La Scena Musicale

Friday, 10 April 2015

Poetic Love: Andrew Haji and Gordon Bintner in Lieder Recital (Review)

Haji and Bintner offer Marvelous Lieder Recital (Review)

Poetic Love

Schubert: Schwanengesang D. 957
Das Fischermadchen
Am Meer
Die Stadt
Der Doppelganger
Irh Bild
Der Atlas

Gordon Bintner, bass-baritone
Jennifer Szeto, piano

Schumann: Dichterliebe, Op. 48
Im wunderschonen Monat Mai
Aus meinen Tranen spriesen
Die Rose, die Lilie
Wenn ich in deine Augen seh'
Ich will meine Seele tauchen
Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome
Ich grolle nicht
Und wusten's die Blumen
Das ist ein Floten und Geigen
Hor' ich das Liedchen klingen
Ein Jungling Liebt ein Madchen
Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen
Ich hab'im Traum geweinet
Allnachtlich im Traume
Aus alten Marchen winkt es
Die alten bosen Lieder

Andrew Haji, tenor
Liz Upchurch, piano

Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre / 12:00 pm April 9th 2015

Now that we are in the final weeks of the 2014-15 COC season, it means some members of the Ensemble Studio will be finishing their tenure. To mark the occasion, there's a series of farewell recitals at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Two weeks ago, we had a superb outing by mezzo Charlotte Burrage and baritone Clarence Frazer. This time around, we have tenor Andrew Haji and bass-baritone Gordon Bintner in a Liederabend, albeit at noon. To my ears, Haji and Bintner are two of the best young voices in Canada today. So it's a bit sad that they are leaving, but given their prodigious talent, it only means they are moving onto greater things - "Zu neuen Taten!" as they say in Gotterdammerung!

NOTE:  Well, after all that, I've just been informed that Bintner and Haji are not leaving after all - the joke is on me!  They are both staying for a third year at the Ensemble.  That is of course good news, as both have wonderful voices and I am happy they will stick around for another year.  It's going to be interesting as there will be once again three tenors next season...

Bass-baritone Gordon Bintner / Pianist Jennifer Szeto (Photo: Chris Hutcheson)

Bintner began the recital with six songs from Schubert's Schwanengesang. These so called Swan Songs were composed by Schubert in his last years, and the 14 songs don't seem to have a thematic unity. The ones Bintner chose are set to text by Heinrich Heine. These are particularly challenging songs, if for no other reason than the fact that they are heavier and more serious in nature than the ones set to text by Rellstab and Seidl, also part of the cycle. Total concentration and commitment by the soloist is absolutely essential.  Unfortunately, throughout his performance, there was a constant, distracting noise coming from a member in the audience, loud enough to be bothersome to me, and I am sure to the performers as well. I gave Gordon Bintner absolutely full marks for maintaining his composure throughout.  He did extremely well under the circumstances, singing with beauty of tone and plenty of expression.  The tempo taken on a couple of the very serious songs - like Der Doppelganger and Am Meer - was very slow and it taxed Bintner's support to keep the tone as steady and rock solid as possible. I couldn't help thinking that if he had programmed a couple of the lighter songs like Taubenpost and Liebesbotschaft, it would have given it a bit more variety and lighten the mood. But the others are not set to text by Heine, so I understand the decision.  If I were to quibble, perhaps a bit more piano - which the singer can do beautifully - would have been preferable.  In any case, this performance amply demonstrated that Bintner can perform under less than ideal conditions and still comes out a winner. With his beautiful, virile low baritone and dashing stage presence, he will go far. Jennifer Szeto, who was impressive in the recital last time with Burrage and Frazer, continued to show why she's one of the most promising of young collaborative pianists in Canada.   

Tenor Andrew Haji / Pianist Liz Upchurch (Photo: Chris Hutcheson)

Fortunately, by the time Haji started his cycle of Schumann's Dichterliebe, the disturbance had stopped. He sang the first edition of this cycle, which contains the 16 original Heine songs. Pianist Liz Upchurch, head of the COC Ensemble Studio, announced at the beginning that the cycle was dedicated to the memory of the great Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. (That actually caused a bit of confusion in some people in the audience, thinking that FiDi just passed away . Of course he died quite some years ago!  This cycle was closely associated with the great baritone.) Haji has a glorious tenor, bright, clarion, sweet, rich, always used with musicality and discerning taste. To sum it up in a few words, his singing on this occasion was marvelous. He and Upchurch gave this same program in his recent New York recital debut, so the piece was extremely well rehearsed.  It showed, in their absolute security and freedom throughout the performance. I was very impressed with the impeccable German diction of Haji, and he really tried to tell a story with the text. As a tenor, the high tessitura of Ich grolle nicht posed no problem for him, the high A perfectly true. And there was liberal use of soft dynamics where appropriate. I also liked his dramatic urgency - he brings a poetic impulse to these songs that's very endearing.  Liz Upchurch played marvelously, arguably the best I've heard her in recent memory.  I must say this was one of the most satisfying Lieder recitals I've heard in recent years. The audience was extremely appreciative, giving the performers a standing ovation. One could argue North Americans tend to stand at a drop of a hat, but in this case, it was richly deserved.

Haji and Bintner will perform in the Ensemble Studio performance of The Barber of Seville on May 15 at the Four Seasons Centre.

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Thursday, 9 April 2015

La Guilde des musiciens et musiciennes du Québec lance sa coopérative

La Guilde des musiciens et musiciennes du Québec lance sa coopérative

par Claudie Provencher

Mercredi soir au pub l’Île Noire, la Guilde des musiciens et musiciennes du Québec lançait sa coopérative, (voir mon précédent article sur le sujet). C’est dans une ambiance chaleureuse et décontractée que Mylène Cyr, directrice générale de la Guilde, et Jacques Bourget, vice-président Québec de la Guilde, accueillaient les invités. Mettant de l’avant son « service », la soirée accueillait trois différentes formations membres de la coopérative qu’il est possible d’engager via la plateforme web. 

C’est en 2011, lors d’une réunion des membres de la Guilde, que s’est fait sentir la nécessité d’offrir plus de visibilité, et plus de sécurité, aux musiciens et musiciennes professionnelles du Québec, membres ou non de la Guilde. veut devenir la référence dans le domaine, explique Jacques Bourget. Elle souhaite regrouper en un endroit distinct un éventail de musiciens et musiciennes aux styles différents pour plusieurs sortes d’événements. Le consommateur peut donc chercher une formation pour son événement tout en étant assuré d’obtenir un service professionnel. Normand Brathwaite, président d’honneur, a d’ailleurs souligné avec justesse et humour que les crêpes du samedi matin sans musique et le film sans bande sonore susciteraient moins d’agrément, tout comme un événement sans musique « live », d’où l’intérêt du projet. 

L’idée de créer une coopérative indépendante de la Guilde provient d’une volonté de transparence de la part de ses fondateurs qui souhaitent éviter tout favoritisme. Le duo de pianistes TwinMuse, composé des jumelles Hourshid et Mehrshid Afrakhteh, qui n’est pas membre de la Guilde est l’une des 40 formations déjà inscrites à la coopérative. C’est après plusieurs démarches infructueuses auprès d’agents d’artistes que les deux sœurs sont entrées en contact avec, souligne Mehrshid. La coopérative offre l’avantage d’une bonne visibilité tout en simplifiant les démarches administratives. 

La coopérative ne souhaite pas être liée seulement à la métropole. Mylène Cyr et Jean Bourget ont évoqué leur désir de la faire connaître à travers toute la province, faisant d’ailleurs déjà acte de présence dans plusieurs événements corporatifs tels le Salon de la mariée et le Symposium de l’événement corporatif. Bien qu’à long terme ils souhaitent faire voler le projet de lui-même, pour l’heure ils en font la promotion tant à Montréal qu’à Rimouski et Chicoutimi.
Le site de la coopérative,, sera mis en ligne aujourd’hui. Mylène Cyr et Jacques Bourget invitent les musiciens et musiciennes à aller y créer un profil, et les consommateurs à prendre connaissance de l’offre. 


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Sunday, 5 April 2015

This Week in Toronto (April 6 - 12) UPDATED April 7th 11:10 PM

My Toronto Concert Picks for the Week of April 6 to 12 (Updated April 7th 11:10 pm)

~ Joseph So

Finnish conductor Jukka Pekka Saraste (

A highlight this week is the return of former Toronto Symphony Orchestra Music Director Jukka-Pekka Saraste as the guest conductor in a program of Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 and Mahler's Symphony No. 5. Saraste's tenure at the TSO (1994-2001) was an artistic success, but it was marred by labour strife in the orchestra and financial difficulties, especially in his later years. But all that is history now and maestro Saraste has since returned as guest conductor on several occasions. Joining him this week is Ukrainian pianist Valentina Lisitsa, as soloist in the Rachmaninoff. Lisitsa rose to fame as one of the most watched classical pianists on Youtube. She has her own channel on Youtube with a phenomenal number of subscribers (for classical music!), totaling at last count 177,261. Do take a look at   Lisitsa was last in Toronto a couple of seasons ago at Koerner Hall. Two performances, April 8th and 9th 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall.

Ukrainian pianist Valentina Lisitsa

UPDATE (Tuesday 11:10 PM)  The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has pulled the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 from its program. Mahler Symphony No. 5 remains, and the performance will be given with no intermission. This is the latest in a saga with enough twists and turns to rival any opera.  It began with the TSO releasing Ms. Lisitsa, due to objections raised over her political views. She was replaced by Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear. According to a post by Mr. Goodyear on his Facebook page, he received negative criticisms from some quarters for stepping in.  Whether the pulling of Rach 2 was his or the TSO's decision is unclear. 

Two of the finest young singers currently in the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio are tenor Andrew Haji and bass-baritone Gordon Bintner. I believe both will be graduating at the end of this season. But you can still catch them in recital at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre on Thursday noon April 9th.  Haji is singing Schumann's beloved song cycle Dichterliebe, Op. 48, while Bintner takes on Schubert's Schwanengesang, D957, appropriately named since this will be one of the last performances Bintner gives as a member of the Ensemble. Program details at  Be sure to show up an hour earlier to line up for a seat. Bintner and Haji will sing in the Ensemble Studio Performance of Barber of Seville on May 15th.

Bass-baritone Gordon Bintner (Photo: Michele Patry)

Opera Atelier, Canada's premiere baroque opera company, is presenting Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice, in the "Berlioz Version" which is new to me, I have to confess. All three principals have previously sung with OA - Mezzo Mireille Lebel returns as Orfeo, frequent guest soprano Peggy Kriha Dye is Eurydice, and Amor is Meghan Lindsay. David Fallis conducts the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. Six performances April 9 to 18 at the Elgin Theatre. Go to their website for details -

Mezzo soprano Mireille Lebel is Orfeo at Opera Atelier

The preeminent 81 year old British conductor Sir Roger Norrington is in town to conduct the Royal Conservatory Orchestra, on Friday April 10 8 pm at Koerner Hall. On the program are Vaughan Williams' Symphony No. 5 in D Major, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67.  A specialist in the Baroque, Classical and Romantic repertoire, Sir Roger has had a huge influence on performance practice as we know it today. He was a student at the Royal Conservatory of Music right here in Toronto when he was evacuated as a young boy to Canada during the Second World War, so it's only fitting that he comes back periodically to conduct the RCM Orchestra.

Sir Roger Norrington conducts the RCM Orchestra

Soprano Mireille Asselin, a former member of the COC Ensemble Studio, returns to Toronto as a soloist with the Amici Chamber Ensemble on April 12th at the unusual time of 3 pm. The venue is Mazzoleni Hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music. The program is an interesting and unusual mix of old and new, including works of Glinka, Schubert, Nicolai, Andre Previn, Paul Juon, and John Taverner.  Program details at

Soprano Mireille Asselin soloist with the Amici Chamber Ensemble

Now for something a little different and non-classical, Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester is in town again!  They made their Koerner Hall debut in 2010 and returned two seasons ago. This is their third appearance . I've been unable to find program details from either the Koerner website or the Palast-Orchester website.  Having attended a performance last time they were here, I can say it was hugely entertaining. They are currently on a North American tours with stops in Austin, TX, Kansas City, Chicago, and Ann Arbor, MI. Performances on Saturday April 11 8 pm and Sunday April 12 2 pm.

Vocalist Max Raabe (

Dublin Guitar Quartet 

Mooredale Concerts is presenting the classical guitar ensemble, Dublin Guitar Quartet in their Canadian debut on Sunday April 12 3:15 pm at Walter Hall. It's an eclectic program they are playing - music of American composer Philip Glass, Cuban Leo Brouwer, British John Taverner, Hungarian Gyorgy Ligeti, among others. I was trying to find the names of the individual musicians but the information does not appear to be on the Mooredale Concerts website. I eventually found their names on their Facebook page - Brian Bolger, Pat Brunnock, David Creevy and Tomas O'Duircain.

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