La Scena Musicale

Thursday, 27 March 2014

"Copland and Mexico" in Austin, Texas

Maestro Peter Bay
Copland: Two Mexican Pieces
Copland: El Salón México
Chavez: Chapultepec (Three Famous Mexican Pieces)
Revueltas: Redes (complete with film)

Joseph Horowitz, scriptwriter and producer
Austin Symphony/Peter Bay

Long Center for the Performing Arts
Austin, Texas
Saturday, March 22, 2014

Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas (a student at St. Edward’s College in Austin [1917-18]) and American composer Aaron Copland were born within months of each other - in December (1899) and November (1900), respectively. Both enjoyed considerable success in the 1930s, but while Copland went on to become one of the iconic figures in American music, Revueltas died of pneumonia, alcoholism, poverty and heartbreak, at the early age of 40; had he lived, Revueltas may well have become the Mexican Copland.

Composer Aaron Copland
This evening’s concert in Austin was part of a larger festival, “Copland and Mexico”, conceived by Joseph Horowitz, and presented last year by five different orchestras, music schools and galleries in the United States. Austin’s version of the festival involved the Austin Symphony, the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas and Danzonera Sierre Madre, a danzón orchestra from Monterrey, Mexico.

Copland's "Epiphany" 
The point of departure for “Copland and Mexico” was Aaron Copland’s visit to Mexico in 1932. According to Horowitz, Copland “had an epiphany” on this sojourn. Mexico, in the throes of the same depression that had brought the United States to its knees, was bubbling with revolutionary fervor, at the forefront of which were renowned artists and composers, including Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Jose Orozco, David Siqueiros, Carlos Chavez and Silvestre Revueltas. These artists seized on the Marxist analysis of the plight of their country and worked to give the oppressed masses their fair share of power and wealth. Capitalist owners and managers, they argued through their art, had made a mess of things and it was time to give the working people a chance.

One example of what Mexican artists were doing can be seen in the 1936 film Redes. It tells the story of exploited fishermen in Veracruz and how they began to organize to fight back. Directed by Emilio Gomez Muriel and Fred Zinnemann with cinematography by Paul Strand and music by Revueltas, Redes, on the one hand, could be rejected as purely leftist propaganda; on the other, it might be seen as a worthy historical reminder that the Great Depression was real and it was devastating for many around the world. The work of Revueltas, Rivera and the others in Mexico, for example, was paralleled by some in the United States as F.D.R. attempted to lift the country out of despair. Largely through the WPA (Works Progress Administration), artists composers and film-makers were given the means to create works which expressed the mood of the times and hope for the future. Films such as The Plow That Broke the Plains, The River, The City (score by Copland), and Grapes of Wrath mirrored the mission of Redes in Mexico.  

Artists as Documentarists of the Human Condition
Although Copland himself never joined the Communist Party, he was an ardent progressive. He had initially been attracted to a group of like-minded artists, led by Alfred Stieglitz, whose members embraced the idea that artists needed to find a way to speak to the common man rather than merely to fellow artists and elites. American photographer Paul Strand was a member of this group. Invited by composer Carlos Chavez to form a team to make the film, he helped initiate the Redes project in Mexico.

Composer Silvestre Revueltas
Revueltas’ score for Redes is by no means simple folkloric material. From the opening bars it is uncompromising in its dissonance – a style well-suited to the material. While the performances in the film - by real fishermen rather than actors - are somewhat wooden, the honesty of the scenes portrayed, the starkness of the cinematography and the power of the music all combine to create a riveting experience.

The difficulty of synching live music performance to film footage cannot be underestimated - at one point the orchestra jumped in too early and completely drowned out a key line of dialogue – but Peter Bay and the Austin Symphony gave Revueltas’ music a fine performance. This live performance of the movie score added enormous depth and breadth to the film.

Unhappily, once again, patrons in the balcony had trouble seeing the images and the subtitles on the screen. I have passed on this complaint after similar ASO concerts in the past but management doesn’t seem to care.

These criticisms aside, Redes was definitely worth seeing.

An American Classic: "El Salón México" 
The highlight of the first half of the concert was the Austin Symphony performance of Copland’s El Salón México (a memento of his visit there in 1932), which draws on three Mexican popular songs. Copland retains the popular character of the songs but complicates them rhythmically and alters and combines them with great ingenuity. While principal Robert Cannon played his trumpet solos with panache, albeit with a somewhat heavy-handed vibrato, and the e-flat clarinet solos were far too timid for the spirit of the piece, this performance of El Salón México, nevertheless, confirmed its reputation as an American classic.

Composer Carlos Chavez
I wish I could be as enthusiastic about the rest of the concert. Neither of the other works by Copland and Chavez on the program were from either composer’s top drawer; Chavez’ Sinfonia India would have been far more representative and made a stronger impression. Revueltas’ Sensemayá would also have been a better choice. A piece by a living Mexican composer, or by an American composer of Mexican heritage might have been better yet.

The first half of the concert also included some scripted material presented by Peter Bay and Robert Rowley, in conjunction with a screen backdrop of some washed-out, mostly black and white, historic photographs. This part of the program was all very superficial and in no significant way illuminated the theme - “Copland and Mexico”.

"Redes" and Revueltas Horowitz Highlight
One might conclude that this was yet another Joseph Horowitz project that proved less interesting in practice than in theory, were it not for Redes. Bay and the ASO deserve a good deal of credit for having the courage to present this neglected piece of history, which not only teaches us about our own history and the history of our closest neighbor, but also about what it means to be poor and robbed of basic human dignity.

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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Sunday, 23 March 2014

Hänsel et Gretel - Un vent de fraicheur à l’Opéra de Montréal

par Marc-Olivier Laramée

L'atelier lyrique présente sa production annuelle, Hänsel et Gretel de Engelbert Humperdinck. La mise en scène signée Hugo Bélanger, marie chant, théâtre et cirque. Tous issus des grandes écoles, l’Atelier lyrique, l’École nationale de théâtre et l’École nationale de cirque, ces jeunes donnent un nouveau souffle à l’opéra, souvent qualifié de trop traditionnel voire même élitiste.

Cet opéra, portant le nom d'un conte d'enfant, se veut un opéra pour « tout public » dit le metteur en scène. Son idée de base était de présenter l’histoire sous la forme d’un livre. Faire un décor, très réussi, plus grand que nature pour donner l’impression que les chanteurs sont tout petits.

L’opéra débute par une longue ouverture. Vous pourrez apprécier une solide section de vents, bien meilleure que le reste de l’orchestre, le tout sous la direction d’Alain Trudel, tromboniste bien connu. L’orchestre réussit, malgré un travail de cohésion encore nécessaire, à mettre en haleine le public ici beaucoup plus jeune et varié que d’habitude.

Le duo formé d’Hänsel, Emma Char mezzo-soprano et Gretel, Frédérique Drolet soprano colorature, est très bien choisi. La première a une voix plus élaborée et riche tandis que la seconde démontre un grand talent pour le jeu scénique. Malheureusement, à plusieurs moments pendant l’opéra, l’orchestre est beaucoup trop fort et enterre ces deux jeunes talentueuses.

Dans le rôle du père Peter, Clairan Ryan baryton sait mettre en valeur sa voix majestueuse. Tout comme son jeu, ce jeune homme est voué à une belle carrière. L’accompagnant, dans le rôle de la mère Gertrud, France Bellemare soprano parvient à remplir la salle avec un timbre de voix très mature pour son âge. Ce couple est parfait pour cette production.

Dans le rôle de la sorcière, Rachèle Tremblay, mezzo-soprano est brillante. Avec une présence scénique exceptionnelle, elle est sans contredit le clou du troisième acte.

Avec une mise en scène parfaite, des interprètes jeunes, avides de conquérir la scène professionnelle, Hänsel et Gretel est un incontournable pour les jeunes et moins jeunes. Sa durée de 2 heures 5 minutes est tout aussi raisonnable sans oublier les billets à prix accessibles.

Hänsel et Gretel, 25-27-29 mars, 19h30, Salle Wilfrid Pelletier de la Place des Arts, Montréal.

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This Week in Toronto (Mar. 24 - 30)

This Week in Toronto (March 24 - 30)

- Joseph So

Canadian Art Song Project Recital Poster

The Canadian Art Song Project, a brainchild of tenor Lawrence Wiliford and pianist Steven Philcox, is presenting a noon hour concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre on Thursday March 27. It's often said that the recital genre (at least locally in Toronto, but I suspect it's true in the country) is on the ropes. You know what, as long as there are people the likes of Wiliford and Philcox - and Rachel Andrist and Monica Whicher of Recitals in Rosedale for that matter - rumour about the death of recitals is greatly exaggerated. It's never going to win the numbers game, but there are enough voice (and literature) lovers that it will survive. This recital features songs by Canadian composers Derek Holman, Pierre Mercure, Matthew Emery and James Rolfe. Soprano Monica Whicher, tenor Colin Ainsworth and baritone Brett Polegato are there to sing the songs, with collaborative pianists Steven Philcox and Kathryn Tremills sharing the keyboard duties. Ash Roses, a newly recorded CD of songs by Derek Holman, will be available for sale after the recital. So to all voice lovers, this is your chance to show your support by attending this free concert. Be sure to line up an hour ahead for a seat or a place to stand. For full program information, go to  Also check out

Conductor Hugh Wolff (Photo: Frank Hulsbroehmer)

American conductor Hugh Wolff is in town this week to lead the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in Schumann's Symphony No. 2. The evening opens with Beethoven's Overture to Fidelio. A curiosity on the program is Finnish composer Kalevi Aho's Sieidi: Concerto for Solo Percussion and Orchestra.  Percussionist Colin Currie premiered this work at the London Philharmonic in April 2012 and he's here to reprise it for the TSO.  It's rare to find a piece for solo percussion, and I'm only familiar with Evelyn Glennie, who is undoubtedly the best known percussionist by far. So it's nice to hear a new piece with a different soloist for a change. Here's a link to a page on the London Phil website where Colin Currie talks about this work -  Two performances, Wednesday 8 pm and Thursday 2 pm at Roy Thomson Hall.

Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and Festival Orchestra (Photo: Frank Nagy)

It always puzzles me about the surfeit of religious programming around the end of March/early April. I know Easter is coming, but this year it's quite late at April 20th, so you'd think organizers would have adjusted their schedule... O well, it's always nice to hear a B Minor Mass at any time of the year! The venerable Toronto Mendelssohn Choir is presenting it in Koerner Hall on Wednesday March 26, with the Festival Orchestra and soloists sopranos Jennifer Taverner and Lesley Bouza, mezzo Jennifer Enns Modolo, tenor Isaiah Bell, and baritone Michael York, under the direction of Noel Edison.

Violinist Cecilia Bernardini (Photo: Pynk Studios London)

Tafelmusik is presenting A Night in Paris:Le Concert Spirituel  with guest director and violinist Cecilia Bernardini together with regular conductor Ivars Taurins. On the program are works by Vivaldi, Telemann, Leclair, Lalande, Mondonville.  Details at  Performances March 27 - 30  8 pm (except 3:30 pm for the Sunday matinee) at Trinity St. Paul Centre.

There are two concerts presented by the University of Toronto Faculty of Music that pique my interest this week. Bruckner's Mass in E Minor for Wind Ensemble (conducted by Gillian Mackay) on Saturday March 29 7:30 pm at the MacMillan Theatre. The program also features works by Michael Colgrass, Gary Kulesha and John Mackey.  On Sunday 7:30 pm at the Trinity College Chapel is Schola Cantorum conducted by its founder, countertenor Daniel Taylor.  On the program are two relatively unfamiliar works - Heinrich Schutz's Musikalische Exequien and Buxtehude's Jesu Meines Lebens Leben. The venue is perfect for these two sacred pieces.

Some of you might have attended the Met in HD Werther last week starring the incomparable German tenor Jonas Kaufmann in the title role. It was just a stunning performance all around.  If you are fond of this sublime Massenet piece, you can catch a performance - albeit in concert with piano (William Shookhoff) - presented by Opera By Request. Performance on Saturday March 29 7:30 pm at the College Street United Church, at College and Bathurst St. Details at

At its usual time of Sunday afternoons, Off Centre Music Salon is presenting a program dedicated to the music of dance, including Weber and Ravel, in collaboration with Opera Atelier. Soloists are accordionist Joseph Macerollo, soprano Ilana Zarankin, and baritone Olivier Laquerre. Sunday March 30th 2 pm at the Glenn Gould Studio.

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Cette semaine à Montréal : le 24 au 30 mars

La 32e édition du Festival International du Film sur l’Art présente 200 films traitant de plusieurs disciplines artistiques: animation, architecture, arts graphiques, arts médiatiques, cinéma, danse, design, littérature, mode, musique, opéra, théâtre, etc. Fait marquant de cette édition à laquelle participent des cinéastes d’environ 20 pays : la première mondiale du film Le Cri d’Armand Vaillancourt de Jacques Bouffard sur le célèbre sculpteur québécois. À noter également, entre autres œuvres intéressantes, le film Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train A Comin’ (2013) de Bob Smeaton qui dévoile des images inédites prises par Hendrix et le batteur Mitch Mitchell et met en lumière la personnalité du guitariste légendaire. Ou encore, le film Cosi fan tutte (2013) de Hannes Rossacher en collaboration avec le cinéaste autrichien Michael Haneke, multiprimé aux Oscars et à Cannes, qui met en scène l’opéra Così fan tutte de Mozart. Du 20 au 30 mars.
- Hassan Lachagha

Pour sa troisième production de la saison 2013-2014, l’Opéra de Montréal donnera la chance aux jeunes artistes de l’Atelier lyrique de s’illustrer dans Hänsel et Gretel du compositeur allemand Engelbert Humperdinck. L’École nationale de cirque et l’École nationale de théâtre offriront leur collaboration exceptionnelle. Emma Char et Frédérique Drolet tiendront les rôles respectifs de Hänsel et de Gretel. Rachèle Tremblay prendra, quant à elle, les traits de la sorcière. La mise en scène a été confiée à Hugo Bélanger et l’Orchestre métropolitain sera sous la direction d’Alain Trudel. Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, 22, 25, 27 et 29 mars.
 - Justin Bernard

Directeur artistique de huit ensembles, Louis Lavigueur dirigera en mars quatre d’entre eux dans six lieux différents à Montréal et aux États-Unis : l’Orchestre symphonique des jeunes de Montréal (OSJM) à Annapolis (1), à Baltimore (2) et à la salle Claude-Champagne (8), l’Orchestre à cordes du Conservatoire (CIMM) à la salle Jean-Eudes (22) et au Conservatoire (23), l’Orchestre et le Chœur du CMIM à l’église Saint-Jean-Baptiste (29 et 30). Un chef qui possède sans doute le don d’ubiquité. ;
 - Renée Banville

Pour son retour à Montréal, la soprano aca­dienne Pascale Beaudin proposera, avec la pianiste Marie-Ève Scarfone, un programme d’œuvres à caractère pacifiste, intitulé «Priez pour paix», reprenant ainsi le titre d’une mélodie de Poulenc. À celles-ci s’ajoutent notamment des mélodies de Debussy, des arrangements de mélodies traditionnelles et des extraits du cycle Les Illuminations de Benjamin Britten. Conservatoire de musique de Montréal, 30 mars.
 - Justin Bernard

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