Fearless Haas Quartet Debut

classicalandbeyond pavelhaasquartet-credit-marcoborggreveThe Pavel Haas Quartet, the acclaimed Czech string quartet, makes its highly anticipated Toronto debut April 10 in Walter Hall. The music world began to take notice of the group’s youthful vigour three years into the quartet’s life when it won the Paolo Borciani competition in Italy in the spring of 2005. A Supraphon record contract soon led to their first two CDs containing material close to their hearts, Janáček’s two string quartets and Pavel Haas’ three. Their penultimate recording, a disc of Dvořák’s String Quartets No. 12 in F major “American” and No. 13 in G major, was greeted with widespread critical acclaim culminating in Gramophone magazine’s Record of the Year award in the fall of 2011.

I’m looking forward to their performance of Brahms Quartet No. 2 in A minor with its lovely opening movement’s dusky poignancy. Like The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Britten’s String Quartet No. 2 in C Major celebrates the work of Henry Purcell, whom Britten rightly called “the last important figure of English music.” I’m also eagerly anticipating the Pavel Haas Quartet’s venture into such a singular British realm, in particular the last movement theme and variations chacony that ends with a huge celebration. They’re certainly familiar with the U.K., having performed in Wigmore Hall and beyond and been artists in residence for three years in Glasgow Royal Concert Halls.

First violinist Veronika Jarůšková formed the group with fellow students of Milan Škampa, the legendary violist of the celebrated Smetana Quartet. An interview on Tokafi.com in 2007 soon after their first recording, revealed that Škampa was their biggest artistic influence: “He taught us about quartet dialogue and about life as a quartet.” Their idea of what constitutes a good live performance continues to be their byword: “Most important is to hand over our feeling through music to the audience.”

In an email exchange I asked founding PHQ violist Pavel Nikl how the quartet chose its name:

“It was a coincidence,” he said. “At the time when we were trying to find a suitable name, a good friend of ours showed us a recording of the second string quartet composed by Pavel Haas and we liked it very much. So we asked his daughter, who still lives in Brno to get her consent to name our group after her father. She agreed. And all of us are happy that such great music [of Pavel Haas] will not fall into oblivion despite the fact he died very young [at 45] in a concentration camp and a lot of his music disappeared with him.”

In a 2010 interview with Graham Strahle in the Adelaide Review, PHQ cellist Peter Jarusek (Jarůšková’s husband) said that their namesake is a beacon for what the quartet seeks to achieve on an artistic level. “It is the unwavering genuineness of the man and what he did that means a lot to us. We are a young group, but that doesn’t mean that we consciously set out to be more attractive, stylistically innovative or anything like that. We just try to communicate the best we can to our audience, that is with intimacy and no artifice.

Haas’ music is all highly personal, original music from a man who believed very deeply in what he was doing. Throughout his music he uses many Jewish melodies, and you can feel it is Jewish. At the same time, he was fearlessly innovative. His Second String Quartet, for instance, which he called ‘From the Monkey Mountains,’ actually includes percussion in the last movement, and it’s an absolute riot. It really is like big band music for string quartet.”

In response to a question about the way the group chooses its material Nikl replied: “We try to choose pieces from every period of classical music to achieve a rich repertoire. We are lucky that no one is forcing us to play what we ourselves do not want to play. So we simply choose what we would like to play. The repertoire for string quartet is so rich that we are not able to play so much beautiful music during a lifetime. “

The quartet’s most recent recording was released last September. Featuring Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 “Death and the Maiden” and the Cello Quintet with Danjulo Ishizaka, the CD has generated a major outpouring of praise. Here’s an example from British blogger Peter Smith: “The Times reviewer wrote ‘If CDs had grooves I would already have worn out these marvellous recordings  … the perfect fusion of virtuosity and profundity.’ Indeed. These performances are of a quite unworldly quality, deeply felt yet utterly thought-through, the most passionate you have heard but with moments of haunting delicacy, with an overarching architectural vision always holding it all together.”

The Gramophone reviewer wrote about their “fearless risk-taking, their fervency” and “insanely memorable phrasing,” calling the PHQ “absolutely mesmerizing” and “raw, visceral, and with an emotional immediacy that is almost unbearable.”

Their upcoming concert presented by the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto is comprised of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 1, in addition to the Britten and Brahms, all from the same C major tonal family. When I pointed this out to Nikl, he said it was coincidence, something he had not realized until now. These pieces have only been part of the quartet’s repertoire for a short time, about a year for the Brahms and Britten but less for the third. “The Shostakovich quartet is almost a new piece for us,” he said.

Replying to a question about live performance versus studio work, Nikl piqued my curiosity once more about their April 1o debut. “Our approach is always the same. We try to play hard and do not distinguish whether we are playing on the concert stage or whether we are recording. But there is a fundamental difference. Unlike recording, on the stage we have just one shot for all ...”

Recent Events

Stephen Hough’s masterclass at RCM’s Mazzoleni Hall March 3 overflowed with insights from that most discerning of pianists:

•“Have the courage to do nothing sometimes.”

•“Late Chopin – he became more interested in counterpoint – needs clarity; the right hand has to be able to whisper and still the accompaniment must be softer.”

•“Descending chromatics in Western music from the Renaissance on is all about suffering.”

•“Let’s find a real pianissimo so that it’s floating from the elbow; a real pianissimo in the concert hall makes an audience listen [as Hough’s blissful unveiling of Schoenberg’s Six Little Pieces in his March 2 Koerner Hall recital illustrated].

•“We have evidence (Horowitz’s Rach 3) where you don’t have to play all the notes; sometimes you need to thin things out – this was Horowitz’s great trick. Rubinstein admitted he left out notes in Iberia by Albéniz to get the ‘lift.’”

•“Some kind of musical clarity is more important than playing all the notes.”

Gustavo Dudamel’s visit to Roy Thomson Hall March 19 ignited his orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and electrified the near-capacity crowd. His stellar status stems from his musical approach which energizes his players and invigorates the notes they play. The Toronto concert juxtaposed John Corigliano Jr.’s Symphony No. 1, an alternately tuneful and violent reflection of the composer’s reaction to the AIDS epidemic, with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, with its own brand of fateful splendour.

Dudamel turned Corigliano’s massive outpouring of pain and beauty (written at the end of the 1980s and inspired directly by the death of three of his friends) into a showcase for his superb orchestral instrument. The conductor laid bare the work’s many textures, from an offstage piano quoting Albéniz to double tympani at opposite ends of the stage, from a heavenly solo cello to the stark shrill of three piccolos at triple fortissimo.

But it was the Tchaikovsky that confirmed Dudamel’s reputation and justified an immediate standing ovation. He revealed the visceral power of the music, making the familiar fresh -- with great clarity throughout and restraint when appropriate, from the snark of the brass to the anguish of the strings, with perfectly phrased moments and bars snapped off as if by a bullwhip, even unearthing a note you’ve never really heard before.

And then, at the end, with an elegance that acknowledged his love and respect for the orchestra, he disappeared into their midst to soak up the applause.

Concert-copia

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra bids farewell to a stellar month April 30 and May 1 with Sir Andrew Davis conducting Mahler’s essential Symphony 9 in D. April 17 and 19 finds the fascinating pianist Hélène Grimaud as soloist in Brahms’ Concerto No. 1 under the baton of Andrey Boeyko, music director of the Düsseldorf Symphony Orchestra. On April 11 and 12 Mozart’s vivacious Piano Concerto No. 17 comes under the scrutiny of the highly respected Richard Goode while Peter Oundjian also leads the orchestra in Richard Strauss’ gloriously hubristic Ein Heldenleben.

The Kindred Spirits Orchestra celebrates Good Friday April 18 with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture, Andre LaPlante performing Beethoven’s Concerto No.5 “Emperor” and Schumann’s Symphony No.1 “Spring.” Kristian Alexander conducts.

April 6 the Royal Conservatory concludes another season of Sunday afternoon piano recitals with a power-packed program by Khatia Buniatishvili. Liszt’s Piano Sonata and Chopin’s Second Sonata bookend Ravel’s iconic La valse. Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka conclude the breathtaking proceedings.

Music Toronto brings back Kikuei Ikeda, former violinist of the beloved Tokyo String Quartet, to join the Parker Quartet as a violist April 10 in a performance of Dvořák’s Quintet in E-flat Op.97 while April 28 finds the Associates of Toronto Symphony Orchestra playing Mozart’s String Quintet No.3 in C, K515 and Brahms’ String Quintet No.2 in G Op.111.

In their program May 4, the Windermere String Quartetnote that “the 13th quartets of Haydn and Beethoven [the lyrical Op. 130] bookend the era of the classical quartet: from the making of the mould to the breaking of it.”

The Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society offers an alternative interpretation of Britten’s String Quartet No.2 when they present the Enso Quartet April 11, one day after the Pavel Haas Quartet plays it in Toronto. On April 15 pianist Philip Chiu includes his own arrangement of the Suite for Oboe and Piano by Pavel Haas in his free noontime concert “Music in the Time of War” at the Richard Bradshaw Ampitheatre.

Two Grammy Award Winners: April 4 Jeffery Concerts presents James Ehnes accompanied by Andrew Armstrong performing LeClair’s Sonata No. 3 in D major, op. 9, Brahms’ Sonata No. 3 in D minor, op. 108, a new work by Alexina Louie and Richard Strauss’ Sonata in E-flat major, op. 18 while the iconic Canadian Brass concludes the Mooredale Concerts current season April 27.

  Paul Ennis is managing editor of The WholeNote.

Symphonic Adventurers Dudamel & Outwater

1906 classical dudeGustavo Dudamel is widely considered the most exciting and gifted young conductor working today. His meteoric rise – he was appointed music director of the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra in 1999 at the age of 18 and he’s now already in his fifth year as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic -- has been well documented. Winning the inaugural Bamberger Symphoniker Gustav Mahler competition at 23 was the first international signpost; being named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people five years later bumped up his media quotient. Two years later readers of Gramophone voted him Artist of the Year; two years after that Music America named him 2013 Musician of the Year.

Toronto audiences will welcome him and the LA Philharmonic March 19 when he returns for the first time since 2009. Then, he conducted the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra in support of his mentor José Antonio Abreu, at the time Abreu was awarded the Glenn Gould Prize for his monumental music education work in Venezuela. Having celebrated its 39th anniversary on February 12 – and yes, Dudamel was in Caracas that day, leading a youth orchestra from his hometown of Barquisimeto – El Sistema is thriving with more than 500,000 students.

Dudamel spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the experience of conducting the orchestra in which he grew up playing violin, the orchestra he had conducted at age 12.

“’All these young people,’ Dudamel enthused. ‘I felt like I was still one of them. [In Sistema] . . . We teach tolerance and respect. Whatever you think, you have to work together to play in an orchestra. Whatever your differences are, you have to solve problems to make harmony. The best example there is of what a community can be is the orchestra. . . Elsewhere in the world, music is a philanthropic enterprise. In Venezuela it is a right.”’

He’s fully committed to music as an engine for social change.

Abreu’s Glenn Gould Prize sparked David Visentin to launch Sistema Toronto in September 2011 with Abreu’s’s blessing. (You can read about it in The WholeNote’s March 2013 issue.) About 150-175 students of Sistema Toronto will not only be attending the LA Philharmonic concert but performing in the Roy Thomson Hall lobby for gala attendees in advance of the show. The Corporation of Roy Thomson and Massey Hall is bringing them to the concert free of charge as part of its Share The Music program.

Toronto is the fifth stop on a seven-city nine-concert L.A. Philharmonic North American tour, six concerts of which are comprised of John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1 (1989) and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. It’s a heavily romantic program, the two works composed about a century apart. Corigliano has written that his symphony “was generated by feelings of loss, anger and frustration” after the loss of many of his friends and colleagues to the AIDS epidemic affected him deeply. He decided to relate the first three movements of the symphony to three lifelong musician friends and recall still others in the third movement  “in a quilt-like interweaving of motivic melodies.” He pointed out that Berlioz, Mahler and Shostakovich were also inspired by important events in their lives.

The current tour follows the LA Philharmonic’s recent Tchaikovsky Fest in which the orchestra split the six Tchaikovsky symphonies with Dudamel’s other ensemble, the Simón Bolívar Orchestra (it lost its “Youth” tag in 2011 as its members aged), so we should expect the players to have an even greater familiarity with this symphonic staple with its famous recurring Fate motif and iconic slow movement. (One can’t help wondering what Tchaikovsky’s fate would have been had he been born 100 years later.) Dudamel’s ability to reveal the soul of a piece of music will be put to the test. But watching the conductor rehearsing Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet without a score (!) on YouTube inspires great confidence and anticipation of a passionate and uninhibited performance.

1906 classical edwinEdwin Outwater and the KWSO: California-born Edwin Outwater, the music director of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony since 2007, has also been celebrated for his work in music education and community outreach. In 2004 his education programs at the San Francisco Symphony were given the Leonard Bernstein Award for Excellence in Educational Programming. At the San Francisco Symphony, he conducted Family Concerts as well as Adventures in Music performances, heard by more than 25,000 students from San Francisco schools each year; and Concerts for Kids, which reached students throughout Northern California. In Florida, Outwater designed the Florida Philharmonic Family Series and its Music for Youth program, attended annually by more than 40,000 fifth-grade students in South Florida.

In Kitchener-Waterloo, he redesigned the orchestra’s education series and initiated myriad community connections. He’s known for his Intersections program. Blogging about it last November he called it “a place for artists who didn’t fit into a particular musical category — people like violinist/fiddler Gilles Apap, composer/DJ Mason Bates, Western/Indian musician Suba Sankaran and others.”

He continued: “But it quickly became a home for people who wanted to try something with orchestra: saxophonists, scientists, chefs, yogis, videographers, you name it.  It became a place where an orchestra can do anything, and by my estimation, one of the coolest, riskiest endeavors attempted by any orchestra in North America.

“From the beginning, people took notice.  A lot of our shows were played at Koerner Hall in Toronto, thanks to the good faith and adventurous spirit of Mervon Mehta.  I’ll never forget when our music/neuroscience show with Daniel Levitin, Beethoven and Your Brain, sold out there a week in advance... It confirmed my belief that orchestras don’t exist in a vacuum, but in the world of thought, emotion, and ideas.”

His innovative approach to programming is evident in the way he constructs and rationalizes a more traditional concert such as the one featuring Jon Kimura Parker on March 21 and 22. He’s subtitled the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor  “Brahms the Progressive” and Verklärte Nacht “Schoenberg the Romantic,” seemingly turning conventional wisdom upside down – until it sinks in that Schoenberg’s “Transfigured Night” is one of the most romantic pieces in the repertoire.

Two Recent Concerts: Benjamin Grosvenor’s Music Toronto recital was a revelation, more than justifying the acclaim that preceded his debut last month. The first half of his program consisted of Mendelssohn, Schubert and Schumann pieces written within 12 years of each other ending in 1839. The 21-year-old Englishman played with a sensitivity and finely calibrated tonal palette coupled with a technical prowess that was always at the service of his exceptional musicianship. Schubert’s Impromptu in G flat, Op. 90 No. 3 (D899) evoked memories of Dinu Lipatti with its warm sound. After intermission came three superbly spacious miniatures by Mompou, two Medtner “Tales,” the second of which, “March of the Knights” was a favourite of Horowitz, himself a favourite of Grosvenor. Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales shimmered but was not insubstantial while Liszt’s  Valse de l’opéra Faust de Gounod showed off the pianist’s chops without sacrificing any part of the music’s well-entrenched musical lines.

Kent Nagano’s coherent, exciting performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall not long ago has me looking forward to his forthcoming appearance with Tafelmusik next January when he will be conducting Beethoven’s insdispensable Symphony No. 5 and underrated Mass in C Major.

Two Parts of Triple Forte: When he hosted This Is My Music on CBC Radio 2, Ottawa-based pianist David Jalbert spoke about how he had been intimidated by Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations until hearing Murray Perahia’s version showed him that there are other ways to play the piece. On March 11 the Music Toronto audience will get a chance to hear how Jalbert’s interpretation of Bach’s seminal masterpiece has evolved since his CD of it was released to wide acclaim (including Christina Petrowska Quilico’s review in the May 2012 WholeNote) two years ago.

Coincidentally, on March 20 the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto is presenting  the impressive cellist Yegor Dyachkov, Jalbert’s partner in the Triple Forte trio (violinist Jasper Wood is the third member), in a tantalizing program with pianist Jean Saulnier that includes the world premiere (and WMCT commission) of Atonement by Christos Hatzis.

Beethoven’s middle cello sonata as well as Britten and Shostakovich’s contributions to the repertoire complete the afternoon’s recital.

And More: The redoubtable Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society has six concerts on tap this month and two in the first week of April. Of particular interest: James Campbell performs Brahms’ second sonata for clarinet and piano (with Leopoldo Erice) on March 8 then joins the Penderecki String Quartet for the composer’s sublime Clarinet Quintet. Trio Voce includes Marina Hoover, founding cellist of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, violinist Jasmine Lin and pianist Patricia Tao. Their March 21 evening features trios by Haydn, Dvorák and Brahms.

On March 16, Mooredale Concerts presents Guillermo González performing his own edited version of Albéniz’s Iberia Suite. Judging by his 1998 Naxos recording, González clearly transmits the Spanish character of this keyboard masterpiece in an engaging rough-hewn manner compared to the more elegant style of his fellow Spaniard Alicia de Larrocha. (For sheer virtuosity, Marc-André Hamelin’s luminous, impressionistic version is unmatched, however.)

Angela Hewitt continues her recent foray into Beethoven’s universe (see this month’s DISCoveries) with her TSO appearance  March 20 and 22 playing the composer’s Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor.” Guest conductor Hannu Lintu also leads the orchestra in Sibelius’ thrilling Symphony No 5.

Paul Ennis is managing editor of The WholeNote.

Grosvenor’s Asynchronicity

The most acclaimed British pianist of his generation, the remarkable Stephen Hough, makes his Koerner Hall debut March 2, his first solo recital in Toronto since his Music Toronto appearance seven years ago. A few weeks earlier his 21-year-old countryman Benjamin Grosvenor, who’s been not so quietly building a burgeoning career of his own appears on Music Toronto’s Jane Mallet stage February 11, following that up February 14 and 15 as piano soloist with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony in Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No.2 (which Grosvenor plays with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic on his latest Decca CD).

bbb - classical 2 - grosvenorGrosvenor: In one so young – he’s only 21 – we expect the notes and hope for the music; in this case there are good reasons to be hopeful. The Times said of Grosvenor’s first recording (which included Chopin’s Four Scherzi and Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit) that “he jumps inside the music’s soul.”

Just who is this pianist upon whom the venerable magazine Gramophone bestowed its “Young Artist of the Year” and “Instrumental Award” in 2012?

At 11, Grosvenor’s exceptional talent was revealed when he won the keyboard section of the BBC Young Musician of the Year. At 19, shortly after becoming the first British pianist since the legendary Clifford Curzon to be signed by Decca, he became the youngest soloist to perform at the First Night of the Proms.

The youngest of five brothers, his piano teacher mother shaped his early musical thinking. He divulged in a 2011 video that he decided at ten he would be a concert pianist and wasn’t fazed at all by playing on the BBC shortly thereafter. Only when he became more self-aware at 13 or 14 did he suffer some anxious moments. On the video, a piano excerpt from Leonard Bernstein’s Age of Anxiety follows, the musical core of which he expresses beautifully both literally and figuratively, before adding: “The pieces you play the best are the ones you respond to emotionally.”

In a May 2013 YouTube webcam chat in advance of a return engagement in Singapore, he spoke of his musical taste. From the beginning he was attracted to Chopin but over the years hearing Schnabel for the first time led to an attraction to Beethoven and hearing Samuel Feinberg opened his ears to Bach. He’s a bit of an old soul in that he has a great interest in recordings by pianists like Moriz Rosenthal, Ignaz Friedman, Benno Moiseiwitsch, Shura Cherkassky and Vladimir Horowitz made in the early half of the 20th century. “Their primary concern was in imitating the voice especially in romantic repertoire,” he explained. “Horowitz was obsessed with the voice. They were the masters of that asynchronization of the hands.”

In a profile in The Guardian three years ago when Grosvenor was 18, Tom Service wrote that he “talked of his early years as if he’s a seasoned professional looking back on the sins of his youth. But he’s talking about 2004.”

“Listening back to the Chopin D-Flat Major Nocturne I did when I was 12 -- I think it’s really interesting, some of the expressive things I do, like the asynchronization of the hands.” Asynchronization, Service went on to explain, is “a technique where the left hand plays a microsecond before the right, something associated with pianists of an earlier age ... and frowned on by today’s virtuosos.”

Grosvenor continued: “I don’t really know where that came from; I hadn’t heard any of those early 20th-century recordings by then ... If you compare the way people perform Mozart now with, say, Lili Kraus’ recordings, or Schnabel’s Beethoven with today’s players – today, things are so much blander and more boring. They were each so unique back then ... Maybe it’s because of recording and the pressure to make things note perfect, or the influence of competitions, but we’ve lost touch with that tradition of playing, with its imagination and expression.”

The Independent has described Grosvenor’s sound as “poetic and gently ironic, brilliant yet clear-minded, intelligent but not without humour, all translated through a beautifully clear and singing touch.” After his Wigmore Hall recital last fall, which contained much of what he will be playing in Toronto, International Piano compared Grosvenor to a young Krystian Zimerman. I’m looking forward to it.

bbb - classical 2 - houghHough: It had been eight years since Stephen Hough became the first classical musician to receive the MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called “genius award,” so it was only fitting for him to be named by The Economist in 2009 as one of 20 polymaths the magazine determined to excel in diverse fields (in Hough’s case: pianist, poet, composer, writer on religion – this was before his first solo exhibit of paintings in the fall of 2012 at London’s Broadbent Gallery).

In the last two years Hough has been profiled and/or interviewed in Le Monde, Classical Music, the Houston Chronicle, Sunday Times, New York Times and London Evening Standard, all of which are available on his well-ordered website. There you can also link to the blog he writes for The Telegraph, where you may read his highly literate, well-argued thoughts, insights and reminiscences on everything from religion (he’s a sceptical Catholic) to the death of Lou Reed:

“In my teenage bedroom – dark purple ceiling, light purple walls, joss sticks a-burning – I used to listen to Lou Reed: ‘Take a walk on the wild side’ he suggested with that ironic, sing-song, cooler-than-cool voice. I didn’t take his advice in the end and went back to Beethoven, despite years of neglecting the piano and neglecting to do my homework. But in those voice-breaking years as I lounged around in my flared jeans covering my (purple) platform shoes, and as the LP, scratched and coarse, spun lazy circles in the smoke, I did feel a certain coming of age. I felt maturity arriving as if a shoot in a plant pot pushing out of the brown soil (no, not that plant). I was wrong; I was still a kid; it was a false Spring. But writing this in night-time New York, realizing that such a force of nature as Lou Reed is now a dead leaf beyond the Autumn of life, is strange and poignant.”

And he tweets, which is where you’ll find him showing his cheeky side, diaristically sharing choice words on whatever catches his fanciful fancy, revealing his peccadilloes (he loves shoes) or offering insights on the news of the day. An example, this tweet from the day  Claudio Abbado died:

“I did a German tour w/@londonsymphony & #Abbado in the mid 80s. ‘I’m Claudio’: my youthful nerves instantly removed RIP”

Or these:

“My weird, wonderful life: solo on stage for 2000 people ... then 20 mins later solo slice of pizza @UnionStation_DC”

“Frank Sinatra on the speakers in the restaurant: comforting sounds before comforting food. That masterly swoop with its agogic accent. [continued] I think piano students can learn more from Frank Sinatra about phrasing and rubato than from most classical instrumentalists.”

Indeed. By the nature of the medium, the musical insights on twitter may outnumber those onstage or in recordings. In any case, they’re a most welcome way to keep up with this uncommon musician whose live appearances here are all too rare a gift. On March 3, Hough will give a masterclass at RCM. I was fortunate to attend a similar event at RCM’s temporary home in 2007. It buoyed me for weeks while providing invaluable insights into my own modest world of piano playing. I’m looking forward to being reinvigorated.

The Year of the Horse: Celebrate the Chinese New Year February 3 with the TSO and an all-star lineup of guests including conductor Long Lu, the scintillating pianist Yuja Wang (playing Rachmaninov), the soulful violinist Cho-Liang Lin (in a Dvorak Romance) and Deutsche Grammophon recording artist Yian Wang (performing Tchaikovsky’s delightful Variations on a Rococo Theme) plus popstar Song Zuying (a household name in China) and a new work by Tan Dun (incorporating music from his best-known film scores).

Double Duty: Cellist Winona Zelenka brings her singing tone to Bach, Haydn and Beethoven in the Associates of the TSO concert February 10 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre and then wears her Trio Arkel hat as part of Chamber Music Mississauga’s Belated Valentine concert February 22 in The Great Hall of The Unitarian Congregation of Mississauga.

Not To Be Missed: The Attacca Quartet’s foray into the complete string quartets of Haydn presented by the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society continues February 7, 8 and 9 in Waterloo with four concerts, each one including an early, middle and late quartet, and two introduced by a talk by violist Luke Fleming. For more information on the Haydn 68 series see my article in WholeNote’s November 2013 issue.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Keying on the Piano

1904 classical - hamelinThree pianists, Quebec-born and internationally celebrated, will all find themselves on stages in Toronto and vicinity over the course of six days in January 2014. The last time such a confluence of singular dexterity occurred was during the Glenn Gould 75th anniversary celebrations in late September and early October of 2007. Then, in homage to Gould’s love of the genre, Louis Lortie’s entire recital consisted of piano transcriptions by Bach, Grieg, Gould and Lortie; André LaPlante saluted the 50th anniversary of Gould’s Russian debut with music by Prokofiev and Shostakovich that curiously also included Mozart’s Piano Sonata K282; Marc-André Hamelin’s program comprised works championed and recorded by Gould, including Jacques Hétu’s Variations for Piano Op.8 and surprisingly Mozart’s Sonata in C, K545.

I happened to be in the audience at the Glenn Gould Studio when Hamelin began the second half of his concert by introducing the Mozart, saying that it was his least favourite of any Gould recording he heard growing up.

Hamelin began playing the piano at five. His pharmacist father was an amateur pianist enamoured of the pianists of the Golden Age — Vladimir de Pachmann, Benno Moiseiwitsch, Leopold Godowsky — and sufficiently proficient at the instrument to be able to play difficult pieces like César Franck’s Symphonic Variations and some of the Chopin Études. In a recent interview with Colin Eatock for the summer 2013 issue of Queen’s Quarterly Hamelin spoke candidly about his father’s early influence:

“Listening to these pianists [in his father’s record collection] taught me to view music with a great sense of freedom. Perhaps this wasn’t too healthy, from the perspective of today’s musicological advances, because I grew up with a disregard for the letter of the score. This is something I acquired later on. I believe it’s the combination of these two elements that make me who I am today, and make me do what I do the way I do it.”

From the age of 11 to 17 he studied with Yvonne Hubert at L’école de musique Vincent-d’Indy. Hubert taught LaPlante and Lortie among many others — Janina Fialkowska tells a wonderful story on CBC Radio 2’s This Is My Music about hearing LaPlante practicing Liszt when they were both students at the school in Montreal, she nine, and he two years older.

Hamelin has literally brought to light many works by 19th and 20th century composers whose compositions were rarely played in the last several decades. There’s an especially revealing response to Eatock’s question about Hamelin’s recorded music and whether he has followed “certain definable tendencies”:

“If you look at my discography, I don’t think you’ll find anything like it anywhere else. I’ve always had a taste for the unfamiliar, and a desire to bring it to the forefront — in the hope of enlarging awareness of the repertoire, and helping other pianists by offering them a greater diversity of things to choose from. And I’ve pretty much always been able to do what I wanted.”

Responding to a question about whether it’s his virtuosity that appeals to his fans, Hamelin answered:

“For many people, difficulty has an attraction all its own. But I don’t enjoy playing difficult music for its own sake — and I wish people understood this. If I do it, it’s because I believe in the music, and I’ll do whatever it takes to play it. But I want people to transcend virtuosity, and I’m a little less into that sort of thing now. I’ve found joy in simpler repertoire.

“And there’s a lot of the standard repertoire that I still haven’t done. For next year, I’ve programmed Schubert’s Sonata in A Major D.959 and his Impromptus — and I’ll be playing the Impromptus for the first time. But I’ll also revisit Nikolai Medtner’s Night Wind Sonata, which I think is an unsung masterpiece. It would benefit any young composer to study it very closely.”

Hamelin’s international career has maintained its lofty status. He’s currently artist-in-residence at London’s prestigious Wigmore Hall (where he made a memorable live recording slmost 20 years ago). He recently gave the first of five recitals there; the program’s first half was identical to the one he will be performing in Toronto January 21 and repeating in Lindsay the next evening. London blogger Frances Wilson summed it up: “The program traced a darkly lit narrative from the brooding opening bars of Hamelin’s atmospheric Barcarolle, through the sprawling musical landscapes of Medtner’s Night Wind piano sonata.” Here, he’ll be playing the last four Schubert Impromptus after intermission.

Hamelin is a pianist whose mastery of the mechanical aspects of music making has always been in support of his artistic vision, a means of fulfilling the music’s emotional content. Mark the date.

LaPlante and Lortie: LaPlante’s recital at the Narvesons’ Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Series, in Waterloo January 18, harks back to that autumn week in 2007. Included in a program of the kind of virtuosic romantic music for which the pianist is known — Chopin, Liszt and a Busoni arrangement of the Bach Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C — is the Mozart Sonata in E-flat K282 he played six years ago. Coincidentally he’s also performing the Jacques Hétu Variations Hamelin played during that same anniversary celebration.

Lortie will be leading the TSO from the keyboard in a performance January 22 and 23 of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.22, K482 with its haunting middle “Andante” and elegant cantabile slow menuet that hijacks its “Allegro” third movement. “The important thing about a soloist being able to conduct,” Lortie says on his website, “is that he is a master of time in all senses.” He believes that it’s the time involved in rehearsal (“which ideally is as much time as needed”) that is essential. Since he believes that the Mozart concertos are true chamber music and that every player brings his own input to the playing of them, “you must have time to discuss phrasings with people.” People who play a Mozart trio or quartet will take hours to discuss their approach; he wants to bring those same values to the concertos.

Bezuidenhout: On the subject of Mozart, fortepiano specialist Kristian Bezuidenhout conducts the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra from the keyboard December 5 to 8 in Mozart’s Concertos Nos. 9 & 11, K271 and K413. Like Hamelin’s, Bezuidenhout’s boyhood home had a massive record collection and by the age of 9 or 10 he was intimately familiar with Mozart’s music. He discovered his fascination with historic keyboards as student at the Eastman School of Music. “The scale of the piano went just far enough that one could recapture the sense of sturm and drang and tempestuousness that is present in Mozart’s music,” he observes in a video available on the Tafelmusik website.

Finally, a third pianist-conductor, Ignat Solzhenitsyn (son of the iconic Soviet writer and dissident), will, like Lortie, bring his talents to Roy Thomson Hall as part of the TSO “Mozart @258 Festival.” On January 11 he will perform the Concerto No.18, K456 with its second movement “Andante” exhibiting a pathos rare for the composer.

QUICK PICKS

Two in Waterloo: Highly touted American pianist Andrew Von Oeyen’s December 2 concert ranges from Bach’s Partita No.1 to Ravel’s La Valse; the gifted French pianist Jean-Philippe Collard’s eye-opening program January 15 consists of Debussy’s Preludes, Book I and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Both at the Perimeter Institute.

Koerner Hall Debut: Russian-born pianist Kirill Gerstein who divides his time between America and Germany is that rare classical pianist with a jazz degree from the Berklee College of Music. His December 8 program includes two Ligeti Etudes, two Virtuoso Etudes by Earl Wild from songs by Gershwin and Pictures at an Exhibition.

COC Piano Virtuoso Series: RCM Rebanks Fellowship-winner Stefan Chaplikov takes on Beethoven’s massive masterpiece, the Hammerklavier Sonata December 10; fellow RCM Rebanks Fellowship-winner (and one of the few Arabs performing Western classical music), Algerian-born Mehdi Ghazi looks to reveal the passion in works by Rachmaninov, de Falla, Prokofiev and Messiaen January 7; young American Christopher Goodpasture plays Fantasies by Schumann and Hétu and Etudes by Chopin and Debussy January 16. All concerts are free and at noon in the Richard Bradshaw Auditorium.) 

Paul Ennis is The WholeNote’s managing editor.

Haydn in the Narvesons’ Chamber

bbb - classical and beyond - haydn - in the narvesons chamber 1Haydn was a composer known for surprises but it’s likely that even he would have been amazed to find a complete cycle of his 68 string quartets being undertaken in Waterloo over the next three and a half years. Anyone familiar with the breadth and enterprising programming of the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society (KWCMS), however, won’t be so surprised.

If someone were to quiz you on the three leading concert presenters in the greater Toronto region, the TSO and RCM’s Koerner Hall, would come to mind immediately. Yet the KWCMS, with more than 70 concerts this season is barely behind The Royal Conservatory’s 80+ and the TSO’s 109. It’s incredible really, that one dedicated couple’s love affair with music would rival the accomplishments of two such prestigious institutions. At The WholeNote we’ve been well aware of the bountifulness of the KWCMS programming since their concerts have been filling our listings pages (and the 85-seat Music Room in Jan and Jean Narveson’s home) for as long as we’ve been in existence.

Over the years the cumulative volume of talented performers who made their way to the Narvesons is astonishing enough, but it is the KWCMS’ penchant for programming complete cycle concerts that really made one sit up and take notice. Over the years, they’ve presented all the Bartók, Beethoven, Shostakovitch and even the second Viennese School quartets, three cycles of the Beethoven piano sonatas, four of the Beethoven sonatas for violin and piano, three of the Beethoven cello and piano sonatas, the complete Ravel piano works and all 49 of the Haydn piano trios.

Read more: Haydn in the Narvesons’ Chamber

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