metropolitan Opera Lindemann Young Artists program, is giving a solo recital at the Glenn Gould Studio on March 24 at 2 pm. Ken Noda is the collaborative pianist. I'm not able to find program details. Unfortunately it clashes time-wise with the OIC Thais.

Yet another clash is the recital given by pianist Jonathan Biss, March 24 Koerner Hall 3 pm.  He is currently on a tour that takes him to San Francisco, Calgary, Costa Mesa as well as Toronto. He is playing a program of Schumann, Berg and Janacek.

Pianist Georgy Tchaidze plays with Cecilia String Quartet (Photo: Honens International Piano Competition)

Pianist Georgy Tchaidze, Laureate of the Honens International Piano Competition, will appear with the Cecilia String Quartet on March 23 7:30 pm at RCM's Mazzoleni Hall for an evening of chamber and solo pieces, including the Piano Quintet by Cesar Franck.

Canadian pianist Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa is giving a recital under the auspices of Music Toronto on Tuesday March 19 8 pm at the Jane Mallett Theatre.  She had previously appeared in the Music Toronto Discovery Series. She is playing an eclectic program of classic (Mozart and Beethoven) and new music (Jeffrey Ryan, Lisa Cay Miller, Gregory Newsome, Rodney Sharman). The Sharman piece is particularly intriguing - a transcription of Tristan und Isolde.

Opera By Request is presenting Verdi's Rigoletto on March 23 at their usual venue - College Street United Church, 452 College (at Bathurst). There is no orchestra, just a pianist (William Shookhoff), singers, and lots of enthusiasm.  Gilda is soprano Sara Papini, a fine singer whom I've heard at Opera York last season. Marco Petracchi is Rigoletto and Pablo Benitez is the Duke.

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