La Scena Musicale

Friday, 19 December 2014

Conspirare Celebrates Christmas for Everyone!


Conspirare Christmas with Special Guest Ruthie Foster
Conspirare Company of Voices/Craig Hella Johnson

Long Center for the Performing Arts
Austin, Texas

Who knew that “I Could Have Danced All Night” was the quintessential Christmas song? Craig Hella Johnson, that’s who, and my guess is that a growing number of listeners agree with him.

It has become a tradition for Conspirare Company of Voices to perform their special version of this Lerner and Loewe classic from My Fair Lady as the finale of their annual Christmas concert. In a quiet, slow and hypnotic rendition, Conspirare gave us words and music to reflect on before returning to everyday life. The performance again was magical, as it was last year.

Conspirare’s Christmas concert is given seven times within a week, with performances in Victoria, Houston and at two different venues in Austin. The last performance this year was presented at the Travis County Correctional Facility. Each concert is about 90 minutes long, is presented without intermission, and includes seven groups of songs, with each group relating to a general theme: “Dear Heart”, “Love Bade Me Welcome”, “Just Come” and so on.  There is no narration during the concert, but it is clear that the audience is encouraged not only to enjoy the music but also to think about the words of the songs and the ideas they convey.

One of these ideas is “unity in diversity.” Craig Hella Johnson juxtaposes Christian liturgical music, popular songs, gospel music, opera, African folk music and Christmas carols. On one level it is a demonstration that beautiful music can be found in many unexpected places; on another, Conspirare is attempting to bring its listeners together by means of such an eclectic mix.

Soloist Ruthie Foster
Blues singer Ruthie Foster, a featured soloist at Conspirare’s Christmas concert last year, returned again this year and she was better than ever. She sang some of her own songs accompanied by the choir, but she also led some exciting rafter-raising gospel music.

As usual, conductor Craig Hella Johnson was seated at the piano, his back to the audience, as he led his fine professional choir through this varied and thoughtful program. He even took one of the solos himself. What a fine voice he has! Even in “pop” songs, he is able to bring each note and word to life in the manner of a great lieder singer. Amazing!

For Something More…

Conspirare just released a CD of their Christmas concert from last year. Titled Unclouded Day, it is available through their website at www.conspirare.org. Earlier in the year Conspirare released a CD of The Sacred Spirit of Russia, documenting one of the finest concerts I have ever heard from them. Available from Harmonia Mundi (HMU 807526), it is has been nominated for a Grammy.

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Monday, 15 December 2014

Cette semaine à Montréal : le 15 au 21 décembre

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Jean-Willy Kunz

Le Cirque du Soleil célèbre ses 30 ans avec une série de concerts où les musiques les plus connues des 35 spectacles du Cirque seront interprétées par un chœur, un orchestre et... un orgue. En tant qu'organiste, claveciniste ou pianiste, je me suis impliqué dans plusieurs projets très originaux depuis quelques années et j'ai hâte de participer à celui-ci ! Du 13 au 28 décembre, église Saint-Jean-Baptiste. Renseignements : www.cirquedusoleil.com/fr/shows/30-anniversaire-concert/default.aspx
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Jean-Willy Kunz



Le Messie de Haendel, l’œuvre phare du temps des fêtes
L’Orchestre de chambre McGill et le Chœur de la cathédrale Christ Church, sous la direction de Boris Brott, présenteront à leur tour Le Messie, avec la soprano Aline Kutan, la mezzo Mireille Lebel, le ténor Michael Colvin et le baryton Peter McGillivray. Le directeur musical du chœur de la cathédrale, Peter Wedd, qui a préparé les chanteurs, accompagnera également les récitatifs au clavecin. Le concert sera précédé d’une causerie à 18 h 30. Cathédrale Christ Church – 15 décembre, 19 h 30. www.ocm-mco.org
Dirigé par Michel Brousseau, le Chœur philharmonique du Nouveau Monde présentera également les plus beaux moments du Messie avec plus de 200 choristes sur scène, sans les parties solistes. Église Saint-Germain, Outremont, 19 h 30.



Changement de programme a l’OSM
L’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal poursuit le temps des fêtes avec un concert unique, un récital avec la mezzo Susan Graham et le ténor Michael Fabiano. Ils interpréteront notamment des œuvres de Massenet, Puccini et Schubert. Ce programme remplace celui qui était prévu avec le ténor italien Vittorio Grigolo, qui a annulé sa visite à Montréal. Maison symphonique de Montréal – 16, 18 décembre, 20 h.



Nouveau chef en tournée en décembre avec l'OM et Stéphane Tétreault
Kensho Watanabe, qui remplacera Alexandre Bloch, fera la tournée de trois arrondissements avec l'Orchestre Métropolitain, en compagnie du violoncelliste Stéphane Tétreault. Soirs d'hiver, un programme tout en contrastes qui débute avec le Concerto grosso, op. 6 no 8 de Corelli et enchaîne avec les redoutables Variations sur un thème rococo et la Symphonie no 1 de Tchaïkovski.  Verdun (17) – Hochelaga-Maisonneuve (18) – Saint-Léonard (20). www.orchestremetropolitain.com



I Musici – un Noël à la flûte
Pour réinventer Noël, I Musici a invité le groupe Flûte Alors ! Sous la direction du chef en résidence Jean-Michel Malouf, on entendra des arrangements pour quatre flûtes à bec et orchestre d'œuvres de Bach, Corelli, Vivaldi, Haber et Charpentier. Selon la critique, ces quatre amoureux de la flûte à bec, d'une virtuosité spectaculaire, ont développé entre eux « une mécanique musicale d'une précision d'horloge ». Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, 18 au 20 décembre. www.imusici.com



Noël à Dresde
Les ensembles VivaVoce et La Rose des vents s’unissent pour présenter « Noël à Dresde » un concert mettant en vedette la tromboniste Catherine Motuz et le cornettiste Matthew Jennejohn. Ils joueront des œuvres de Praetorius, Scheidt, Schein et Schütz pour chœur et ensemble de vents ainsi que des noëls traditionnels. Salle de concert Redpath, 21 décembre, 15 h. www.aramusique.org

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This Week in Montreal: December 15 to 21


Jean-Willy Kunz
The Cirque du Soleil is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a concert series offering the best-known musical pieces from its 35 shows, performed by chorus, orchestra and … organ. As an organist, harpsichordist or pianist, I have been involved in some very original projects in the last few years, and I’m eager to participate in this one! December 13 – 28, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church. Information: cirk.me/11txN9t
- Jean-Willy Kunz



Handel’s Messiah: A Holiday Masterpiece
The McGill Chamber Orchestra and the Christ Church Cathedral Choir, under the baton of Boris Brott, takes their turn to present The Messiah with soprano Aline Kutan, mezzo Mireille Lebel, tenor Michael Colvin and baritone Peter McGillivray. The choir’s musical director, Peter Wedd, has prepared the singers and will accompany them on the harpsichord. A pre-concert talk will take place at 6:30 pm. Christ Church Cathedral, December 15 at 7:30 pm. www.ocm-mco.org
Conducted by Michel Brousseau, the Choeur Philharmonique Nouveau Monde also presents highlights from The Messiah with over 200 singers on stage, sans soloists. Église Saint-Germain, Outremont, at 7:30 pm.



Change of Program at the OSM
The Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal keeps the festivities going with a unique concert: a recital with mezzo Susan Graham and tenor Michael Fabiano, who will perform works by Massenet, Puccini, and Schubert. This program replaces a concert with Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo, who was forced to cancel his visit to Montreal. Maison Symphonique de Montréal, December 16 and 18 at 8 pm. www.osm.ca



New Conductor Touring with the OM and Stéphane Tétreault in December
Kensho Watanabe, replacing the originally-scheduled Alexandre Bloch, will visit three Montreal neighbourhoods with the Orchestre Métropolitain and Stéphane Tétreault. Winter Evenings is a program full of contrasts, beginning with Corelli’s Concerto Grosso, op. 6 no 8 (“The Christmas Concerto”) which is followed by Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme and Symphony no. 1 “Winter Dreams”. Verdun (Dec 17), Hochelaga-Maisonneuve (Dec 18), and Saint-Leonard (Dec 20). www.orchestremetropolitain.com



I Musici – A Baroque Christmas
I Musici revamps Christmas this year with recorder ensemble Flûte Alors! Under the baton of conductor-in-residence Jean-Michel Malouf, audiences will hear arrangements for four recorders and orchestra of works by Bach, Corelli, Vivaldi, Haber, and Charpentier. These four recorder-loving virtuosos have, according to critics, developed a musical mechanism of clockwork precision together. Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, December 18 to 20. www.imusici.com



Christmas in Dresden
Ensembles VivaVoce and La Rose des vents unite for a concert titled “Noël à Dresde”, featuring trombonist Catherine Motuz and French horn player Matthew Jennejohn. They will perform works by Praetorius, Scheidt, Schein, and Schütz for choir and string ensemble as well as traditional Christmas works. Redpath Hall, December 21, 3 pm.

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Sunday, 14 December 2014

This Week in Toronto (Dec. 15 - 21)

My Toronto Concert Picks for the Week of Dec. 15 to 21 

Joseph So




Now that we're in mid December, Holiday Season programming is in full swing. Recently I was asked if I have a favourite Messiah. Well, it's like asking someone pick one's favourite child!  When I am in the mood for a grand production, I go to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's Messiah - there's just something majestic in hearing a full orchestra with modern instruments, together with a huge choir, in this glorious music.  However, I wouldn't want to go without the more intimate and evocative Messiah by the Tafelmusik forces. The TSO has a great quartet of soloists this year, all well known Canadians - soprano Jane Archibald, mezzo Allyson McHardy, tenor Lawrence Wiliford, and bass-baritone Philippe Sly. As usual, it's the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir supplying the choral forces. Welsh conductor Grant Llewellyn is at the helm. Five performances - Dec. 16, 17, 19, 20 8 pm and Dec. 21 3 pm at Roy Thomson Hall. This run of Messiah will be the last performances of the TSO in 2014. It's taking a three and a half week winter hiatus until mid January when it starts up again with its annual celebrations of Mozart's birthday.  http://tso.ca/
Conductor Grant Llewellyn

Baroque fans will rejoice in the annual Tafelmusik Messiah, with four performances at Koerner Hall (Dec. 17, 18, 19, 20 at 7:30pm).  According to their website, the Dec. 20 performance is already sold out. Soloists are German soprano Lydia Teuscher, British countertenor James Laing, and two Canadians - tenor Colin Balzer and baritone Brett Polegato. Ivar Taurins leads the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir. Don't forget the annual tradition of Tafelmusik's Sing Along Messiah at Massey Hall on Dec. 21 2 pm.  I've only attended this once and it was really magical...perhaps it's time to go again.  http://www.tafelmusik.org/

German soprano Lydia Teuscher (Photo: Askonas Holt)

Given we live in English Canada, Handel's Messiah is ubiquitous at Christmas time. A quick check reveals no performances that I could find of Berlioz' L'enfance du Christ or Bach's Christmas Oratorio this week, pieces that are routinely performed across the pond.  That said, there are other options that we get that are perhaps not so common in Europe.  On Dec. 20th 2 pm, Toronto Children's Chorus is presenting A Chorus Christmas: Ceremonial Splendour. A special guest is the Canadian actor and icon, Mr. Gordon Pinsent, whom I am lucky enough to call my neighbour, and he's also one of the nicest neighbours one can have :-)  Gordon is the narrator in Brother Heinrich's Christmas. The event is at Roy Thomson Hall. http://torontochildrenschorus.com/concerts/

Aradia Ensemble's Dublin Messiah poster

The Aradia Ensemble under its director Kevin Mallon is presenting its annual Dublin Messiah on Dec. 20 7:30 pm. It takes place at the beautiful St. Anne's Anglican Church on 270 Gladstone Avenue. The fine quartet of soloists are soprano Jacqueline Woodley, mezzo Maria Soulis, tenor Adam Fisher and baritone Dion Mazerolle. http://aradia.ca/



For a Latin flavoured Christmas, there's Toronto Choral Society's  Music of the Americas. On the program are Navidad Nuestra and Missa Criolla by Ariel Ramirez. Also appearing are Casava Latin Band featuring Ernesto Cardenas.  I had no idea that the Toronto Choral Society has such a long history, dating back to 1845! It's repertoire consists of choral works of all types from Baroque to Jazz. Its current Artistic Director is Geoffrey Butler, whom I've heard conduct many times at Opera York.
http://www.torontochoralsociety.org/concerts/

Nathaniel Dett Chorale (www.nathanieldettchorale.org)

Also of interest is the Nathaniel Dett Chorale's Christmas offering, An Indigo Christmas. This ensemble is well known for its presentation of Afrocentric music, and this concert is a presentation of Black Nativity, a Gospel Song Play by Harlem Renaissance poet and playwright Langston Hughes. A special guest is Jackie Richardson.  Performance takes place on Wednesday Dec. 17 8 pm at Trinity St. Paul's Centre. http://www.nathanieldettchorale.org/

AtG's Uncle John (l. to r. Sean Clark, Miriam Khalil, Betty Allison, Neil Craighead, Aaron Durand, Sharleen Joynt)

Against the Grain Theatre's #Uncle John, a modern take on Mozart's Don Giovanni, opened last week. I attended the very entertaining opening night performance. A very clever libretto by Joel Ivany together with deft stage direction made for a very lively show. Two more performances this week, on Dec. 17 and 19 at the Black Box Theatre at The Great Hall, 1087 Queen Street West just east of Dovercourt. An excellent ensemble cast of singing actors is led by baritone Cameron McPhail as "Uncle John" aka Don Giovanni. Others are bass-baritone Neil Craighead (Leporello), Betty Allison (Donna Anna), Miriam Khalil (Donna Elvira), Sean Clark (Don Ottavio), Sharleen Joynt (Zerlina), Aaron Durand (Massetto), and John Avey (Commendatore)
http://www.againstthegraintheatre.com/

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