La Scena Musicale

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Luminato 2014 ends with Triumphant Gender-bending Song Fest

If I Loved You: Gentlemen Prefer Broadway
An Evening of Love Duets

Rufus Wainwright
Josh Groban
Brent Carver
David Byrne
Boy George
Ezra Koenig
Steven Page
Brennan Hall
Steven Oremus, Music Director
June 14th, 2014  7:30 pm
Sony Centre, Toronto

The electronic billboard of If I Loved You in the lobby of Sony Centre

For my money, Luminato 2014 saved its best for last - well, not quite the last but the pentultimate day of the Festival - with Rufus Wainwright's If I Loved You: Gentlemen Prefer Broadway.  It was billed as an evening of love duets with a twist - Broadway show tunes meant for heterosexual romance are sung here by men and for men. Who could be more appropriate to create such a show than the inimitable Canadian singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright?  After all, he told Martin Knelman of the Toronto Star that his boyhood dream was to play Annie on Broadway. For this show, he has gathered an "A list" of male singers to appear with him - Josh Groban, Brent Carver, and Boy George among them. It was sold out, no mean feat given the cavernous size of the Sony Centre.

Rufus Wainwright

The pre-show atmosphere was electric, with a a real sense of occasion.   Right after the orchestra's introductory medlay, Wainwright came on and sang "I hate Men" from Kiss Me Kate.  Well that sure got everyone's attention! The first half ended with "If I Loved You" from Carousel.  In between, there were many memorable moments, such as the nice duet between Wainwright and David Byrne of "People Will Say We're in Love" from Oklahoma, even if Byrne had a bit of an off night vocally. It was great to see (and hear) Brent Carver as a late replacement for Andrew Rennalls, singing a song from Funny Girl.  It was a glitzy evening that could become rather stiff and overblown, but that didn't happen thanks to the warmly funny and endearingly relaxed Wainwright and the good will from the audience.  For me, the true highlight was the duet between Wainwright and Josh Groban in "If I Loved You" - hearing all eight vocalists back to back, it was obvious that Groban has the most amazing set of pipes among them - Bravo!

(l. to r.) Steven Page, Josh Groban, Boy George, Brent Carver, Brennan Hall, David Byrne, Rufus Wainwright

The set was simple but it did the job, with four floor-mounted columns and twelve squares of LED lights suspended from the top.  The staging was also quite minimal - basically everyone just stood and sang, which was enough for the highly appreciative audience. Technically it went well except for one instance - in the "Wunderbar" duet between Wainwright and countertenor Brennan Hall, Hall's mike wasn't on. They started again from the beginning and it sailed through without any further glitches.  I had not heard Brennan Hall before, but I've heard plenty of countertenors in opera. I must say Hall has just a remarkable and very beautiful countertenor, and I would love to hear him on the opera stage in the future, without amplification. 

Final Bows (l. to r.) Ezra Koenig, Steven Page, Josh Groban, David Byrne, Rufus Wainwright, Brent Carver, Boy George, Brennan Hall

I was curious about Boy George, who was of course a mega-star from the 80's and is apparently still going strong. Based on this evening, the voice itself was sounding a little tired and grainy - possibly from jet-lag - but his out-sized personality was much in evidence and his "My Man's Gone Now" was a highlight.  Of course one of the funniest moments was Wainwright and George in Cole Porter's "You're the Top."  Wainwright said to the audience that the other singers didn't want to do this number with him, and Boy George dead-panned "I'm versatile!" This was also Boy George's birthday, and a small cake was wheeled on stage and the audience joined the singers on stage for a round of "Happy Birthday".
Boy George having his Cake and Eat it too!

A touching moment was the singing of "Somewhere" from West Side Story with the whole cast - it was as close to a political statement as it got in the whole show.  (In the TimesTalks interview, Wainwright expands on his thoughts about the significance of this show in gay culture and politics.) The guests were mostly great, but it really was Wainwright's show and he shone, particularly in "Can't Stop Loving that Man". The large orchestra under the inspired musical direction of Stephen Oremus was fine. This show is supposed to be repeated in the future, and I am sure the various agents and presenters are feverishly working on it right now. Incidentally, someone at TimesTalks interview I attended the next day asked if a soundtrack would be released from the show.  Wainwright replied a future performance may be taped for release but not the Toronto show - too bad.  

TimesTalks (l. to r.) Josh Groban, Rufus Wainwright, Jon Pareles

Based on the comments from the interview, those people who missed the show may be able to catch it in the future, likely in New York or London.  And if you missed the interview - well, you are in luck! It has been posted on Youtube in the Luminato channel, at  Enjoy!

- Joseph So

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Monday, 16 June 2014

Bernard Labadie In Munich

It was recently announced that Quebec conductor Bernard Labadie would step down from his post as music director of Les Violons du Roy. He will become founding director, presumably a title which suggests far less conducting than in the past. Now comes an announcement this past week that Labadie has cancelled all conducting engagements through the rest of 2014 "for health reasons."

In the past few seasons Labadie has become incredibly busy as a guest conductor with orchestras around the world. He is an authority of historical performance practice and a very welcome guest conductor wherever he goes. We understand that Labadie is being treated in Germany for an undisclosed illness. This is sad news and we wish him every success with his treatment. We look forward to seeing him back on the podium early in 2015.

In our video this week Bernard Labadie conducts the Bavarian Radio Symphony in C.P.E. Bach's Symphony in E flat major Wq 179. The performance was recorded in concert just a few months ago.

Paul E. Robinson

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Sunday, 15 June 2014

This Week in Toronto (June 16 - 22)

My Toronto Concert Picks for the week of June 16 to 22*

Joseph So

*This post concludes This Week in Toronto Blog for the concert season of 2013-14. It will resume in September to coincide with the start of the new season. There will be one more posting in mid July - a preview of the Toronto Summer Music Academy (July 22 - August 12), plus an interview with the TSMF Artistic Director, Douglas McNabney. 

American composer George Gershwin

Now that it's mid June, the 2013-14 concert season is coming to an end and the summer festival programming hasn't yet begun. Top on my list this week is the Gershwin program at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.  Conductor Bramwell Tovey makes a welcome return to the TSO to conduct highlights from Gershwin's famous American folk opera, Porgy and Bess. The performance practice of this work is complex. Last year I wrote a short article on this work in conjunction with the Opera de Montreal staging of this masterpiece, published in the December 2013 issue of La Scena Musicale.  Gershwin drew his inspiration from a 1924 novel, Porgy by DuBose Heyward, a resident of South Carolina. The character is based on a local handicapped black man who was indicted for a crime of passion. The novel inspired a play and Gershwin's opera. It was finished in 1934 as a three-act grand opera with 19 principal characters and a large symphonic orchestra. Due to financing difficulties, the work was scaled back and closed after only 124 performances. A revival took place in 1942 as a much abbreviated Broadway musical, reduced to two acts with spoken dialogue. In 1952, an attempt to present it in its original operatic form starring the young Leontyne Price as Bess was met with mixed success. In the 50's and 60's, P&B was presented by jazz singers the likes of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. The 70's saw a resurgence of this work as an opera with the studio recording conducted by Lorin Maazel. It was subsequently presented as an opera in Houston, the Met, Glyndebourne, New York City Opera, LA Opera and elsewhere.

American soprano Marquita Lister as Bess (Photo: Devon Cass)

The TSO performances on June 20 7:30 pm and June 21 8 pm feature a cast of African American singers with eminent operatic credentials - sopranos Marquita Lister and Lisa Daltirus, contralto Gwendolyn Brown, tenor Jermaine Smith, and baritone Alfred Walker. Lister, Walker and Smith are famous for their portrayl of Bess, Porgy and Sporting Life in opera houses around the world. Joining them is the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. Given that the complete version last over three hours with two intermissions, the TSO is presenting only highlights, together with two symphonic works, the Cuban Overture and American in Paris.  Performances at the usual TSO venue of Roy Thomson Hall.

Baritone Alfred Walker as Porgy (Photo: Walter Hill)

A second important event this week is the presentation of Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande by the Against the Grain Theatre. It stars Quebec baritone Etienne Dupuis as Pelleas, and soprano Miriam Khalil as Melisande. Gregory Dahl is Golaud and Alain Coulombe sings Arkel. The event takes place at the courtyard garden of the Tannenbaum Opera Centre, the home of the Canadian Opera Company. Joel Ivany is the stage director and Julien Leblanc the pianist. Performances on June 19, 21, 23, 25. This is quite an audacious undertaking by AtG, but they have the talents, the voices and the imagination to succeed.

Baritone Etienne Dupuis as Pelleas 

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This Week in Montreal: June 16 to 22

The Montreal Baroque Festival Goes Green

From June 19 to 22, nature is the theme! Chosen by artistic co-directors Susie Napper and Matthias Maute, the 12th edition of the festival will be presented on McGill University’s verdant campus. In addition to Redpath and Pollack Halls, audiences will have the opportunity to listen to music in sites that, while non-traditional for concerts, have stunning acoustic qualities and singular architectural elements.
On Thursday the 19 at 7 pm, Vivaldi e la natura brings together violinist Davide Monte and tenor and guitarist Nils Brown with l’Harmonie des Saisons. At 9 pm, sonatas and Venetian canzonas are presented by the Pallade Musica ensemblethe Pallade Musica ensemble presents sonatas and Venetian canzonas.
Friday the 20, three masterclasses are offered during the day. At 7 pm, a new opera-ballet, Les Indes mécaniques, highlights the 250th anniversary of Rameau’s death. With Les Jardins chorégraphiques and Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière.
Saturday the 21, the day begins at 9 am with breakfast on the lawn and troubadour songs, featuring violas da gamba and recorders. In the afternoon, make way for songs about medieval hunts and fantasies for six violas da gamba. At 7 pm, the winners of the Bruce Haynes International Competition, accompanied by the Bande Montréal Baroque, perform Bach cantatas. A treasure hunt at 9 pm completes this busy day.
Sunday the 22 is devoted entirely to Beethoven. Various ensembles performing one after the other make a pianothon in two parts until the Grand Finale at 7 pm, which makes a beautiful finish to the great annual celebration of early music: Symphony Nno. 6 (Pastorale) and Piano Concerto Nno. 4 with Tom Beghin at the piano and Ensemble Caprice under the direction of Matthias Maute.
 - Renée Banville

Suoni per il Popolo 2014: Pushing Boundaries

In 2001, the Casa del Popolo launched its festival, the Suoni per il Popolo. The first edition was a bold undertaking due to the fact that it focused entirely on avant-garde music and lasted no less than five weeks. Since then, it has scaled down its time frame to two and a half weeks while drawing steady support from a younger audience attracted to musical experimentation. This year’s edition, like all of its predecessors, runs for 18 days, from June 4 to 22. But that doesn’t mean it is simply content with the status quo. A look at its program reveals that is expanding in all directions. True to its mission, the Suoni will be stretching its boundaries by exploring the cutting edge of rock and punk, electronic, experimental, contemporary classical, folk and avant-pop. Not to be overlooked either is its jazz and improvised music content, but there will also be a focus on media arts and interactive technologies. All told, there are 68 shows on tap—several include two or more groups—and eleven film programs. Six workshop sessions are also scheduled, hosted by guest performers of all musical stripes, some of which allow amateur musicians to join in.
This year, new activities have been added. First, the festival, in conjunction with the Bozzini Quartet, has put together a conference around the life and work of visionary British composer Cornelius Cardew, including a performance of his masterwork “Treatise”. Another first is Cartel MTL, an international symposium of new music presenters with some thirty delegates. Hosted by the festival, this event is aimed at networking contacts and is sponsored by the local new music umbrella organization le Vivier, with added support from the Huddersfield Festival in England. 
The Suoni will be more visible than ever within the community in that its events will take place in 17 venues, the result of may new co-production agreements, including some unusual ones like that of the Jewish General Hospital and its ten-day satellite festival running from June 9-19.
As for jazz, it is but one facet of the whole. But its choices are quite enticing for the venturesome. Most concerts slated here will go down at the Café Résonance, 5275-A Parc Avenue (at Fairmount). Of note will be a new quartet lead by alto saxophonist Yves Charuest with Catalonian pianist Augusti Fernández (June 17); drummer Harris Eisenstadt’s Golden State Quartet (20)—see CD review— and lastly, a half-Scandinavian, half-German group called the Deciders (22). On the local front, alto saxman Eric Hove’s tentet will tackle his compositions of striking originality (21). If you like music in your face, no one does it better than the blustery German saxman Peter Brötzmann, and ditto for his American counterparts William Parker and Hamid Drake (Sala Rossa, 10).
Online Information and Tickets:
Online Downloadable Program:
- Marc Chénard

St-Ambroise Montreal FRINGE Festival (June 2-22)

The 24th Fringe Festival is held in a variety of venues around Plateau Mont-Royal, Montreal. There are shows co-presented by Indie Montréal and Culture Cible au Divan Orange and, among others, Hey Ocean, Miracle Fortress, Chic Gamine, APigeon, The Zolas, Lakes of Canada, The Beatdown, Buddy McNeil & The Magic Mirrors, Sultans of String, Pif Paf Hangover.
 - Hassan Laghcha

FrancoFolies (June 12-22)

The 26th annual FrancoFolies includes a tribute to Serge Fiori in Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Place des Arts. Other concerts of note feature Stromae, the Boulay Sisters and the Grand Corps Malade. A few other highlights are Malajube’s lead Julien Mineau’s return to the stage and a concert with Ingrid St-Pierre, accompanied by I Musici. The festival offers 70 indoor shows and 180 free outdoor concerts.
 - Hassan Laghcha

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