La Scena Musicale

Saturday, 14 November 2015

This Week in Toronto (Nov. 16 - 22)

My Toronto Concert Picks for the Week of November 16 to 22

~ Joseph So

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is presenting an evening called Arabian Nights, with the centerpiece being Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, based of course on a story from Thousand and One Nights. If memory serves, it was programmed not long ago with TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow as the soloist. It's brought back now and will go on tour with the TSO to Florida later this season. Also on the program is Weber's Clarinet Concerto No.1 with the TSO long-time clarinetist Joaquin Valdepenas. Rounding out the evening is Canadian composer's John Estacio's Wondrous Light, which is the short, second movement of his work Borealis, inspired by the Aurora borealis he saw one night in Edmonton. The composes speaks about the genesis of this work in this short Youtube video clip -   John Estacio's musical idiom is tonal and accessible, likely why he's one of the most frequently performed Canadian composers today. His exciting piece, Frenergy, was recently programmed by the TSO, and of course in additional to orchestral works, he's well known for his operas Filumena and Frobisher. TSO Music Director Peter Oundjian is at the helm. November 18 and 19 at Roy Thomson Hall.

Canadian composer John Estacio

The current TSO season must be setting some sort of record in the amount of pop music programming. This fall alone, we've had the music of Frank Sinatra, followed by live soundtracks of Back to the Future and Psycho. Now we have James Bond: The Music!  By the way, this is merely an observation, not a criticism - if these concerts can get bums in the seats, all the power to the TSO. On the program are music from Goldfinger, Thunderball, Live and Let Die, Nobody Does it Better, and Skyfall.  On the podium is John Morris Russell, conductor of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. He was appointed after the passing of Erich Kunzel, who was a frequent guest conductor at the TSO. Also appearing are vocalists Capathia Jenkins and Ron Bohmer. Nov. 20 & 21 7:30 pm.

American mezzo Isabel Leonard (Photo: Jared Slater)

American mezzo Isabel Leonard thrilled Toronto audiences when she sang Sesto in La clemenza di Tito with the COC several seasons ago. It's great to have her back in town, this time under the auspices of the Women's Musical Club of Toronto.   WMCT's concerts are almost always at 1:30 pm. on a weekday. This time it's Nov. 19 1:30 pm at its usual venue of Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building. Reflecting Ms. Leonard's dual North American and Latin American heritages - her mother is of Argentinean ancestry - her program consists of songs by Montsalvatge, de Falla,Charles Ives, Jennifer Higdon and others. I am unable to find the name of her pianist on the WMCT website. Update:  The original pianist, Vlad Iftinca, is unable to come due to European engagements. In his place is pianist John Arida. Also I have more details about her program. First half consists of songs by Sanjuan, de Falla, Granados, and Montsalvatge. Second half - works of William Schuman, Ernest Charles, John Alden Carpenter, Charles Ives, Richard Hageman, Ned Rorem, plus the de Falla song cycle Siet canciones populares espanolas.

Canadian mezzo Lucia Cervoni (Photo: Tom Wolf)

Canadian Stage in association with Soundstreams is presenting the Canadian premiere of Philippe Boesmans' Julie. Premiered in 2005, it's based on the August Strindberg's play Miss Julie (1888). It was considered quite a sordid story in its day, but not so much now, in our shock-proof 21st century! This play has served as an attractive subject for opera composers. There have be two previous operatic creations - American Ned Rorem composed Miss Julie back in 1965, and British composer William Alwyn penned one in 1977. The title character is sung by Canadian mezzo-soprano Lucia Cervoni. A native of London, Ontario, the American-trained, Germany-based Cervoni has not sung in Toronto to the best of my knowledge, in fact this may be her Canadian debut. (If I find out anything, I will update this blog.)  Update:  In an interview Cervoni gave and posted on the Soundstreams website, she conforms that this run of Julie is indeed her Canadian debut.  Playing the cad Jean who seduces Julie is baritone Clarence Frazer, a former member of the COC Ensemble Studio. Singing Jean's wife Christine is Canadian coloratura soprano Sharleen Joynt. Leslie Dala leads a chamber orchestra, in a production directed by Matthew Jocelyn. The libretto by Luc Bondy is originally in German, but it will be performed in an English translation. Eight performances (Nov. 17 to 29) at the Bluma Appel Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre. It's a 75 minute opera, performed without an intermission. This is an adventurous undertaking by Can Stage and Soundstreams, staging a challenging contemporary work. For those curious about the piece, go to Youtube for snippets of the music, and a commercial DVD of the Aix en Provence production is available.

For something different, there's the contemporary piece put on by Tapestry Opera,  Tap: Ex Metallurgy featuring "Members of Fucked Up." I have to admit I am ignorant when it comes to punk rock, so here's the intriguing description of this presentation taken directly from the Tapestry website -
"Punk and operatic virtuosity collide in Tapestry Opera’s latest exploration of opera evolution. Members of the Polaris Prize-winning art-rock punk band FUCKED UP join two of Canada’s most masterful and versatile opera singers, mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó and tenor David Pomeroy, for TAP:EX METALLURGY. This venture is the latest installment in TAP:EX, a production series committed to radically redefining the future of opera. Directed and conceived by Tapestry’s Artistic Director Michael Hidetoshi Mori, the provocative series is now in its third year." 

Four performances, on Nov. 19, 20, and 21 at the Ernest Balmer Studio, 9 Trinity Street, in the Distillary District of downtown Toronto.

Bass-baritone Geoffrey Sirett

Finally, Voicebox: Opera in Concert is presenting Prince Igor by Alexander Borodin, his only opera, on Sunday, Nov. 22  2:30 pm at the Jane Mallett Theatre. This opera is rarely performed here in the west given its size and complexity. But if you are lucky enough to have seen it at the Met a couple of years ago, you can appreciate that it's an amazing and monumental work. OIC is doing it in Russian with English surtitles, and with piano accompaniment by Narmina Afandiyeva. Robert Cooper is the choral director. Bass-baritone Geoffrey Sirett sings the title role. Others in the cast include baritone Andrey Andreychik (Galitsky), tenor Adam Fisher (Prince Igor's son, Vladimir Igorevich), soprano Natalya Matyusheva (Igor's wife Yaroslavna), bass Giles Tomkins (Konchak), and mezzo Deanna Pauletto (his daughter Konchakovna). This opera requires massive choral forces, and it's over three hours long with one intermission. I imagine it will be performed slightly cut. Given it's most unlikely that Toronto will see a fully staged production of this opera any time soon, this is a good chance to catch it.

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Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Liselyn Adams's Favourite Art Song

The next submission to the "Great Art Song Challenge" survey is by flutist and music professor Liselyn Adams. Share your choices at!

1. Richard Wagner: Im Treibhaus ("In the Greenhouse"), third song from Wesendonck Lieder; poem by Mathilde Wesendonck. May 1858. (Text and translation)

"This song shows the best of Wagner in a pocket-sized song. The harmonies are rich, the poetry perfectly expressed. The piano version is the best - Wagner was so in love with Mathilde Wesendonck, the poet, and it really shows."

2. Robert Schumann: Mondnacht, fifth song from Liederkreise, Op. 39; poem by Joseph Eichendorff. (Text and translation and discussion by Wolf-Dieter Seiffert)

3. Charles Martin Loeffler: Sudden Lightop. 15 (Four Poems) no. 1; Text: Dante Gabriel Rossetti  (Text)

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Monday, 9 November 2015

Cette semaine à Montréal (9 à 15 novembre) / This Week in Montreal (November 9 - 15)

Chapelle Historique du Bon-Pasteur

Jeudi 12, 19 h 30, on entendra le pianiste Ilya Poletaev. Né à Moscou, ce virtuose est considéré comme l’un des pianistes importants de sa génération. Œuvres de Bach, Brahms, Chopin et Mozart.

Nov. 12, 7:30 pm. Pianist Ilya Poletaev. Born in Moscow, this virtuoso is considered to be one of the important pianists of her generation. Pieces by Bach, Brahms, Chopin, and Mozart.

Quatuor Arcanto Quartet

Arcanto Quartet

Fondé en 2002, le Quatuor Arcanto fait ses débuts à Stuttgart et se produit ensuite sur de nombreuses scènes internationales. Violoncelliste reconnu sur les scènes montréalaises, Jean-Guilhen Queyras s’y produira pour la première fois avec le quatuor. Au ­programme : Bach, Schumann et Smetana. Maison symphonique, samedi 14, 20 h.

The Arcanto Quartet, created in 2002, made its debut in Stuttgart and then appeared on several international stages. Jean-Guilhen Queyras, a well-known cellist from the Montréal scene, appears for the first time with the Quartet. The program includes Bach, Schumann, and Smetana. Maison symphonique, Nov. 14, 8 pm.

Quatuor de Guitares du Canada / The Canadian Guitar Quartet

Le QGC est l’un des plus prestigieux ensembles de guitares classiques au monde. L’originalité de son répertoire a permis au quatuor de se cimenter une solide réputation internationale. Le Quatuor agence de nouvelles œuvres dynamiques et accessibles, souvent à saveur latino-américaine, et d’habiles arrangements des plus grands chefs-d’œuvre du répertoire classique. Église St James the Apostle, samedi 14, 20 h.

The CGQ is one of the finest classical guitar ensembles in the world. The original character of their repertory has established a solid ­international reputation for this quartet. The ensemble produces novel, ­dynamic and engaging pieces, often with a Latin American tang, and skilful arrangements of the greatest classical masterpieces. St James the Apostle church, Nov. 14, 8 pm.

Gala des Jeunes Ambassadeurs Lyriques Gala

Le Théâtre Lyrichorégra 20 présentera le 22e Gala des Jeunes Ambassadeurs Lyriques, rassemblant 32 solistes de 12 pays, la relève de l’art lyrique au Canada et ailleurs, devant un comité de sélection constitué notamment de directeurs de maisons d’opéra européennes et nord-américaines. Avec la participation du Chœur Classique de Montréal, sous la direction de Louis Lavigueur. En raison de l'annulation des galas annuels de l'Opéra de Montréal et de l'Opéra de Québec, le présent gala demeure la seule occasion d'entendre beaucoup de grands airs, chantés par des voix prometteuses. Le Gesù – 15 novembre, à 14 h 30.

The Théâtre Lyrichorégra 20 presents the 22nd annual Gala of the Jeunes Ambassadeurs Lyriques, this year bringing together 32 ­rising opera stars from 12 countries. They will perform before a ­selection panel of European and North American opera house ­managers, with the participation of the Chœur classique de ­Montréal, led by Louis Lavigueur. With both the Opera de ­Montréal and Opéra de Québec cancelling their annual Galas, this is the only way to hear lots of great arias sung by promising vocalists. The Gesù, Nov 15, 2:30 pm.  

Opéra comique de Jacques Offenbach Comic Opera

Dans un registre plus léger, les fans d’opérettes se rendront à Laval pour assister aux productions d’Opéra Bouffe et du Théâtre d’art lyrique en novembre. Opéra Bouffe du Québec présente cette année Les Brigands d’Offenbach. Simon Fournier dirige une distribution locale qui inclut Éric Thériault (Falsacappa), Samira Tou (Fiorella), et Charles Prévost-Linton (Piétro), dans une mise en scène de Sébastien Dhavernas. Les 12, 13 et 14 novembre à 20h et matinées à 15h les 14 et 15 novembre.

For some lighter fare, operetta fans will have to head to Laval for ­productions by Opéra Bouffe and Théâtre d’art lyrique this November. Opéra Bouffe du Québec’s 2015 production is Les Brigands (The Bandits) by Jacques Offenbach. Simon Fournier conducts a local cast including Éric Thériault (Falsacappa), Samira Tou (Fiorella), and Charles Prévost-Linton (Piétro), with staging by Sébastien Dhavernas. Catch one of five performances: Nov. 12, 13, and 14 at 8 pm, with 3 pm matinees on Nov. 14 and 15.

500 choristes pour le 40e anniversaire de l’Alliance des chorales / 500 Choristers for the 40th Anniversary of Alliance des chorales

Pour célébrer son 40e anniversaire, l’Alliance des chorales a réuni 500 choristes, accompagnés par Rosalie Asselin, sous la direction de Julie Dufresne. Au programme de ce concert impressionnant, des œuvres célèbres de Vivaldi, Poulenc, Monteverdi, Félix Leclerc, Gilles Vigneault et Clémence Desrochers. Plaisir garanti, le 15 novembre à 14h.

To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the Alliance des chorales du Québec has gathered 500 choristers under the direction of Julie Dufresne. ­Performing popular works by Vivaldi, Poulenc, Monteverdi, Félix Leclerc, Gilles Vigneault, and Clémence Desrochers, this impressive concert, accompanied by Rosalie Asselin, is sure to delight. Nov. 15 at 2 pm.

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Sunday, 8 November 2015

This Week in Toronto (Nov. 9 - 15)

My Toronto Concert Picks for the Week of November 8 to 15

~ Joseph So

Even with the 2015 fall opera season consigned to history, there are still a few interesting concerts for the die hard voice fans. Met-Auditions winner and former COC Ensemble Studio soprano Simone Osborne is the soprano soloist in Mahler's Fourth Symphony with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. This is part of the TSO's Decades Project that explores the ten years from 1900 to 1909 where European arts and culture underwent revolutionary changes.  This is a really exciting project which was brought home to me when I visited the Art Gallery of Ontario this week. The AGO and TSO have teamed up to explore stylistic parallels in music and the visual arts in that time period. (There's also a new initiative to bring music back to the AGO - see further down on this column.) Osborne is also singing two great crowd-pleasing arias - "Song to the Moon" from Rusalka and "Depuis le jour" from Louise. Rounding out the program is the exciting Dance of the Seven Veils from Strauss's Salome. At the helm is guest conductor Michael Sanderling, who is the son of  the great then East German conductor Kurt Sanderling, whom I had the great good fortune to hear several times back in the 1970's. This concert is not to be missed.  Two performances, on Nov. 12 and 14, 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall.

Soprano Simone Osborne (Photo: Bo Huang)

You've got to hand it to Music Toronto - this organization has brought numerous pianists to Toronto for their debuts. This time its Swedish-born, UK-trained pianist Peter Jablonski, who will be making his Canadian debut with this recital. He's playing a very wide-ranging program of Szymanowski, Chopin, Scriabin, Grieg, Rachmaninoff and Copland/Bernstein. Tuesday November 10 8 pm at the usual venue of Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre.

Swedish pianist Peter Jablonski 

This week also marks the return of conductor/composer Rob Kapilow and his ever popular concept show of  What Makes it Great? to the TSO. This time it's the analysis of a truly great 20th Century masterpiece, the Rachmaninoff Piano concerto No. 2. The soloist is young Canadian pianist Alexander Seredenko.  Performance on Friday the 13th (!) 7:30 pm at Roy Thomson Hall.

 Canadian pianist Alexander Seredenko (Photo: Bo Huang)

Go to the TSO webpage to hear an audio clip of Maestro Kapilow giving us his thoughts on the Rachmaninoff No. 2. You can also see him in action, with this Youtube clip, from the Banff Centre a few years ago. Eric Friesen introduces Rob Kapilow and his lecture.

Conductor/composer Rob Kapilow

The TSO concludes a busy week with a concert by the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra under conductor Shalom Bard at the George Weston Recital Hall in North York on Sunday Nov. 15 at 3 pm. The centerpiece is Brahms Symphony No. 1, the Waltz and Polonaise from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, and a modern piece by Canadian composer John Estacio, Frenergy. 

Trio Arkel at rehearsal (Photo: )

The Trio Arkel was founded by COC concertmaster Marie Berard, together with violist Teng Li and cellist Winona Zelenka. This chamber group will be giving two concerts in Toronto this week. The first is on Monday Nov. 9  7 pm at Heliconian Hall in Yorkville. On the program are works by Beethoven, Haydn as well as Canadian composer Michael Oesterle's Warhol Dervish, this last piece unfamiliar to me. A check on Google tells me it's a new piece as of this year. You can get a taste in this sound clip -   You can find out more information on Trio Arkel from Marie Berard's website  The second concert is a free noon hour recital at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre, on Tuesday Nov. 10 with the same program minus the Haydn.

Mezzo soprano Marion Newman at the AGO (Photo: Joseph So)

As mentioned at the top of this week's column, the Art Gallery of Ontario is inaugurating AGO Friday Nights this month.  This new initiative brings together music and the visual arts, given the natural synergy between the two art forms. In fact, AGO has had a long history of music within its confines.  I recall attending short pieces performed by Opera Atelier, way back in the early 1980's. It's wonderful to see the AGO embracing music once again.  The Decades Project involves a collaboration with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, with their musicians performing pieces at the AGO. The current exhibit from the Tate in London, JMW Turner: Painting Set Free is coupled with performances by Tapestry Opera, featuring works evocative of the visual themes and elements in many of Turner's works - the sea, the storm, the light and darkness. Canadian pianist/composer Adam Sherkin plays the works of Adams, Berio, Liszt, Beethoven, as well as two of his own compositions. Mezzo Marion Newman sings an eclectic program of songs and arias from Purcell's "When I am Laid in Earth" Dido and Aeneas to Bizet's "Habanera" from Carmen to Elgar's Sea Pictures to Sherkin's Shade and Darkness and Light and Colour, inspired by Turner's paintings.  I attended the opening Friday on November 6th. The Walker Court was filled to overflowing, with plenty of people standing or sitting on the steps. The event was an unqualified success. There will be three more performances of this program in subsequent Fridays in November. Future Friday programming will follow so stay tuned!

Canadian pianist/composer Adam Sherkin (Photo: Joseph So)

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