La Scena Musicale

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Austin Loves Gabriela Montero

Maestro Peter Bay

Robert Paterson: Dark Mountains
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20 in d minor K. 466*
Richard Strauss: Also Sprach Zarathustra Op. 30

Gabriela Montero, piano*
Austin Symphony/Peter Bay

Long Center for the Performing Arts
Austin, Texas
Saturday, May 17, 2014

With the possible exception of organists, the art of improvisation is practically a lost art amongst classical musicians today. “Playing what the composer wrote” is the current mantra for so-called “serious” musicians, but this approach to a performance is often more of a hindrance than a key to illumination of a piece. We had a good example of exactly this in Austin last weekend.

Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero (photo: right) is renowned for her ability to improvise and with the Austin Symphony (ASO), she showed just how liberating that art can be. Mozart himself was undoubtedly one of the greatest improvisers of all time and in his piano concertos, he provided myriad opportunities for soloists to strut their stuff! For example, Mozart composed no cadenzas for the d minor concerto. Cadenzas for the piece, written by Beethoven and Brahms, among others, do exist, but the spirit of the music calls out for a soloist who can – on the spot – concoct his or her own cadenza from the concerto’s themes.

Gabriela Montero did just that, with flair and imagination. This evening’s concert was performed twice in Austin and I am told that Montero’s improvisations for the Mozart d minor concerto were quite different – and equally brilliant - each night.

Inspiring Collaboration and Brilliant Improvization
That said, it was not only Montero’s improvisations that made this Mozart performance memorable; in fact, just about everything about this performance was superlative. Montero’s tempi were on the quick side, providing an edge to the performance that was totally compelling. Peter Bay and his orchestra were clearly inspired by Montero to give their very best and delivered a collaboration that was both crisp and intense.

The audience knew immediately that it had witnessed a great performance and demanded more from Montero, who gladly obliged and swung into her patented encore routine. She grabbed a microphone and asked the audience to give her a tune to use for improvisation, and she asked that it have a local character. Apparently, the audience responded both nights with the same request: “The Eyes of Texas,” a song associated with the University of Texas in Austin and its football team, the Longhorns. On this night, Montero turned the tune upside down and inside out and ended with a tango version that brought the audience to its feet once again. Gabriela Montero made her Austin debut with these concerts, but I suspect it won’t be long before she is back again.

Celebrating Richard Strauss
After intermission came the ASO’s recognition of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Richard Strauss. The orchestra more than doubled in size and delivered a powerful and exciting performance of Also Sprach Zarathustra. The Long Center has no organ, but an electronic substitute proved more than adequate. Brass and percussion played the opening “Sunrise” section – C major chords in Technicolor - with full force, and the hall resounded.

Some of the most memorable moments in this performance were in the quieter parts - for example, the double basses at the beginning of the fugal section titled “Von der Wissenschaft” (“Of science”); extraordinarily difficult to play in tune, the ASO basses (and cellos) showed that they had put in the time to get it right.

Some audience members may have wondered what several of the bass players were doing in the middle of the “Wissenschaft” passage when they appeared to be tuning their instruments. The explanation is that American bass players use four-stringed instruments or which the lowest note on the lowest string is “E,” yet many composers often wrote bass parts that went lower, down to “C”. In many European orchestras, this is no problem because they use 5-string instruments and the lowest string covers these lower notes. Then, some years back, a clever American player came up with a solution – i.e., to attach a mechanism to the instrument that enables the player to lengthen his E string when the music requires it, thus enabling him/her to play the lower “C”, for example. In fact, what some of the ASO players were doing when they seemed to be tuning their instruments was exactly that - activating or de-activating these C-extensions.  

Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra may not make much sense as an interpretation of Nietzsche, but it is nevertheless one of the most glorious examples of romantic orchestral music. Apart from some minor and perhaps inevitable mishaps in this demanding work, the expanded ASO delivered the goods; the string players really dug into the strings and the brass and percussion were encouraged to go all out in the climaxes. 

An inspiring finale to another fine season by the Austin Symphony and music director Peter Bay!

Dark Mountains of Vermont
Earlier in the concert, Maestro Bay had introduced us to Dark Mountains by American composer Robert Paterson. Written for and premiered by the Vermont Symphony in 2011, the piece attempts to depict various aspects of the green mountains of Vermont. In spite of the composer’s rock music background, the music sounded patently old school classical – pleasant, if not fresh and illuminating. If Paterson has something original to say, one didn’t find it in Dark Mountains, but perhaps one will in his upcoming trilogy of “R-rated” (his own words) operas for the Fort Worth Opera.

Some Final Thoughts…
For this ASO concert, I sat in the Balcony - the top tier of the Dell Hall of the Long Center. I had never sat there before and I was amazed at the presence and clarity of the sound, not only of the enlarged orchestra for the Strauss, but also of the Mozart chamber orchestra. This phenomenon, of course, is true in halls all over the world. In Massey Hall (Toronto, Canada), for example, although the orchestra appears a long way away off to those sitting in the top tier (Gallery), the sound is magnificent. From this perspective the “cheap seats” are often the best seats.

The ASO is still trying to figure out how best to work the acoustics in the still fairly new Dell Hall. It takes time to figure these things out, a difficult task for a conductor when limited rehearsal time deprives him of the luxury of sitting in the hall periodically to hear what the audience hears. With its limited budget, the ASO has very few guest conductors, allowing Peter Bay even fewer opportunities to hear what his orchestra sounds like out front.

Maestro Bay was obviously deeply impressed by what he heard when the Cleveland Orchestra made a rare appearance recently in Austin’s Dell Hall. The Cleveland Orchestra would probably make a fantastic sound regardless of how they are seated on the stage, but their seating arrangement did give Bay some food for thought. For this performance, Bay switched to the Cleveland Orchestra configuration for his violas and cellos – placing the violas to his right on the outside with the cellos still on his right, but inside the violas. Bay also did away with risers, placing  nearly all the musicians’ chairs directly on the floor of the stage – another Cleveland Orchestra practice.

My recollection is that the Cleveland Orchestra has used this configuration as far back as the George Szell era (1946-1970) and it may, at least in part, explain the near-perfect balance this ensemble achieves so often.

To learn more about Gabriel Montero visit her website at You will find there information about her recordings and about her upcoming appearances. Scheduled dates include performances with the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood this summer, and with the Houston Symphony in September.

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.”

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, 26 May 2014

This Week in Toronto (May 26 - June 1)

Toronto Concert Picks for the week of May 26 - June 1

- Joseph So

Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky 

The great Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky is in town this week for a recital at Koerner Hall. One of the truly great voices of our time, Hvorostovsky combines thrilling vocalism with dramatic intensity. Not a lot of program details available, but the Koerner Hall website mentions that he's offering a new program including works by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Medtner and Liszt. The pianist is his long time collaborator, Ivari Ilja. The show is rescheduled from the original date of May 13 and will now be on Sunday June 1 7 pm at Koerner Hall.

Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena (Photo: Sussie Ahlburg)

Toronto Symphony Orchestra is presenting a very interesting program this week, pairing the ever popular Beethoven Symphony No. 6 "Pastoral" with Shostakovich's violin concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 77. Originally composed in 1947 for David Oistrakh, Shostakovich, fearing reprisals from the government, withheld the violin concerto for several years, until after the death of Stalin. It is symphonic in structure, with four movements. The soloist with the TSO is Lithuanian violinist Julian Rachlin. At the helm making his TSO debut is Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena. The opening work is Overture to Los esclaves felices by Spanish composer Juan Crisostomos Arriaga, who lived all of twenty years in his short life. Not a lot of his work survived, including the opera that this overture is supposed to be part of. I was not familiar with this piece but thanks to Youtube, not any more!  On  Saturday May 31 7:30 pm and Sunday June 1 3 pm are two performances  of TSO Artists in the Spotlight, a program featuring TSO musicians as soloists, in a potpourri of popular works by Paganini, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Liszt, and the popular Bolero by Ravel. Soloists include Sarah Jeffrey (oboe) and Teng Li (viola). Also on the program is Calla Lilies by Canadian composer Marjan Mozetich. TSO resident conductor Shalom Bard is at the helm. All performances at Roy Thomson Hall.

The Toronto Summer Music Festival is the premiere venue for classical music in the city spanning the months of July and August.  Like last spring, the TSMF is having a sneak preview at the Canadian Opera Company noon hour concert venue of the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre on Thursday noon May 29th.  The Montreal chamber ensemble Sonoro Quartet (violinists Ewald Cheung and Byungchan Lee, violist Ryan Davis and cellist Eli Weinberger) is presenting Haydn's String Quartet Op. 76 No. 5 and Dvorak's "American" Quartet, Op. 96 in F Major. This is a good opportunity to get a taste of this fresh and energetic chamber group if you are unfamiliar with their work. Here is the program details -

Sonoro Quartet

Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Festival is part of the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute that takes place at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto. There are several free concerts this week. Delightfully Baroque - Music performed by Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir, directed by Jeanne Lamon & Ivars Taurins, with soprano Ann Monoyios and baritone Peter Harvey on Thursday, May 29 at 8:30 pm Trinity-St. Paul's Centre, in the newly named Jeanne Lamon Hall 427 Bloor Street West, Toronto. Also, there's Musical Interlude, a casual noon-hour concert featuring baroque chamber music performed by members of the TBSI faculty, on Sunday, June 1 at 12:30 pm Walter Hall, Faculty of Music, University of Toronto 80 Queen's Park, Toronto.

Tafelmusik's Jeanne Lamon

The chamber group Talisker Players ends its season with A Poet's Love: The Romantic Imagination. Soloists are Canadian baritone Alexander Dobson and actor/reader Stewart Arnott. On the program are works by Bechwith, Faure, Rapaport, and as the centerpiece, Schumann's Dichterliebe, arranged by Harold Birston for baritone and string quartet. Two performances, on May 27 and 28 8 pm (with pre-curtain talk at 7:15 pm) at Trinity St. Paul's Centre. 

Baritone Alexander Dobson (Photo: Jimmy Song)

The Toronto Classical Singers is presenting Dvorak's Stabat Mater on June 1 at 4 pm, at Christ Church Deer Park. Soloists are soprano Lesley Bouza, mezzo Danielle MacMillan, tenor Stephen McClare, and baritone Bruce Kelly.  Jurgen Petrenko conducts the Talisker Players Orchestra. This 90 minute piece is a large scale orchestral work and a real choral masterpiece, a deeply moving one. I only heard it "live" once in Vienna back in the 80's and it's well worth experiencing.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Cette semaine à Montréal : le 26 mai au 1 juin

Oliver Jones
Du 26 mai au 6 juin aura lieu l'édition Piano 2014 du CMIM. Les quarts de finale et les demi-finales se tiendront du 26 au 28 mai à la salle Bourgie. La pièce canadienne imposée de Marjan Mozetich sera jouée par chacun des candidats de l'épreuve quart de finale. Les 3 et 4 juin, à la Maison symphonique, les finalistes seront accompagnés par l'OSM dirigé par Giancarlo Guerrero, directeur artistique du Nashville Symphoniy Orchestra, qui fera ses débuts à Montréal. Il dirigera aussi le concert gala du 6 juin.
De plus, le CMIM réunit sur scène un duo d'exception : le pianiste de 14 ans Daniel Clarke Bouchard et son mentor, le réputé pianiste de jazz Oliver Jones, le 2 juin à 19 h 30.
- Renée Banville

Du 8 au 31 mai se déroulera à l'église St. George la 19e édition du Festival de musique de chambre. Parmi les grand moments, il faut souligner le menu gastronomique du concert d'ouverture qui comprend la soprano Karina Gauvin, le pianiste André Laplante et le lauréat du premier prix au Concours international de quatuor à cordes de Banff en 2013, le Quatuor Dover, dont c'est la première visite au Québec. On l'entendra de nouveau le lendemain en concert conjoint avec le Quatuor Cecilia. Le marathon traditionnel de la soirée de clôture offre cette année l'intégrale des cinq concertos pour violon de Mozart qui seront interprétés par le violoniste Cho-Liang Lin.
Le festival présente le mardi de grands pianistes canadiens : André Laplante, le 13 (Ravel et Liszt), Angela Cheng, le 20 (Haydn, Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven) et Jon Kimura Parker, le 27 (Stravinski, Arlen et Hirtz). Un concert en hommage aux grands trompettistes regroupera le trompettiste Jens Lindemann et une douzaine d'artistes dans un programme très varié (le 17). Les Saisons de Vivaldi seront associées à celles de Piazzola (Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas) et interprétées par le violoniste Martin Beaver, le claveciniste Hank Knox et l'Ensemble à cordes du Festival (le 29).
- Renée Banville

Le Festival Classica à Saint-Lambert célèbre la musique classique pour sa quatrième édition avec une programmation intensive de cinq jours et touchera trois autres villes : Boucherville, Longueuil et, pour la première fois, Brossard. Ce festival se tiendra du mercredi 28 mai au dimanche 1er juin 2014 avec des concerts satellites dans chacune de ces agglomérations pour amorcer la fête qui atteindra sa pleine vigueur à Saint-Lambert, le cœur de ces festivités.
Pour l’amateur débutant de musique classique jusqu’au mélomane distingué, Festival Classica est l’événement idéal pour en découvrir toutes les différentes facettes. Comme le dit Marc Hervieux, porte-parole du festival : « C’est [l’occasion] de se faire une idée de ce qu’on aime et ce qu’on n’aime pas, et de découvrir cette musique [qui est composée] de petites familles comme la musique sacrée, l’opéra, la musique baroque ou la musique classique-rock. »
Année après année, le Festival Classica offre une programmation diversifiée qui sait engager le grand public et allumer les mélomanes de tous les âges. Cette année, il fera encore mieux. Voici quelques grands titres au menu de ce grand buffet de musique classique : Carte blanche à Stéphane Tétreault, jeune violoncelliste;  la Grand-messe de Gilles Vigneault; Beatles Baroque; Daniel Clarke Bouchard, prodige du piano, en concert avec Objectif Lune; Marie-Josée Lord et son spectacle Yo soy María; deux concerts d’orgue avec Rachel Laurin et François Zeitouni jouant les chefs-d’œuvre au temps de Bach. On y fêtera aussi l’anniversaire de la mort de Jean-Philippe Rameau, compositeur important de la période baroque.
À Saint-Lambert, les festivités composées d’activités gratuites, de concerts et d’animation transforment tout le paysage et une rue complète sera dédiée à la musique classique. L’an dernier, le festival a attiré 37 000 spectateurs. Soyez-y, du mercredi 28 mai au dimanche 1er juin!
- Christine Man-Ling Lee

Olivier Latry, organiste émérite de l’OSM; Jacquelin Rochette, directeur artistique de Casavant
Frères; et Madeleine Carreau, chef de la direction de l'OSM.
L’inauguration officielle du Grand Orgue Pierre-Béique aura lieu le 28 mai 2014. Olivier Latry, organiste émérite de l’OSM, interprétera des oeuvres de Bach, Saariaho, Liszt, Samy Moussa et Saint-Saëns. Le programme de la semaine d’inauguration comprendra des concerts les 29 mai et 1er juin, ainsi qu’une journée portes ouvertes le 31 mai.

Autre récital d’un artiste canadien : le jeune baryton-basse Gordon Bintner, membre de l’atelier lyrique de la Canadian Opera Company, sera pour la première fois à la Société d’art vocal. Il sera accompagné par le pianiste Michael McMahon dans un programme composé de mélodies de Duparc et de Ravel ainsi que de lieder de Schubert. Conservatoire de musique de Montréal , 1er juin.
- Justin Bernard

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,