Classical_and_Beyond_1_-_Goodyear.jpg"There are so many composers and so many projects,” Stewart Goodyear said recently to WholeNote editor David Perlman. “What makes this life so exciting is that the discovery is endless; the road doesn’t end and there’s discovery galore.”

The two men were wrapping up the latest edition of Conversations <at>The WholeNote for the magazine’s YouTube channel, a conversation prompted by Goodyear’s upcoming appearance as soloist in the first concert of Mooredale Concerts 2015/16 season, September 27. Billed as “Legendary Piano Variations,” it’s the coupling of two major works, Bach’s joyful Goldberg Variations and Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations (the essence of which, according to Alfred Brendel and others, is humour).

Goodyear talked about the similarities in the two pieces: “They both centre around dances. There is humour in both (of course used very differently), voices, innovative harmonies – one in each set almost sounds like a 21st-century work, the harmonies are so advanced it still shocks the listener. Even if the listener has heard it around 10,000 times – like yours truly – it always makes a huge impression and I’m bowled over by what I hear.”

That’s the boyish pianistic explorer talking, the 37-year-old pianist who is famous for the Beethoven “Sonatathon” in which he has played all 32 sonatas in chronological order at one sitting, who calls himself a “music gourmet” with an appetite for big programs (such as performing all five of the Beethoven piano concertos with the Niagara Symphony Orchestra on Hallowe’en night, repeating the marathon the following Sunday afternoon, November 1). Or, on the same weekend as the Mooredale date, performing all five Beethoven concertos in a slightly more traditional setting with Edwin Outwater and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony: One and Four on Friday evening; Three (and Symphony No.8) on Saturday afternoon; Two and Five Saturday evening.

“It humbles me as an interpreter,” Goodyear continued, discussing his Toronto recital. “I always want to bring an intimacy to both of those works…to get into the marrow.”

Playing these two monumental works on the same recital is “like a Canadian program for me,” he says. His introduction to the Goldberg Variations was Glenn Gould’s 1955 recording of the piece “and then immediately after, I heard [Gould’s] second [recording].” The first recording of the Diabelli Variations he heard was Anton Kuerti’s. Goodyear own CD of the Diabellis was released last fall by Marquis and very favourably reviewed, by among others Christina Petrowska Quilico in our November 2014 issue.

Goodyear had lived with the Goldbergs all his life before finally performing them in public for the first time on Gould’s own piano at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa last spring, surrounded by portraits of Gould. “I was face to face with Glenn Gould,” he said. “It gave me another excuse to connect with the audience.”

Gould’s piano felt custom made to him, he says. He found playing it “challenging” with its “brilliant sound and lots of colours. Just being a part of that history inspired me a lot,” he continued. “I felt that there was something spiritual going on.”

The Mooredale recital will be Goodyear’s fourth performance of the Bach this year. “Every time I do it, it’s different,” he said. The notational text is sacrosanct, the basis for all Goodyear’s formal preparatory work until it feels “like it’s in every pore.”

“So that whatever happens, it feels like I’m improvising,” he elaborated. “I know it 500 percent that whatever comes out it’s not like I’m reciting something or reiterating something; it’s just coming out.”

Part of his practising method is delving into a piece’s history and its qualities. In the case of Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony which he’s playing again with Paavo Järvi, later this season with the Orchestre de Paris, it’s trying to “find the seed to this masterpiece.” Listening to him talk about its character reveals the way he relates to a musical work: “It’s very theatrical; there are sweeping gestures, extremely lyrical, very colourful, with fermatas, rallentandos. There are moments when you see the lovers running to each other just like Hollywood; there are slow-motion moments when they finally embrace. It’s a technicolor extravaganza. It’s a beautiful work, 80 minutes long. It’s decadent, it’s pure, it’s everything. It’s romantic.”

It’s a telling insight into Goodyear’s approach. Despite the marathons, despite the prodigious technique and memory that they require, the basis for Goodyear’s appeal is his empathetic relationship with the music he performs and his ability to communicate that to an audience – qualities that will undoubtedly be evident to all who hear him in Walter Hall on the last Sunday afternoon of September.

Summer Pleasures. A completely different traversal of the Beethoven piano concertos took place in Stratford August 27 to 29 when Stratford Summer Music presented Jan Lisiecki and the Annex Quartet with Roberto Occhipinti, bass, in three programs encompassing all five of the concertos in transcriptions by the German composer and conductor, Vinzenz Lachner’s (1811-1893). It was Lisiecki’s first time performing all five piano concertos. In the days leading up to our September production deadline, I was fortunate to find time to attend the middle concert which paired the Second and the Fourth.

The 20-year-old wunderkind was his usual gracious and charming self as he introduced the concert. “We can’t give you all the drama,” he said. “But we can give you intimacy and the beauty of this music.”

St. Andrew’s Church is a bright room acoustically but Lisiecki met its challenge (and that of the Yamaha grand) in the Piano Concerto No.2, Op.19, begun when Beethoven was still a teenager and only published after his first six string quartets (Op.18). Lisiecki’s touch was even-handed, very classical, marvellous. He made every note count. The Allegro con brio was Mozartean in its passagework, Haydn-like in its succession of swells but intimations of the composer-to-be were clearly present. The Largo that followed is not one of Beethoven’s best but Occhipinti’s rich, sonorous sound stood out. The lively Rondo, however, is a delight, presaging the more mature symphonist, and the performers seemed to relish playing it, bringing out the joy that flows from the return of the opening theme in its inverted form.

The six played like cohesive, well-balanced chamber musicians in the Rondo, and the piano part especially stood out since it didn’t have to compete with a full orchestra. This transparency continued in the Op. 58 concerto, a piece composed in that luminous time just after the Triple Concerto, the “Waldstein” and “Appassionata” Sonatas and the “Eroica” Symphony and immediately before the “Razumovsky” String Quartets. Lisiecki often played with a sound big enough to match an orchestra which made for a less balanced whole, though given the somewhat rough-hewn sound of the violins, it was not unwelcome. Intimations of beauty leading into the cadenza were dashed by a hurried approach until a surfeit of melody righted the course on the way to a thundering climax.

The second movement conversation between the dark and dissonant strings and the gorgeous lyricism of the keyboard set up the magical, rhapsodic piano cadenza. The spirited third movement Rondo, seemed to outrun its musical sense. But all was right in the encore, the Rondo of the “Emperor” Concerto, in which Lisiecki seemed re-engaged if not re-energized. It was a generous gift to an appreciative audience who greeted the conclusion of each of the three pieces with a standing ovation.

(All of which makes me look forward to Lisiecki’s December 6 recital in Koerner Hall when his program will include Chopin’s 24 Preludes, Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses and Mozart’s marvellous Piano Sonata, K331 among other works.)

Paul Lewis. Still on the subject of Stratford Summer Music,  on the last Thursday afternoon of July in a warm St. Andrew’s Church (hand-held fans were provided) British pianist Paul Lewis spoke to his congregation, as it were, those of us privileged to hear this supreme interpreter of Beethoven and Schubert, describing how he saw the pieces he was about to play – what he called “true peaks of the piano repertoire” – Beethoven’s last three piano sonatas. 

The concert turned out to be the highlight of my summer. You can read more about it in my blog on thewholenote.com. (Lewis will also be giving a recital, of Brahms, Schubert and Liszt, in Koerner Hall March 20, 2016. I already have a ticket.)

Botos and BartókMeanwhile, the tenth anniversary season of Toronto Summer Music reached a significant climax August 6 with separate concerts late in the afternoon and into the evening. Robi Botos and Béla Bartók, two Hungarian-born émigrés to the New World, were appropriate poster boys for the well-conceived and multi-layered 2015 TSM festival.

With its extensive schedule built around a foundation of TSM Academy fellows and mentors, the concerts, masterclasses, lectures, films and open rehearsals flowed organically, buttressed by a number of additional concerts featuring special guests such as soprano Measha Brueggergosman, pianists Garrick Ohlsson, Ingrid Fliter and Danilo Pérez and the Danish String Quartet. They provided ample evidence for artistic director’s Douglas McNabney’s contention at the opening concert that TSM provides “a significant contribution to the cultural life of this city in the summer.” Not to mention a significant contribution to the life of the Academy fellows.

I took in six concerts, one dress rehearsal, two masterclasses and a lecture over the 25 days of the festival and barely scratched the surface. Highlights included the well-devised “American Avant-Garde” program devoted to Cage, Feldman, Ives and Zorn with the personable pianist Pedja Muzijevic and the irrepressible Afiara String Quartet; Ohlsson’s Scriabin; the Danish String Quartet’s playing of Adès’ audacious Arcadiana; the Borromeo String Quartet’s complete Bartók cycle in one evening, preceded the day before by first violinist Nicholas Kitchen’s illuminating lecture on the week he once spent exploring Bartók’s original manuscripts in Budapest; Finnish lyric soprano Soile Isokoski’s memorable masterclass; Botos’ exuberant tribute to Oscar Peterson in the presence of Peterson family members at a rollicking, jam-packed Heliconian Hall; Brueggergosman’s touching and extraordinarily beautiful Summertime. Further details on TSM 2015 can be found on thewholenote.com.

Classical_and_Beyond_2_-_Gerstein.jpgSeptember is here. The TSO begins its 2015/2016 season with a crowd-pleasing program headed by guest soloist Itzhak Perlman in Bruch’s dazzling Violin Concerto No.1. With its gorgeous melodic lines and virtuoso passages seamlessly integrated, it’s one of the most popular concertos in the violin canon. Having just turned 70, Perlman will celebrate that milestone as well as his ongoing relationship with the TSO (which goes back to 1966) in Roy Thomson Hall, beginning at 7pm September 24. The orchestra then jumps into the deep end with a rousing program featuring the legendary Three B’s. Following Leopold Stokowski’s arrangement of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor the TSO moves on to the rich and melodious Double Concerto of Brahms with TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow and principal cellist Joseph Johnson as soloists. Post-intermission comes Beethoven’s iconic Symphony No.5. If you have never heard this piece live, get yourself down to RTH September 25 or 26 or experience it September 27 in the glorious acoustics of the George Weston Recital Hall. If you haven’t heard it recently, now’s the time. A live reacquaintance with this music is essential at least once every decade. September 30, Shostakovich’s jaunty Suite for Variety Orchestra (which may be familiar to some readers for its use in Stanley Kubrick’s final film, Eyes Wide Shut) is joined on the program with Gershwin’s challenging Concerto in F. The mulit-faceted Russian-born, American Kirill Gerstein is the piano soloist and the guest conductor is the gifted American James Gaffigan. October 1 and 3 Prokofiev’s indispensable Symphony No.5 augments the program, making for a full musical evening indeed.

QUICK PICKS

Sept 13: Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society. South African pianist Petronel Malan’s program includes Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata.

Sept 16: KWCMS. The New Orford String Quartet opens its program with Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 3, Op.18No.3 before moving on to the seminal Op.130 and its original ending, the Grosse Fugue, Op. 133.

Sept 18: Prince Edward County Music Festival (PECMF). The New Orford String Quartet performs Brahms’ String Quartet No.2, Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue Op.133 and Gary Kulesha’s String Quartet at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene.

Sept 19: PECMF. The Gryphon Trio’s concert includes Beethoven’s Archduke Trio at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene.

Sept 19, 20, 21: KWCMS. Georgy Valtechev, violin, and Lora Tchekoratova, piano, perform all ten of Beethoven’s sonatas for violin and piano in a series of three concerts.

Sept 20: RCM. Glenn Gould School faculty-member, 80-year-old John Perry’s big program for a Sunday afternoon includes Mozart’s divine Piano Sonata K.333, three Brahms IntermezziOp.117, Beethoven’s penultimate piano sonata, Op.110 and Schubert’s melodic masterpiece, his final sonata, D960.

Sept 25: PECMF. “Inspired by Clara” – chamber music by Clara Schumann, Robert Schumann and Brahms at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene.

Sept 26: RCM. The ARC Ensemble’s ambitious program includes the sublime clarinetist Joaquin Valdepeñas in Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet K581, Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet Op.57 and Weinberg’s Sonata No.1 for Violin and Piano Op.12. You’ll need a ticket, but it’s FREE, part of Culture Days.

Sept 26: PECMF. An evening of German and French cabaret songs with Patricia O’Callaghan at the Regent Theatre.  

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.`


Toronto Summer Music Festival celebrates its tenth edition by paying homage to the Pan Am Games being held in Toronto from July 10 to 26. Festival artistic director Douglas McNabney has focused his fifth season at TSM on an exploration of the culture of the Americas in the 20th century. How the musical heritage of waves of European immigrants merged with that of indigenous peoples and Americans of African descent is an ongoing narrative that never gets old. To that end, McNabney has curated several programs that will keep any serious concertgoer’s mind off the noise of the hemispheric contests simultaneously raging in the realms of physical culture throughout our fair city.

Soprano Measha Brueggergosman headlines TSM’s July 16 opener, “Americans in Paris,” spotlighting the music of Gershwin and Copland, whose careers were elevated by their European experiences. “The Hollywood Connection” and “American Romantic” are other concerts that promise beautiful music from Barber and Dvořák to Korngold, Beach and Antheil. Arts patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge was typical of the classical music lover of the New World, commissioning works by Prokofiev, Poulenc, Britten and Bloch. McNabney cleverly includes a concert July 24 of the fruits of her largesse performed by a collection of topnotch chamber musicians led by TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow. The final thematic evening "American Avant-Garde,” features the Afiara String Quartet, Pedja Muzijevic, piano, and Harumi Rhodes, violin, performing Cage, Ives, Feldman and Zorn. This kind of stimulating programming is part of what makes summer festivals and TSM, in particular, so compelling.

Argentinian pianist Ingrid Fliter performs Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major with the YOA Orchestra of the Americas, conducted by Carlos Miguel Prieto, in a concert that also includes Mexican composer Carlos Chávez’s infectious Symphony No.2 “Sinfonia India” and Dvořák’s ever-fresh Symphony No.9 in E Minor Op.95 “From the New World.” Panamanian pianist Danilo Pérez brings his considerable jazz skills to an all-star Koerner Hall evening July 22.

Garrick Ohlsson, the first American to win the International Chopin competition (in 1970), and coincidentally, a musical inspiration for the young McNabney, brings his sizable pianism and imposing six-foot, four-inch frame to a noteworthy program (in Koerner Hall on July 23) of Scriabin – Désir, Op.57 No.1, Sonata No.10, Op.70, Fragilité, Op.51, No.1 and Sonata No.5 in F-sharp Major, Op.53 – and Beethoven (Sonatas Opp.109 and 110).

Classical-Borromeo.jpgEven more impressive is the Borromeo String Quartet’s complete traversal of Bartók’s six string quartets which will take place August 6 at 7:30pm in the intimate confines of Walter Hall. As David Patrick Stearns wrote in The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2012: “Compared to the Emerson Quartet’s famous Bartók marathons at Carnegie Hall in the 1990s (one of which I attended), Borromeo’s at Field Concert Hall had musicians, music and audience contained in a smaller room that, over the three-hour-plus concert, became laudably claustrophobic: the performances never coasted or let you coast. While the 1990s version of the Emerson Quartet used vibrato so unceasingly as to form a safety curtain between your ears and the music’s intensity, the Borromeo Quartet is much more judicious about such matters, giving performances with more nuanced contrasts of light and shade, as well as more open windows that your ear can’t help but enter. The music’s mystery, violence and sorrow become absolutely inescapable. Spanning the period from 1908 when the composer was 27 to the eve of World War II in 1939, Bartók’s quartets ask to be performed in a single concert not just because they represent one of the highest peaks in 20th-century music, but because there’s an easily traceable progression.”

TSM also acts as a mentoring academy to 28 young musicians on the threshold of a professional career. Chosen by a jury headed by McNabney, 14 fellows in the Chamber Music Institute program for piano and strings (July 13 to August 8) and 14 in the Art of Song program for singers and pianists (July 12 to 25) will study under violinists Martin Beaver, Jonathan Crow, Mark Fewer, Ernst Kovacic, Harumi Rhodes and Axel Strauss; violists Paul Coletti, Steven Dann and Eric Nowlin; cellists Henrik Brendstrup, Denise Djokic and Mark Kosower; soprano Soile Isokoski; and pianists Martin Katz, Pedja Muzijevic, John Novacek, Steven Philcox and Huw Watkins. The “Mentors & Fellows” concerts at Walter Hall feature artist mentors and festival guest artists sharing the stage with TSM Chamber Music Institute fellows at 4pm and 7:30pm on July 18, 25, August 1 and 8. These are unparallelled opportunities for the aspiring professionals to gain invaluable experience making chamber music in front of the public while performing with seasoned musicians of the highest calibre. Which makes them fascinating to attend as well.

In a free TSM preview concert at the Richard Bradshaw Ampitheatre May 28, violist McNabney and violinist Axel Strauss anchored a hushed, lyrical performance of Dvořák’s tuneful Piano Quintet No.2 in A Major, Op.81. Pianist fellow Todd Yaniw was a sensitive keyboardist; cellist fellow Sarah Gans and violinist fellow Aysel Taghi-Zada blended in nicely. The noontime recital proved McNabney’s point (in his introductory remarks) that (young) musicians learn how to project their feelings about music by playing in public. In Dvořák they had a most willing partner. The first and second movements were filled with so much melody that if you were on a walk in the woods, dropping notes like breadcrumbs, you would have no trouble finding your way back home.

Classical-Lewis.jpgStratford Summer Music: The Liverpool-born pianist Paul Lewis discovered classical music by listening to records in his local library as a child. Curiously, the first pianist he heard was Alfred Brendel, whose affinity for Schubert and Beethoven was echoed in Lewis’ own critically acclaimed recordings many years later. His WMCT Toronto debut playing Schubert’s last three sonatas in the fall of 2012 still lingers vividly in my mind; his recent Koerner Hall recital with the violinist Lisa Batiashvili was memorable for its Schubert and Beethoven. So it makes for a kind of cyclic balance that Lewis’ Stratford recital July 29 will consist of Beethoven’s last three sonatas, Opp.109. 110 and 111. His Harmonia Mundi recording of these pianistic touchstones was named Gramophone Record of the Year in 2008. This is one of the destination concerts of the summer; the fact that it follows Garrick Ohlsson’s TSM recital, which also includes Opp.109 and 110, by a mere six days adds another layer to its attraction – the opportunity to compare artistic interpretations.

Another reason to make the trek to Stratford is the chance to hear budding superstar Jan Lisiecki play all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos with a string quartet! Having heard his trio of concerts with the TSO last November when he performed Nos. 3, 4 and 5 under the baton of Thomas Dausgaard, I can’t wait for the added intimacy the Annex Quartet and the Revival House venue will provide August 27, 28 and 29.

Another innovative piece of programming finds three Tafelmusik violinists each performing a Bach unaccompanied sonata and partita in a “Musical Brunch” on two separate weekends. The series begins July 25 and 26 with Julia Wedman playing Partita No.2. Aisslinn Nosky follows with Sonata No.1 August 1 and 2; Christina Zacharias performs the Sonata No.2 August 8 and 9; Nosky returns with Partita No.3 August 15 and 16; Zacharias follows with Partita No.1 August 22 and 23; Wedman completes the cycle August 29 and 30 with Sonata No.3.

Classical-Tselyakov.jpgFestival of the Sound: The 36th summer of this long-running vibrant festival has much to recommend between July 18 and August 9 beginning with “Flute, Harp and Strings” on July 21 when Suzanne Shulman, Caroline Léonardelli, Gil Sharon, Ron Ephrat and Yegor Dyachkov perform Debussy, Saint-Saëns and Villa-Lobos among others. An overview of Brahms promises much over three concerts July 22, while July 23 features a wealth of chamber music from Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert to Bruch, Saint-Saëns and Poulenc culminating in a 7:30pm concert of Beethoven’s Piano Quartet with André Laplante and Schubert’s seminal Quintet in C. Violinist Moshe Hammer performs two recitals on July 30; in the later one his Beethoven Violin Sonata “Spring” is followed by the Penderecki String Quartet playing the composer’s great String Quartet Op.131. On August 4, the Afiara String Quartet gives us Beethoven’s final quartet Op.135. The next day violinists Martin Beaver and Mark Fewer lead a cast of supporters in Beethoven’s irresistible Septet. August 7 Beaver and Fewer are joined by festival artistic director, clarinetist James Campbell, the Afiara String Quartet and others for intimate concerto performances of Haydn’s Violin Concerto in D and Mozart’s sublime Clarinet Concerto. Earlier in the day, you can hear Stewart Goodyear’s take on Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations Op.120. Two days later, Goodyear is joined by Boris Brott and the National Academy Orchestra for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Op.73 “Emperor.” A festival of many sounds.

Music and Beyond: Running from July 4 to 17, this Ottawa classical music and multi-disciplinary festival highlights the delightful Vienna Piano Trio (whom I profiled in my March column earlier this year) in three concerts July 8, 9 and 10. Then on July 11, the trio’s pianist, the voluble and charming Stefan Mendl, joins soprano Donna Brown for an afternoon of “Song and Conversation” with music by Schubert and Brahms.

Clear Lake Chamber Music Festival: The tenth anniversary of this August long-weekend festival (July 30 to August 3) under the artistic direction of pianist Alexander Tselyakov features seven musically rich concerts, two of which are jazz-oriented. The five classical recitals are well-programmed and varied, with Tselyakov himself, and his talented pianist son Daniel, collaborating with violinist Marc Djokic, hornist Ken McDonald, cellist Simon Fryer and others in music ranging from Beethoven to Piazzolla, Mendelssohn and Schumann to Franck, Sarasate and Corigliano, all of which only enhance the natural beauty of Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba, where the festival takes place.

Classical-Danish_String_Quartet.jpgOttawa Chamberfest: There is a feast for the ears here from July 23 to August 6. Belgian violinist Augustin Dumay’s July 24 recital of Brahms, Debussy, Ravel and Beethoven is a chance to hear this patrician musician before his Koerner Hall concert next year. The strong Haydn component begins July 28 with “Haydnfest I,” the first of two programs by the kinetic St. Lawrence String Quartet. The Calidore String Quartet also play two Haydn recitals, as do the Cecilia and Eybler String Quartets, making a total of eight “Haydnfests.” The Calidore quartet joins up-and-coming Russian pianist Pavel Kolesnikov July 28 in a performance of Schnittke’s Piano Quintet following a selection of Scarlatti sonatas and Beethoven’s Op.109. Stalwart Canadian pianist André Laplante’s solo recital July 31 includes Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven and Liszt. In “Metamorfosi” soprano Suzie LeBlanc joins the Constantinople Ensemble August 1 in works by 17th-century Italian composers Monteverdi, Kapsberger, Landi and Strozzi. The celebrated Danish String Quartet performs two evening programs August 5. Beethoven’s Op.18, No.1, Schnittke’s String Quartet No.3 and Nielsen’s String Quartet No.1 comprise the earlier concert; the later one is devoted to Wood Works, their CD of traditional Nordic folk music. Four days later, the Danes play the Beethoven and Nielsen as part of their TSM recital, a must-see for those who cannot be in Ottawa. In the meantime, there are worthwhile musical moments every day in this packed festival.

Quick Picks

Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Festival: This annual Toronto event provides an invaluable introduction to our world-class baroque orchestra. Even better, admission is free, on a first-come basis. Check the Summer Festivals listings for details on programs and venues for the June 5, 10, 14 and 17 concerts.

Summer Music in the Garden: July 5 Elinor Frey, cello; July 19 Shauna Rolston, cello, and the Cecilia String Quartet play Schubert’s glorious Quintet in C; July 30 Ton Beau String Quartet; August 13 Blythwood Winds play Barber and Rossini.

Music Mondays at the Church of the Holy Trinity: June 8 Angela Park, piano; June 29 Raphael Weinroth-Browne, cello; July 6 Cecilia Lee, piano; July 20 Mary Kenedi, piano; July 27 Chris James, flute, Lara Dodds-Eden, piano.

Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society: June 24 Pianist Su Jeon and violinist Andrea Tyniec have included Schubert’s vital Violin Sonata D574 and his Fantasy in C along with Arvo Pärt’s mesmerizing and iconic Spiegel im Spiegel in their intelligently designed program; July 26 pianist Alexander Tselyakov’s program includes Brahms’ Horn Trio and Beethoven’s Horn Sonata in what is in effect a preview of his own Clear Lake Festival recital five days later, only with different musical partners.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra: June 10 and 12 the TSO led by Peter Oundjian performs Mahler’s essential Symphony No.2 “Resurrection.” June 26 the TSO performs Holst’s indispensible The Planets in a Luminato “Late Night” concert. June 28 the TSO’s free Luminato concert, “A Symphonic Zoo,” runs the gamut from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Stravinsky’s Firebird to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee, Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, the Bulldog from Elgar’s Enigma Variations and the Mule from Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite. 

June 17 and 18 HanVoice presents a benefit concert with Scott St. John and friends, including cellist Roman Borys and pianist Angela Park, performing Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.3, Mendelssohn’s Octet and Dvořák’s Piano Quintet.

June 20 and 21 The Night Dances” presented by Luminato, finds Charlotte Rampling reading Sylvia Plath and Sonia Wieder-Atherton playing selections from Britten’s Suites Nos. 2 and 3 for solo cello. Anthony Tommasini wrote of its American premiere in The New York Times on April 24, 2015: “During some stretches of ‘The Night Dances,’ music and poetry overlapped. For me, the greatness of Britten’s music came through with special force when Ms. Wieder-Atherton played alone and Ms. Rampling just listened, with an acuity as gripping as her recitations.”

June 23 Nine Sparrows Arts Foundation presents flutist Allan Pulker in a free lunchtime concert.

July 29 St. Stephen’s in-the-Fields Anglican Church presents the Ton Beau String Quartet in a free midday concert. 

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote. he can be reached at editorial@thewholenote.com.


2008_-_Classical_-_Yo_Yo_Ma.jpgYo-Yo Ma, arguably the most famous cellist in the contemporary classical firmament, has risen from his early days as a seven-year-old immigrant (born in Paris to Chinese parents, his first teacher at four was his father). A student of the legendary Leonard Rose at Juilliard, he subsequently sought a broader education at Harvard. His wide-ranging interests and musical gifts propelled him to great acclaim as a soloist, chamber musician and orchestral collaborator, culminating in the formation of the Silk Road Ensemble in 1998. As his website puts it, the ensemble “mixes the modern and the traditional, breaking boundaries of ethnicity and era ... [demonstrating] once again that there are no barriers for those approaching music with an open mind.”

In an interview with On Being’s Krista Tippett last September, Ma invokes the great cellist Pablo Casals, the scientist Carl Sagan and the violinist Isaac Stern to illustrate how getting from one note to the next has cosmic resonance: “If you look at, to quote Carl Sagan, ‘the billions and billions of stars out there’ and what stirs the imagination of a young child ... you start wondering where are we? How do we fit into this vast universe? And [you look] to Casals saying that within the notes that he plays, he’s looking for infinite variety … [and] to Isaac Stern saying, the music happens between the notes. OK, what then do you mean when you say music happens between the notes? Well, how do you get from A to B? Is it a smooth transfer: it’s automatic, it feels easy, you glide into the next note? Or you have to physically or mentally or effortfully reach to go from one note to another? Could the next note be part of the first note? Or could the next note be a different universe? Have you just crossed into some amazing boundary and suddenly the second note is a revelation?

“The realm of playing an instrument is pure engineering. But the mental process, the emotional process, the psychic investment in trying to make something easy [is] infinitely hard.”

Curiously, for a string player, in an interview with Elijah Ho for the San Francisco Examiner in January 2013, Ma responded to a question about which of the instrumentalists of the Golden Age had made the greatest impression on him by revealing his love for some of the finest pianists of the last century. His illuminating response was triggered when the journalist asked him if he ever had the opportunity to hear Vladimir Horowitz.

“Yes, I heard him once in Toronto at Massey Hall. I got one ticket to one of his Sunday afternoon concerts and I was right up, last row of the balcony. And it was just extraordinary. He played Scriabin, Rachmaninov, Scarlatti, etc. And the whole concert, he played between pianissimo and mezzo forte, until he played the Stars and Stripes encore. Then he just blew the roof off the hall [laughs]. And it was extraordinary. I loved Horowitz, I love hearing Richter recordings. I have some great recordings of Richter playing the Beethoven Sonatas. I also treasure my Schnabel Schubert recordings, I love Dinu Lipatti’s last concert in Switzerland and a lot of early Glenn Gould. I have great memories of great pianists. I never heard Rubinstein live, but I once watched the DVD of his concert in Moscow and it was extraordinary, just extraordinary. These are the gold standards, and I still hold on to them; lots of great people.”

On May 29, Ma joins the celebration of Sir Andrew Davis’ 40th anniversary with the TSO in a performance of Elgar’s intimate, passionate Cello Concerto, along with Dvořák’s the most popular concerto in the cello repertoire. Ma will undoubtedly make it all appear effortless.

2008_-_Classical_-_James_Ehnis.jpgJames Ehnes: In 2008 James Ehnes won the Gramophone Award for Best Concerto Recording of the Year for Elgar’s Violin Concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. That same year Ehnes’ recording of the Barber, Korngold and Walton concertos with the Vancouver Symphony conducted by Bramwell Tovey won the JUNO for Best Classical Album of the Year: Large Ensemble or Soloist(s) with Large Ensemble Accompaniment. That same recording won the 2008 Grammy for Best Instrumental Soloist(s) Performance with Orchestra. Shortly after that breakout awards year Ehnes sat down with Andrew Palmer for an interview for All Things Strings in May 2009.

Palmer wondered how Ehnes keeps his performances fresh while on tour. Is there anyone for whom, or to whom, he performs?

“My wife [ballerina Kate Maloney, whom he married in 2004] is on the road with me a lot—she’s actually here now—and she loves music, which is a good thing because she hears a lot of it! Every time I play I want to make sure she doesn’t regret going to concerts three times a week. And there’s something else in my psychology, which may result from where I grew up: Brandon, Manitoba, in the centre of Canada. Although it has a lot of music for a city of its size, it was always a big event when major stars performed there. But they only came once, so I was thrilled when they gave it their all. On the other hand, I was left feeling very bitter if I got the impression that they played a lot of concerts and that some were important and some weren’t, and that this one wasn’t. Believe me, there were a lot like that.

“I never forget that at each of my concerts someone in the audience is hearing me for the first time. Someone is also hearing the piece of music for the first time. And it’s a point of pride that if I don’t play as close to my best as I can, there’ll be people who’ll tell their friends afterwards, ‘James Ehnes wasn’t very good,’ and I’d have to agree with them. Which would really hurt! So mostly I feel a responsibility to myself to take advantage of every opportunity to make people love the piece of music. I don’t get nerves about performing, but five minutes before going onstage I feel a huge responsibility that this had better be good, because if anything goes wrong, everyone will know. And I don’t think this psychological mechanism is such a bad thing. It keeps me on my toes.”

Six years later, the 39-year-old virtuoso returns to Koerner Hall on May 15, having just won a tenth JUNO, this time for his Chandos CD of Bartók chamber works. The Toronto recital includes Debussy’s final composition, the deeply emotional Violin Sonata in G Minor, Bach’s demanding Sonata for solo violin No. 3 in C major, BWV 1005, Elgar’s much-loved Violin Sonata in E Minor and the Toronto premiere of Alexina Louie’s Beyond Time, commissioned by and dedicated to Ehnes. Louie points out in the program note that she began by writing the last movement, Perpetual, first, setting out to compose a highly charged movement that would showcase the violinist’s prodigious technique, which seems to her to be superhuman. Knowing how the piece ended, Louie aimed to write an opening movement, Celestial, which would be as virtuosic as the finale. Since she wanted that movement to sparkle, she wrote extended passages of string harmonics to achieve this goal. She writes that the second movement, Eternal, “can be thought of as an internalized, quiet, lyrical interlude between the two fast outer movements ... The title, Beyond Time, suggests that the piece stands outside of time, in an infinite sound world — Celestial, Eternal, Perpetual.”

Daniel Hope, Paul Neubauer, Wu Han and David Finckel. Photo By Tristan Cook.jpgSeen and Heard: April 8 at Koerner Hall, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Centre gave one of the most satisfying concerts of the season. The program was comprised of music written within a 35-year span of the mid-19th century: Mahler’s youthful Piano Quartet Movement in A Minor, Schumann’s Piano Quartet in E-flat Major Op.47  and Brahms’ Piano Quartet No.1 in G Minor Op.25. Co-directors of the Society (and married to each other), pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel (who spent 34 years as a member of the Emerson String Quartet) were joined by violist Paul Neubauer (formerly principal violist of the New York Philharmonic) and British virtuoso violinist Daniel Hope.

Seating was fairly close with the violin and viola crowded together just beside the keyboard. The intimacy carried over into the performance which seemed the ultimate in musical sophistication. Hope sang eternal in the gem of beauty composed by the 16-year-old Mahler. Exquisite string playing throughout was finely supported by Wu’s unruffled piano; impeccable ensemble playing with great expressiveness that was never showy or gauche.

The piano was more of a factor in the Schumann, its joyful first movement anchored by Finckel’s sublime cello. The mad dance of the Scherzo was led by the cello with the piano particularly sensitive in the many quick and delicate staccato passages that had to be navigated. The Andante cantabile which followed is one of Schumann’s most beautiful creations; a real treat. The Brahms was thick with melody as various instrumental combinations came to the fore during the opening movement’s development. A beautiful theme emerged from the ethos with great delicacy on the violin as the piece continued through to the Andante con moto, its violin and cello parts reminiscent of the composer’s Double Concerto. The Gypsy tune at the centre of the Rondo alla Zingarese broadened out led by the piano to an exquisite duet between cello and viola before the violin picked up the tune, the DNA of which Brahms found (happily) impossible to shake. It was a night where the Romantic melodists reigned supreme.

Quick Picks

May 1 Evgeny Kissin’s RTH recital, which moves from Beethoven’s “Waldstein” Sonata to Prokofiev’s Fourth through three nocturnes and six mazurkas by Chopin and Liszt’s “Rackoczi March,” is almost completely sold out at press time.

May 1 Jacques Israelievitch and pianist Valentina Sadovski perform works by Schumann and Saint Saëns at Grace Church, 700 Kennedy Road, Scarborough. May 14 Israelievitch and pianist Stephen Cera play pieces by Fauré and Bridge at Briton House Recital Hall.

May 2 The Cecilia String Quartet plays Mozart’s String Quartet K590 and Mendelssohn’s String Quartet Op.44 No.2 at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre.

May 6 Emerging violinist Augustin Hadelich performs Mendelssohn’s enduring Violin Concerto Op.64 with the TSO led by Peter Oundjian. May 27 and 28 the elegant Louis Lortie is the soloist in Liszt’s Piano Concerto No.1 with the TSO under Sir Andrew Davis, the same soloist (Lortie was 18!), concerto and conductor as in the orchestra’s groundbreaking 1978 visit to China. Ravel’s scintillating orchestral version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition completes the evening’s program. June 46 and 7 Oundjian leads the TSO’s exciting “All American” lineup: John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine; Barber’s Symphony No.1; André Previn’s Double Concerto for Violin and Violoncello (Canadian première/TSO co-commission) with soloists Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robinson; and Gershwin’s An American in Paris.

May 9 Violinist Joyce Lai and cellist Rachel Mercer are the soloists in Brahms’ compelling Double Concerto. The Canadian Sinfonietta (led by Tak Ng Lai) concludes the celebration of the composer’s birthday (May 7) with a performance of his seminal Symphony No.1.

May 12 TSO bassoonist Samuel Banks is group of 27’s recital soloist in a concert at Heliconian Hall, complimentary food provided by Cheese Magic and Wanda’s Pie in the Sky. Also May 12 members of the COC Orchestra combine their virtuosity and artistry to perform Georges Enescu’s lush Octet for Strings in C Major, Op. 7.

May 13 Kent Nagano and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal celebrate Sibelius’ 150th anniversary with his tuneful and heroic Symphony No.2. In the first half of this TSO presentation, Piotr Anderszewski joins the Montrealers for Mozart’s magisterial Piano Concerto No.25 K503.

May 14 Artists of the COC Orchestra and guest harpist Lori Gemmell perform pastoral works by Arnold Bax (Elegiac Trio for flute, viola and harp), Béla Bartók (String Quartet No.4) and Maurice Ravel (Introduction and Allegro) in a free noontime concert.

May 16 The recently formed XIA Quartet consists of Edmonton Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Robert Uchida and TSO violinist Shane Kim, assistant principal violist Theresa Rudolph and principal cellist Joseph Johnson. It makes its Toronto debut in a wide-ranging program of Haydn, Bartók and Beethoven (the buoyant Op.59 No.1).Also May 16 Ensemble Polaris plays new music created to accompany short films (from Ryerson University’s School of Image Arts) on the idea of “home” and “away,” shot in Iceland, New Zealand, France and Italy.

May 22 Gallery 345 presents the Ton Beau String Quartet with clarinetist Peter Stoll performing Ravel’s String Quartet in F, Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet and Gershwin’s Three Preludes (arr. Stoll). Also at Gallery 345 May 30 Trio McMaster’s recital is filled with the cream of the piano trio repertoire: Schubert’s Piano Trio No.1; Fauré’s Piano Trio Op. 120; Beethoven’s Trio Op.70 No.1 “Ghost” and Mendelssohn’s Trio No.1 Op.49.

May 2425 The Canzona Chamber Players smartly program Haydn’s Gypsy Trio, Bartók’s Suite for Piano, Op.14, Schumann’s Five Pieces in Folk Style for Cello and Piano, Ravel’s Tzigane and Dvořák’s Dumky Trio with Yosuke Kawaski, violin, Wolfram Koessel, cello, and Vadim Serebryany, piano.

May 26 Mexican-Canadian pianist Alejandro Vela mixes the freshness of Latin American composers Lecuona (Noche azúlCórdobaLa comparsaGitanerías), Ginastera (Sonata No.1) and Corea (Armando’s Rhumba), with standards by Chopin (Ballade No.1) and Rachmaninov (Five Preludes, Op. 23) in his free noontime COC concert. May 28, in another free Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre recital, Toronto Summer Music artistic director Douglas McNabney offers a sneak preview featuring emerging artists and music from the upcoming festival. June 2 violinist Véronique Mathieu and pianist Stephanie Chua perform rarely heard works by women composers Heather Schmidt, Louise Farrenc, Clara Schumann, Elizabeth Jacquet de la Guerre and others in their free noontime COC recital.

May 30  5 at the First Chamber Music Series presents two sublime chamberworks: Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A, K.581 and Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Op.115, with Yao Guang Zhai, clarinet, Marie Bérard, violin, Yehonatan Berick, violin, Teng Li, viola, and Rachel Mercer, cello.

May 31 Acclaimed cellist Winona Zelenka is the soloist in Elgar’s beloved Cello Concerto with Orchestra Toronto conducted by Kevil Malloon.

June 2 The Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents the Penderecki Quartet performing Beethoven’s celestial Quartet No.14 Op.131 and, with cellist Pamela Highbaugh-Aloni, Schubert’s glorious Quintet in C. The K-WCMS bills it as “Concert of the Century” rightly pointing out that these are two of the five greatest chamber works ever written.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

 


“Grimaud doesn’t sound like most pianists. She is a rubato artist, a reinventor of phrasings, a taker of chances.”
D.T. Max, The New Yorker, 2011

2007-Classical-Duo.jpgThe remarkable French-born pianist Hélène Grimaud last visited Toronto a year ago when she performed Brahms’ Piano Concerto No.1 with the TSO and showed off her great dynamic range. Her intimate pianism exposed the intrinsic beauty of the slow movement and she entered fully into the passion of the third movement with its rhapsodic cadenza, spurring the audience into an immediate standing ovation. The year before she held the Koerner Hall audience in her sway with a performance of her Resonances CD that moved from Mozart to Berg to Liszt to Bartók, all united by the historical fact of the composers being children of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Her upcoming Koerner Hall appearance April 19 is typical of her adventurous spirit and imaginative programming. All the pieces are united by the theme of water: Berio’s Wasserklavier III; Takemitsu’s Rain Tree Sketch II; Fauré’s Barcarolle No.5 in F-sharp Minor, Op.66; Ravel’s Jeux d’eau; Albéniz’s Almería from Iberia Suite Book 2; Liszt’s Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este from Années de pèlerinage: Troisième année, Janáček’s In the Mists I; Debussy’s La Cathédrale engloutie from Préludes, Book I; concluding with Brahms’ Piano Sonata No.2 in F-sharp Minor, Op.2.

She told William Grimes of The New York Times: “Water is the element most necessary to life, the most precious resource for our planet, the most endangered and the one that poses the greatest risk on its potential for conflict.” Explaining her process in a video for the artnet News website, she described how she spent two years “boiling down” her conception of pieces having to do with water, to reduce it to “something very pure and abstract in its expression.” There were several Liszt works that fit her original idea but the one she finally selected was the “most abstract of all his water pieces.”

“An art form has to live in the moment,” she said. “It has to sound as if it is being written while you hear it.” On the San Francisco Classical Voice website she explained to Lara Downes earlier this year that the water program is “more fragile and vulnerable repertoire, and as an audience member you have to be willing to make that journey.”

When she performed the same pieces last December in New York over ten nights, she did so in an inch of water, mixing performance art metaphors. Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times described the riveting 20-minute process of filling the 55,000 square foot Drill Hall of the Park Avenue Armory with that inch of water for “Tears Become ... Streams Become ... ” He called the collaboration between Grimaud and the artist Douglas Gordon a “compelling, boldly original work, a dramatic combination of art installation, light show and piano recital.”

Brian Levine, the executive director of the Glenn Gould Foundation, sees in Grimaud a resemblance to Gould: “She has this willingness to take a piece of music apart and free herself from the general body of practice that has grown up around it.”

Ten days after her Toronto concert she performs with the Stamford Symphony Orchestra to bring awareness to her other passion: environmental education centred around wolves – she founded the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, New York in 1996.

2007-Classical-Kissin.jpgEvgeny Kissin: Evgeny Kissin’s mother was a piano teacher, his father an engineer. When Kissin was born (in Moscow in 1971), his sister, who was more than ten years older, was learning the piano. In Christopher Nupen’s DVD Evgeny Kissin: The Gift of Music, Kissin tells a tale one would be inclined to dismiss as apocryphal were it not for everything that has happened to him since. He had been a quiet baby, even standing on his cot in silence as his sister practised. When he was 11 months old, he opened his mouth and sang the Bach fugue she had just been playing (the Prelude and Fugue in A-Major from the 2nd book of the Well-Tempered Clavier). By the time he could reach the keyboard he was two and on his way to superstardom.

He elaborated in an interview with Frederic Gaussin for piano mag on iplaythepiano.com. “Before I began my studies at the School, I had been listening to music non-stop, practically from the day I was born. I became familiar very early on with all different kinds of music and pieces, until one day I became physically able to touch the keyboard and play this repertoire, these melodies, by ear ... From the very beginning, my taste was vast, very eclectic.”

In that interview he speaks of Chopin as the composer that he plays the most, “whose music is closest to my heart.” He continues: “From a pianistic point of view, Chopin was a revolutionary, the only one (with the exception of young Scriabin, who drew much from Chopin) who demands such flexibility from the hand at the piano.” Gaussin raises the topic of Debussy – not in Kissin’s repertoire – as someone who was not “any less sensitive or technically innovative than Chopin in his personal idiom.” Kissin responds that the same is true of Shostakovich, Schoenberg and Prokofiev, adding Messiaen, “whose works I do not yet play. His music is profound, very spiritual. He’s a perfect counter-example ... I see him in a way as the last survivor of an extinct species. I will certainly play Messiaen in the future.”

May 1 marks Kissin’s first solo recital at RTH in 15 years; his most recent appearance with the TSO was in May of 2012. It’s a virtuoso program beginning with Beethoven’s Sonata No.21 in C major, Op.53 “Waldstein” with its glorious third movement, followed by Prokofiev’s quietly charming, utterly logical Sonata No. 4 in C minor, Op.29. Then three nocturnes and six mazurkas by Chopin lead into Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 15 S.244/15 “Rákóczi March,a quixotic foot stomper.

Kissin’s popularity is immense, his intellectual and musical gifts even more so. He once said that the main purpose of music is “that it elevates us into the world of the sublime.” The evening should be memorable.

Sara Constant:The WholeNote’s social media editor, flutist Sara Constant, headlines a concert titled “Xi” at Array Space April 24 featuring an intriguing line-up of mid to late 20th-century music. Stockhausen’s Xi (1987) for solo flute utilizes microtonal glissandi throughout. Denisov’s Sonata for Flute and Piano (1960) has been described as a collage of styles. Chiel Meijering, the composer of I Hate Mozart (1979) for flute, alto saxophone, harp and violin, says that he considers eroticism, sensuality and even obscenity prerequisites for a high-quality performance of his music. In each of Lutosławski’s Three Fragments (1953) the flute takes the melodic lead and the harp supplies a consistent, animated backdrop. Tsuneya Tanabe’s Recollections of the Inland Sea (1995) for flute and marimba was inspired by the scenic impression the composer had as an adult of a beautiful inland sea, Setonaikai, in the middle of Japan.  The music, he says is his effort to “express my interior vision of the sea, spreading out before me….”

Seen and Heard:The elegant Vadim Repin shone in his Russian repertoire – Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky – in Koerner Hall March 6; The Vienna Piano Trio displayed an exemplary sense of ensemble and an unusually close seating arrangement in their well-received recital March 8 highlighted by Beethoven’s Kakadu Variations and two Mendelssohn Andantes (from his Trio Nos.1 and 2; the latter played as an encore); Till Fellner brought exceptional musicianship to Mozart’s Piano Sonata K282 on March 10. Kudos to Music Toronto’s Jennifer Taylor for bringing us Fellner as well as the London-based Elias Quartet March 19. French sisters Sara and Marie Bittloch on violin and cello set the tone for the quartet’s intimate sound and its impeccable sense of ensemble. Equally attentive were second violinist Scotsman Donald Grant and Swedish violist Martin Saving. Together the foursome brought heavenly pianissimos and wonderful silences that allowed Mozart’s music to breathe in his “Dissonance” Quartet K465 and unrelenting anger and passion to Mendelssohn’s last string quartet without losing the ruminative lyricism of its slow movement.

Quick Picks:

April 8 and 9 former TSO music director Jukka-Pekka Saraste returns to conduct Mahler’s glorious Symphony No.5 and accompany pianist Valentina Lisitsa in Rachmaninoff’s romantic masterpiece, his Concerto No.2. Conductor Peter Oundjian, soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, violinist Sergey Khachatryan and pianist Serouj Kradjian join with the TSO April 22 for a concert celebrating Armenian music. It includes a double dose of Aram Khachaturian as well as the world premiere of Mychael Danna’s Ararat, a suite Danna constructed from his soundtrack to Atom Egoyan’s film of the same name. May 6 finds Oundjian supporting the up-and-coming twentysomething German violinist Augustin Hadelich in Mendelssohn’s justly celebrated Violin Concerto, a work which will appear on his next CD later this spring.

April 8 the co-artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, cellist David Finckel (ex-Emerson Quartet) and pianist Wu Han, are joined by the versatile violinist Daniel Hope and violist Paul Neubauer in a compelling program of piano quartets by Mahler [Movement in A Minor], Schumann [E-Flat Major Op.47] and Brahms [No.1 in G Minor Op.25] at Koerner Hall. Also at Koerner Hall, April 24, take advantage of a rare chance to hear international superstar Yannick Nézet-Séguin conduct his hometown ensemble, Orchestre Métropolitain in a program of English music: Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No.4; Elgar’s indelible Enigma Variations and his ever-popular Cello Concerto with 20-year-old cellist Stéphane Tétreault as soloist.

April 10 the Mercer-Oh Trio play Haydn, Jean Lesage and Smetana under the auspices of the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society. Pianist Eric Himy shows off his technical prowess in a program of Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Chopin, Albéniz and de Falla April 25. Still in Waterloo, TSO violinist Arkady Yanivker leads the Toronto Serenade String Quartet in music from Latin America April 28 while on May 2 it’s Sofya Gulyak of London’s Royal College of Music who tests the mettle of the Music Room’s piano in music by Liszt, Coulthard and Mussorgsky. She repeats the program in Toronto May 3 under Syrinx’s banner at the Heliconian Hall.

2007-Classical-Mercer.jpgApril 12 Syrinx presents the Seiler Trio (violinist Mayumi Seiler, cellist Rachel Mercer and pianist Angela Park) playing Beethoven’s beloved Archduke Trio, Mendelssohn’s Trio No.2 and Kevin Lau’s Trio.

April 13 finds the Associates of the Toronto Symphony saluting the double bass with music of Rossini, Boccherini and Dvořák. Double bassist Tim Dawson teams up with violinists Etsuko Kimura and Angelique Toews. violist Christopher Redfield and cellist Marie Gelinas at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

April 16 Music Toronto presents the Lafayette Quartet, an all-female ensemble who have remained together since their founding in 1986, a distinct rarity. Since then they have spent their time entertaining audiences and teaching some of Canada’s finest young string players from their base at the University of Victoria. Their program includes a middle Haydn quartet (No.28, Op.29, No.6), a late Beethoven (No. 15, Op.132) and Jean Coulthard’s String Quartet No.2, “Threnody.The latter two pieces will be part of their Chamber Music Hamilton concert April 19.

2007-Classical-Petkau.jpgApril 17, group of 27: TSO principal oboist Sarah Jeffrey brings her warm sound to Mozart’s tuneful Oboe Concerto K314; Symphonies by C.P.E. Bach (the wild and beautiful Wq.179) and Haydn (No. 19), along with Jocelyn Morlock’s addictive Disquiet complete an intriguing group of 27 program. The group’s founder and music director, the dynamic Eric Paetkau, whom I interviewed in the December/January issue of The WholeNote, has just been named music director of the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. The night before the concert, April 16, The WholeNote will be hosting an open rehearsal of the group at the Centre for Social Innovation, 730 Bathurst St., ground floor. Doors open at 7:30pm. Experience g27’s lively playing in a casual, intimate atmosphere.

April 25 Karin Kei Nagano, the teenage daughter of conductor Kent Nagano and pianist Mari Kodama (read the glowing review of her recording of all 32 Beethoven sonatas elsewhere in this issue), joins her mother for what should be a memorable afternoon of piano music; part of the BravoNiagara! Festival of the Arts.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.


2006-Classical-Vienna_Piano_Trio.jpgThe Vienna Piano Trio’s previous Toronto appearances – with the Women’s Musical Club in November 2005 and three visits to Toronto Summer Music from 2010 to 2012 – were greeted with widespread acclaim. So it’s no surprise that they are highly anticipating their Mooredale Concerts recital March 8. That’s what the gregarious Stefan Mendl, the trio’s pianist and last remaining of its founding members, told me recently by phone from Vienna, the city where he has lived since his birth.

I asked him about the particular sensibility that typifies a chamber musician. “From scratch you must have the urge to find a special sound that is the group sound,” he answered. “You should not be so restrained that nobody can hear you but neither are you so predominant that you drown out the others. It must be your goal from the beginning that you find this sound; if you have a good ear and if you have the will to do this, then you are off to a good start.

“Then, of course there is experience, knowing when you can really play out and when you have to combine with the strings; when you have to give them more bass or less bass. You have to put aside your own ambitions and have the will to find a sound that blends.”

In his own case, right from his first experience on stage, chamber music felt better. “I discovered early on in my soloist days [born in 1966, he founded the trio in 1988] that I enjoyed playing concertos much more than recitals. I think that sometimes you get more ideas or better ideas when you have the chance to interact with others. At least for me that’s the case and I feel very, very comfortable with friends and with colleagues on stage. I don’t feel that comfortable when I’m on my own.

“And of course there is the wonderful music that is written for piano trio, piano quartet and piano quintet [he regularly performs with the Hagen Quartet]. Sometimes, all of our greatest composers put a lot of their inner feelings and emotions into their chamber music. I find it all very fascinating, still,” he said, with a laugh that underlined the hold the music still has on him.

The key thing to a trio’s success he believes is to have three people of equal musical and technical skill who have similar musical goals. “You need a rich palette of ideas and colour. Everybody needs their own opinion amidst the common goal.”

I wanted to know how he relates to the music the trio will be performing on the upcoming Sunday afternoon in Toronto. “Beethoven’s Kakadu Variations is really a fantastic piece of music,” he replied with palpable verve. “The very late opus number [Op.121a] is a bit misleading. No one hearing the very heavy introduction would expect it to turn into this funny theme, but there are hints, hidden in a minor key in a delicate, funny way. One slow variation before the finale is very deep and serious. Like all of Beethoven, the deepest and most serious is right next to the fun, almost grotesque or rude side. He was never shy, even in his greatest works to put little bits of his feelings right next to the really funny things. These variations are a really good way to experience that; in a very short amount of time he does all these turns and twists.”

This was a good opportunity to bring up the relationship between recording and live performance since the trio released the Kakadu variations along with Beethoven’s Trios Op.70, on their latest MDG Gold CD last year. “Recording something always affects your live playing because you get so close to it. You listen more to detail than you would otherwise ... sometimes you get things brought out that you probably wouldn’t have discovered before and then your performance is altered. Of course, your performance always changes over time,” he said.

Mendelssohn’s Trio No.1 Op.49 in D Minor, the concluding piece on the March 8 program, is the more famous of the composer’s two trios, but for Mendl, they are both on the same genius level. The trio plays them frequently and loves both of them. Mendl particularly enjoys the “gorgeous and brilliant and skillful piano writing which hardly any great composer has accomplished to that extent.

“It works so well for the medium of the piano trio because Mendelssohn had all these great melodies – mainly he wrote in the strings – and the texture for that is this incredibly bubbling piano part which makes a fantastic contrast. He does this in a very, very idiomatic way so that his piano trios will always be at the top of the list of the greatest trios both for performers and the audience. And a beautiful lyrical slow movement, a quicksilvery light scherzo – the type of scherzo so different from what anybody else wrote in those days ... The scherzo is perfect; there can’t be a more perfect scherzo imaginable.”

Mendl reminded me that Schumann had written a famous review raving about that D-Minor trio, calling it the role model of a piano trio. Very interesting in light of the preceding work on the Toronto recital, Schumann’s Fantasiestücke Op. 88. Despite its late opus number, it was written earlier than the composer’s piano trios but published later and less often performed. Schumann called them fantasy pieces because they didn’t conform to the trio form. The first and third pieces, the slow ones, are especially close to the pianist’s heart and “contain some of Schumann’s best piano trio writing ... they are in no way second rate.”

I was curious about the formidable list of mentors on the Vienna Piano Trio’s website, almost all of whom the trio met during a memorable two-week chamber music workshop in New York in 1993. “We’d never been to New York before so it was a double experience, really mind-blowing I would say, without exaggeration.” They got several lessons from Isaac Stern, the Guarneri Quartet (Arnold Steinhardt and Michael Tree), from Henry Meyer of the LaSalle Quartet and from the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio. Mendl still remembers the kindness of Jaime Laredo who brought them back to New York for a concert series.

Most important was the enormous impact the intense workshop had on the group’s musical goals. It brought a “kind of down-to-earth quality” to what had been the “very polished style of trio playing we had experienced with [earlier mentors] the Trio di Trieste.”

Finally, I wondered, did living in Vienna inspire him, since the City of Dreams had been a place where many composers lived and died.  “And died especially,” he laughed. “I personally live very, very close to where all these Beethoven memorial places are ... and although I don’t want to do this too consciously, sometimes I’m touched when I wander around in this area and I feel that Beethoven wrote so much music there and lived there for a great while.”

2006-Classical-Emanuel_Ax.jpgSeen and Heard:The RBC Piano Extravaganza – or “Ax-travaganza” as Mervon Mehta dubbed it – took the city by storm over an 11-day period attracting approximately 14,000 to events at RTH alone. In addition, 27 amateurs performed on the hall’s newly acquired New York Steinway during the Community Piano Showcase; including the Young People’s Concert programs, 20 pianists performed on the RTH stage during the festival; and 200 people played the five Steinways in the festival’s inaugural event, Pianos in the City, February 4 between 11am and 2pm.

My immersion in the Extravaganza began on its second day, Thursday February 5, with festival curator Emanuel Ax’s introduction of two young pianists at a COC free noontime concert. Siberian-born Pavel Kolesnikov, the 2012 Honens Competition winner now studying with Maria João Pires in Brussels, learned three Liszt transcriptions of Wagner operas, including the “Pilgrim’s Chorus” from Tannhäuser, especially for the event. Impressive. American pianist Orion Weiss, who left his native Cleveland for Juilliard, specifically to study with Ax for his integrity and revelatory playing, brought a singing touch to a pair of Granados Goyescas. Several hours later they played a dynamically well-matched Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances for two pianos that preceded a TSO concert that included the orchestral version of the same piece.

Ax began that program with an agreeable, self-effacing rendition of a Schubert impromptu followed by Mozart’s Piano Concert No. 14 K449. Round tones of limpid liquidity gave the impression that the pianist was opening a musical jewel box.

The four-hour and twenty-minute Pianopalooza Sunday afternoon included 16 disparate performers selected by the RCM in a musical cavalcade that came close to filling Koerner Hall and concluded with a show-stopping, two-piano-eight-hands version of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture complete with recorded cannon shots. The event featured two bona fide highlights: Robi Botos’ jazz set was an uninterrupted 20-minute piece of spontaneous joy; Ax’s melodic, technically assured performance of Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2 was piano playing at its best.

Three days later, Ax joined Jan Lisiecki for Mozart’s heavenly Concerto for Two Pianos K316a/365 and Saint-Saëns’ delightfully entertaining The Carnival of the Animals.

The next day in a pre-concert performance, Ax displayed his chamber music skill set in an immensely satisfying reading of Schumann’s Piano Quintet Op. 44. The string parts were taken by the first chair TSO players, concertmaster Jonathan Crow, principal second violinist Paul Mayer, prinicipal violist Teng Li and principal cellist Joseph Johnson. The players faced the choir loft, which overflowed into the adjacent sections of the hall. No one who heard them will forget the strings’ strength, the way Ax was able to emerge from the background to point out the melody and the assured playing of this propitious gathering.

Later that evening Ax demonstrated a deft curatorial touch in an adventurous program pairing a two-piano piece with its orchestral equivalent. Ax and Stewart Goodyear, more or less balanced in selected pieces of Carl Maria von Weber, returned for an exciting performance of Ravel’s La Valse. In between Anagnoson & Kinton proved to be very well-matched in an apparently seamless gambol through Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn. As in the previous week’s Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances, the orchestral colour was more varied than the keyboards’ but the unique opportunity to hear the difference was welcome.

Ax spoke of his love of the word “metamorphosis” when he introduced that program. The next morning he became its agent at a master class for Glenn Gould School students. He was his usual combination of self-effacing and endearing as his analysis and advice transformed a student’s performance of Chopin’s Barcarolle, a piece he called “ecstatic” and which he linked forward to Wagner and back to Bach. He continued his delicate balance of dispensing compliments, ever careful that his suggestions would not be construed as outright criticism.

He recalled an encounter he had as a young man with Pablo Casals when the cellist was 96 and spending his last summer at Marlboro. “[When] the music goes up, [play] loud; music goes down, soft,” Casals instructed. “We all thought he was out to lunch,” Ax said. “But the older I get, the more I see how right he was.”

Quick Picks:

Mar 6 Siberian-born violinist Vadim Repin, the interview subject of my last month’s column, makes his eagerly awaited Toronto recital debut at Koerner Hall in a diverse program of Bartók, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky.

Mar 8 at Koerner Hall KahaneSwensonBey, who re-formed in 2012 after a 25-year hiatus, perform piano trios by Mozart, Schumann, Ravel and Schoenfield. In an unfortunate scheduling conflict their afternoon concert occurs at the same time as the Vienna Piano Trio’s Mooredale recital in Walter Hall just minutes away.

On the evening of Mar 8 violinist Moshe Hammer and pianist Angela Park perform works by Brahms, Franck and Sarasate at the Aurora Cultural Centre.

Mar 11, 12 and 14 Gianandrea Noseda conducts the TSO in a program featuring Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, which is all you need to know to make plans to attend. The program also includes Adrianne Pieczonka performing Wagner’s Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde and Richard Strauss’ divine Four Last Songs, which further certifies it as a must-see. Rising star Krzysztof Urbanski and the TSO are joined Mar 27 and 28 by the captivating Sol Gabetta in Dvořák’s masterpiece, his Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104, a work they have played together many times. Then Urbanski leads the orchestra in Stravinsky’s rhythmic revelry, The Rite of Spring. Another must-see.

 TSO associate principal clarinetist Yao Guang Zhai is joined by pianist Jeanie Chung for Luigi Bassi’s Concert Fantasy on themes from Verdi’s Rigoletto in a free COC concert also featuring Gershwin, Brahms and three solo pieces by Stravinsky at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre Mar 12.

Mar 14 is crystal ball gazing time when students from the Phil and Eli Taylor Performance Academy for Young Artists give a free concert in Mazzoleni Hall. On Mar 31 another Mazzoleni Hall free concert (ticket required) features solo and chamber works performed by Rebanks Fellows from the Glenn Gould School. Apr 2 three of the Rebanks Fellows perform Brahms’ gorgeous Trio for horn, violin and piano in a free noontime COC concert.

Mar 15 Trio Arkel with guests, cellist Amanda Forsyth and violinist Aaron Schwebel, perform Schubert’s sublime String Quintet in C in the Church of the Holy Trinity.

Mar 16 group of 27 presents Payadora Tango Ensemble and g27 violinist Rebekah Wolkstein in a recital at Heliconian Hall.

Don’t miss your chance Mar 19 to hear the Elias String Quartet, the “excellent” (New York Times), “exuberant” (The Guardian) young British ensemble making their local debut presented by Music Toronto, in works by Haydn, Mozart and Mendelssohn.

Mar 22 Alliance Française presents Stravinsky’s tuneful fable The Soldier’s Tale featuring Jacques Israelievich, violin, with Uri Mayer conducting.

Mar 27 Violinist Lisa Batiashvili, Till Fellner’s trio partner (along with Alfred Brendel’s son Adrian) is joined by pianist Paul Lewis in his first Toronto appearance since his remarkable debut opening the Women’s Musical Club’s 115th season in the fall of 2012. Their program includes Schubert’s “Grand Duo” and “Rondeau brilliant,” Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No.10, Op.96, Telemann’s Fantasia No.4 for Solo Violin and Busoni’s arrangement of Bach’s Chorale Prelude “Nun komm’ der Heiden Helland” for solo piano.

Mar 27 and 28 the incomparable Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents concerts 13, 14, 15 and 16 in the Attacca Quartet’s ongoing series performing all 68 of Haydn’s quartets. Each concert features quartets drawn from the early, middle and later period of the composer’s life.

YouTube star Valentina Lisitsa’s piano playing has struck quite a few chords based on upwards of 80 million views. Before her Royal Albert Hall recital in front of an audience of 8000 in June 2012 her fans had the chance to vote online for their preferred program – a form of audience participation that has become one of Lisitsa’s trademarks. Will the contents of her BravoNiagara! solo concert Apr 4 be similarly chosen?

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.


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