Virtuoso Violins Piano Prodigies

beat - classicalAnne-Sophie Mutter was only 22 years old when she started her first foundation in aid of young string players; it was limited to the area of Germany at the foot of the Black Forest where she was born. As a teenager if had become clear to her – she told me in a recent telephone conversation – that “we string players sooner or later run through the same circle of problems mainly to do with finding the right teacher but also with finding an instrument which can be a musical partner for life, and hopefully financially obtainable as well. So my first foundation was sort of a tryout, how I could help younger colleagues.”

Now in its 16th or 17th year, the Circle of Friends of the Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation provides instruments for the foundation’s chosen scholars as one attempt to help. Another is commissioning new works. The Toronto program of Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Mutter Virtuosi in Roy Thomson Hall on November 21 opens with a commission by the Circle of Friends for double bass -- Ringtones by the American Sebastian Currier.

“Obviously throughout history the double bass has been one of the important pillars of the orchestra but there have been very few solo performers,” she said. “Roman Patkoló was one of my first scholars and I was totally blown away by his talent, by his artistry and great passion,” she continued. So even though her original plan had not included the double bass that much, it became “really a main focus of my foundation” with four pieces commissioned for Patkoló starting with “a beautiful double concerto” written and recorded by André Previn, “a very pizzazz-y solo piece by Penderecki,” as well as “a very intellectual spherical piece” by Wolfgang Rihm.

Ringtones is a very serious piece but also leaves room for fun,” she continued, explaining that it’s a way to build a case for the virtuosity of the bass. Showing off her sense of humour, she dead-panned: “Ringtones are for the very first time in a concert welcome!”

As to what it’s like to perform with her students and former students -- who comprise the Mutter Virtuosi with whom she’s sharing the RTH stage – she recounts how when she was 13, Karajan treated her as an adult, addressing her with the German equivalent of “vous,” not “tu,” which would be normal in speaking to a 13-year-old. She points this out to indicate that experience and age are irrelevant to the “all-embracing strength of musical language.”

“No matter how young we are,” she went on. “At the end of the day it’s really your personal viewpoint, and of course, a certain skillfulness, that we only have to share.

“Of course I’m looking with great love and devotion into the lives of the ones I’ve been a small part of for 10 or 15 years and it’s beautiful to see how all of them have found their place in music... it is really the Olympic ideal to make the best out of what you have that is the driving force behind the [foundation’s] selection process.”

Mendelssohn’s great Octet is on the program in Toronto, so I asked Ms. Mutter why she admires the composer so much. Her answer was especially revealing. She began by saying that it was only eight or ten years ago she re-started learning the Violin Concerto:

“My wonderful teacher Aida Stucki never seemed to be quite taken by what I did with the piece and I never felt quite free with what my vision was. So it wasn’t one of the pieces I felt comfortable with and when it was up to me to decide what repertoire I would delve into I thought, ‘Well if no one likes my Mendelssohn playing, I’ll just stop playing it.’

“Then many years ago, I think around Kurt Masur’s 75th or 80th birthday [80th in fact, in 2007] he said ‘I want a gift from you: Restudy the Mendelssohn and let’s do it together.’ Of course, when Kurt Masur wishes something I’ll go to the end of the world for him, so the least I could do was restudy the piece and come to different conclusions. And he gave me wonderful insights.

“I came to admire Mendelssohn as the humanist he was and actually today he’s for me a perfect example of what I expect a musician to be, also [what I expect] of the younger generation: someone who is socially engaged and open-minded and goes with open eyes through life.”

She explained that Mendelssohn built the first music school in Germany for “students of all cultural and financial backgrounds,” and of course, “he resurrected Johann Sebastian Bach.” She summed up her feelings: “Somehow I seem to admire an artist in general even more if he also turns out to be a useful member of human society, apart from being very skillful at what he’s doing.

“Obviously the Octet stands for all these qualities. There’s such a beautiful quote from Mendelssohn who used to say, particularly about the Octet, that when he is writing or making chamber music he hopes that it is ‘like a conversation between very well-educated and interesting friends.’

beat - classical 2“And this is pretty much how I feel when I am playing with my young colleagues. We all bring our own viewpoints to it and there’s a lot of freshness and passion in the air, which is the main ingredient really of rediscovering what we think we know.”

I had read that Ms. Mutter had recently begun using a baroque bow to perform Bach, so I asked her if she would be using one in the Toronto performance of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, only to discover that new regulations involving animal materials made it difficult to bring even copies to North America. She told me that she will continue to play Bach with it wherever she is able mainly “because the original phrasing in the Bach scores is only to be obtained by bows which are much lighter in the frog [the bottom part of the bow that is nearest to the hand] which was the case in Baroque times.”

While they don’t use baroque bows in their playing of the Vivaldi, it’s nevertheless much less dense and more transparent playing today than what she thought was proper in the 1980s. In Toronto she and her Virtuosi would be keeping that “transparent and very airy sound in mind, for sure.”

I was quite curious about what led Ms. Mutter to take up the violin as a child since I knew that she didn’t come from a family of musicians. She spoke of growing up “kind of a tomboy” with two older brothers in a house with a lot of classical music and literature. Her father was a journalist who later became a newspaper editor. As engagement presents her parents gave each other recordings by Furtwängler and by Menuhin. “That shows how much that was part of their life and how much that became part of our life at home.”

“We listened to a lot of classical music as well as jazz,” she continued. “And that is probably the reason for my deep-rooted love of jazz because I felt so comfortable and basically soaked it up like mother’s milk.

“So for my fifth birthday – it must have been the constant presence of that violin sound which made me want to try it for myself. And I’m still trying it,” she added, almost seriously.

I asked her about the violinists who made an impression on her in her youth and the depth of her answer was quite telling: “The great, unforgettable David Oistrakh definitely left the deepest impression: his presence on stage, the warmth of his personality. I remember there were students sitting literally at his feet ... Yes, I was six years old and he played the three Brahms sonatas.

“A few years later I was fortunate enough to hear Nathan Milstein who became another of my [favourites]; I obviously also played with Menuhin at a later stage of his life; I heard Isaac Stern in person; I was rather close to Henryk Szeryng. I was really very fortunate to hear all of these icons of violin playing at a still fabulous age and in great shape.”

As to what makes a great violinist great, Ms. Mutter responded that “we’re all trying to be a well-rounded musican.” She finds the idea of being a specialist rather boring, caught up with technical details and perfecting them without really having the scope to see the bigger picture. She thinks it’s wonderful that the violin is “an instrument which is best in company with someone else, with another musical partner.” At the same as she extols the virtues of “just being a useful part of the whole” she says, “Of course you have to find – as violinist, pianist or conductor – you have to find an angle where music is newly or freshly or whatever ... it has to bring a spark to something.”

She spoke of shattering the illusion of the listener who might think he knows what you’re playing already and may feel slightly tired of it. “Of course that illusion has to be taken away the moment that the particular artist goes on stage,” she explained. ”Then it really has to be totally fascinating.” When I enthusiastically agree, she responds, “Hopefully.”

Her extensive discography which began when she was just 15 – Deutsche Grammophon celebrated her 35-year recording career with a 40-CD box set last year and her 25-year collaborative partnership with pianist Lambert Orkis was marked with The Silver Album, a 2-CD compilation this year – prompted a question about what, if anything in the violin repertoire she looks forward to recording.

“Sadly, sadly, of course life is too short,” she responded. She is fascinated, she went on to say, with the great encores that Jascha Heifetz used to play, “a repertoire that is sadly, frowned upon in German-speaking countries.” Listening to two CDs over the course of an evening recently, she remarked how struck she was by the “nobility of this great violinist,” and that for the next few months she would be exploring this repertoire. Beyond that? “The repertoire is endless – you can go in this direction or that, ...Walton, ... Barber, more contemporary music ... the Beethoven string quartets.”

“Yes, Paul, it’s kind of [a mock scream over the phone, as if saying it’s all too much to contemplate]” I counter that it’s something to look forward to; “One after the other,” she replies.

There is so much to do. Even as she takes the Mutter Virtuosi on their first North American tour, their New York appearance is just one part of Carnegie Hall’s Anne-Sophie Mutter Perspectives in which all facets of her musicianship will be on display, from her recent appearance in the Bruch Violin Concerto No.1 with the Berlin Philharmonic under Simon Rattle at the beginning of October, to the Annual Isaac Stern Memorial Concert November 11 (with Orkis on piano for Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” sonata, and a performance of Currier’s Ringtones with Patkoló), to a concert next spring with Yefim Bronfman and Lynn Harrell (including Beethoven’s “Archduke” trio). Playing Sibelius, Berg and Moret with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Michael Tilson Thomas’ New World Symphony completes the six-concert series.

WholeNote readers will be interested in the fact that the Mutter Virtuosi Carnegie Hall concert on November 18 will be live-streamed and available on medici.tv for view for 90 days thereafter. Like the concert in Toronto three days later,  the program includes Vivaldi’s Four Seasons but instead of Mendelssohn and Currier the Carnegie program features Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins BWV 1043 and André Previn’s.

What does she think about the live streaming, I ask. “It’s not downloadable but you can look at it and get horrified from another angle,” she jests, before adding more seriously: “I feel very honoured [because very few concerts are being streamed].”

So anyone going to the November 21 Roy Thomson Hall concert (or contemplating it) will be able to get a sneak preview in the few days before, or more likely cement a memory of parts of the Toronto concert any time through mid-February.

beat - classical 3Jan Lisiecki: Like Mutter, Calgary-born pianist Jan Lisiecki began music lessons at five and started recording for Deutsche Grammophon as a teenager (he was 17). He will bring his musical sensibilities to Beethoven’s third, fourth and fifth piano concertos in a series of concerts with the TSO November 12 to 22. I was fortunate several summers ago to hear Alfred Brendel play all five of the concertos with the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood and I can’t overstress what a pleasure such concentrated exposure can be. Guest conducting the TSO will be Thomas Dausgaard who has paired each concerto with a symphony by his Danish countryman, Carl Nielsen. Nielsen, a contemporary of Sibelius, is known for his energetic post-romanticism, and he was quite explicit about the life force music represented to him. Symphony No. 4 “The Inextinguishable” is particularly expressive in this vein, having been composed during the first half of the First World War. It’s paired with Beethoven’s most lyrical piano concerto, the Fourth, November 12 and 13.

beat - classical 4Itzhak Perlman: Like Mutter, Izhak Perlman is a towering figure on the world violin stage and occupied as well with music education. His upcoming RTH recital December 1 with pianist Rohan De Silva crosses three centuries with music by Vivaldi, Schumann, Beethoven and Ravel. At his concert here two years ago with collaborator De Silva, he introduced the entire post-intermission part of the program from the stage, with the joyful aplomb of a Borscht Belt kibitzer. Any opportunity to hear what he cals his “fiddle playing” should not be missed.

Leon Fleisher: For many years this city has been fortunate to have Leon Fleisher in its midst. As the occupant of the inaugural Ihnatowycz Chair in Piano at the Royal Conservatory, his presence has been felt in teaching, conducting, performing, examining and giving masterclasses. On November 25 at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, he will appear on stage in a Q & A after the screening of the fully packed 17-minute film, Two Hands: The Leon Fleisher Story, which documents his battle to overcome focal dystonia, a movement disorder that affected the use of the fourth and fifth fingers of his right hand. Watching him rise from the depths of despair at the peak of his concert career to remake his life as a musician is thrilling to behold. Take advantage of the opportunity to meet him in person.

beat - classical 5Three days later on November 28, Fleisher conducts the Royal Conservatory Orchestra in a program that includes Mozart’s Symphony No.39 and Brahms’ Symphony No.3. On the mornings and afternoons of November 29 and 30 he will give masterclasses in Mazzoleni Hall. He will share a musical legacy traceable back to Beethoven directly through his teacher Artur Schnabel and Schnabel’s teacher Theodor Leschetizky who studied with Carl Czerny who studied with Beethoven. Anton Kuerti can claim a similiar connection through another pupil of Leschetizky, Mieczysław Horszowski, who taught Kuerti.

The evening at the Bloor also includes the feature-length, documentary Horowitz: The Last Romantic, a true curiosity by the noted filmmakers Albert and David Maysles (best know for Salesman, Grey Gardens and Gimme Shelter). The impish pianist and his shrewd wife Wanda (Toscanini’s daughter) are filmed in their apartment where Horowitz is recording an album at the age of 81. The up-close camerawork devoted to his fingers is just one of the attractions of this fascinating film.

Bavouzet and the LPO: Coincidentally, pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, who recently played Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 at RTH October 17 with an energetic London Philharmonic Orchestra under Vladimir Jurowski, suffered from functional dystonia that affected his right hand from 1989 to 1993. In the Prokofiev Bavouzet moved confidently from wistful calm to devilish passagework, from idiosyncratic note picking to mysterious pianissimos as he revealed the composer’s Russian soulfulness. In the evening’s other major work, Shostakovich’s Symphony No.8, the LPO displayed great clarity and airiness including wonderful sound clashes, vibrant searing melodies in the strings, terrific brass work and yeoman flute playing that set up the intermittently febrile march of the second movement  and the sardonic third before the gratifying, sombre conclusion.

And So Much More: MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship-winner Jeremy Denk leads a parade of world-class pianists into November’s concert halls. He’s followed by the inimitable Richard Goode, the dynamic aestheticism of Simon Trpčeski, the elegance of Angela Hewitt (in a program that ranges far and wide from Bach and Scarlatti through Beethoven’s Op.110 to Albéniz and Liszt), to Mooredale Concerts’ “Piano Dialogue” between David Jalbert & Wonny Song and the adventuresome Christina Petrowska Quilico whose name is often found in the pages of TheWholeNote’s CD section.

And then there’s the Dover Quartet, the Daedalus String Quartet, the Cecilia String Quartet, the Windermere String Quartet, the Zuckerman Chamber Players, the Canadian Brass, Leonidas Kavakos & Yuja Wang, Dmitri Levkovich ... It goes on and on. Like Tchaikovsky, Danny Kaye’s famous tongue-twister of a patter song, name after name, concert after concert. What riches there are to be found in this issue’s listings.

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

Everybody Loves Chopin

BBB-Classical1When Rafal Blechacz (pronounced BLEH-hatch) won the Chopin competition in Warsaw nine years ago, becoming the first Polish-born competitor to do so in 30 years, the jury saw fit to give no award for second place. Such was the dominance of Blechacz’s performance. The venerable contest, celebrating the Pole with arguably the highest worldwide name recognition, began in 1927 when Lev Oborin (best remembered today as a chamber music partner of David Oistrakh) came out on top. Held every five years since 1955 (when Vladimir Ashkenazy finished second and Fou Ts’ong finished third), the list of winners reads like a who’s who of pianists of the last half century: Maurizio Pollini (1960); Martha Argerich (1965); Garrick Ohlsson (1970, with Mitsuko Uchida second); Krystian Zimerman (1975); Yundi Li (2000, with Ingrid Fliter second).

Twice in recent history (1990 and 1995), the competition declined to award a first prize, saying no one played well enough. Blechacz, by contrast, won every possible prize in 2005: first prizes for Polonaises, Concertos, Mazurkas and Sonatas in addition to the overall First Prize.

Blechacz, whose highly anticipated Koerner Hall debut October 19 is part of the Canadian Chopin Society’s Canadian Chopin Festival, is the seventh and most recent recipient of the Gilmore Artist Award. This $300,000 award recognizes extraordinary piano artistry with some of the most generous financial support given in the musical arts and is conferred every four years to an international pianist of any age and nationality following a rigorous and confidential selection process.

Sometimes referred to as music’s answer to the MacArthur Foundation “genius grants,” the Gilmore is bestowed through a non-competitive process. Pianists are nominated by a large and diverse group of international music professionals. An anonymous, six-member artistic advisory committee appraises the nominees over a period of time and assesses their musicianship and performing abilities through numerous performances under varying conditions. Throughout the four-year process, candidates for the award are unaware they are under consideration.

Blechacz, who is 28, joins such previous winners as Leif Ove Andsnes, Piotr Anderszewski, Ingrid Fliter and Kirill Gerstein.

According to a New York Times story from January 8, 2014, Blechacz is writing a book about musical interpretation. He told Michael Cooper about a performance of Chopin’s Mazurkas that he gave in Hamburg that has stayed in his mind.

“After the last chord, it was extremely silent in the hall. The audience did not applaud. And I felt that there was something unique – it was the greatest reward for me from the audience, because I knew that they were completely in my musical world.

Sometimes, it happens.”

For his Toronto recital, Blechacz has included 3 Mazurkas, Op.56 as well as 3 Waltzes, Op.64, a polonaise and a nocturne by Chopin plus Bach’s Italian Concerto and Beethoven’s “Pathétique.”

“I’ve always enjoyed imagining the timbre of various other instruments when I play certain passages in Classical sonatas,” the pianist has written. “While working on Haydn, Beethoven or Mozart, I’ve often attempted mentally to ‘orchestrate’ the work, or part of it, whenever I had doubts as to articulation, pedalling or timbre. After performing this ‘instrumentation in the mind,’ those doubts about interpretation would disappear ... it would be wrong to suppose that Classical composers felt a different kind of joy, sadness, hope or despair than the Romantics. The fundamental nature of emotion is always the same; only its expression changes. When playing works from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic or even Impressionist repertoire, I often feel that these composers always convey the same substance, feelings and emotions, even though the style and approach of each is unique.”

The Canadian Chopin Festival begins its celebration of the beloved composer October 17, with a Mississauga concert featuring former winners Leonard Gilbert, Anastasia Rizikov and Li Wang, and concludes with the winners of this year’s competition performing in Koerner Hall October 26. In addition to three days each of senior and junior competitors vying for honours, the festival will feature a masterclass with pianist and pedagogue James Anagnoson, the dean of the Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School, a lecture by Dr. Alan Walker, a workshop and demonstration of Polish dances as well as an event October 24 that promises a modicum of intrigue. “Chopin and Friends: 19th Century Salon Recital” features the competition’s jury, pianists Krzysztof Jablonski, William Aide, Bernadene Blaha, Kent McWilliams and Lisa Yui.

Everybody loves Chopin, including Ira Sachs, director of the lovely new film Love Is Strange. “We wanted to use Chopin not unlike how Simon & Garfunkel are used in The Graduate, to create a whole world for the movie while at the same time maintaining the integrity and beauty of the original.” For more see my Music and the Movies blog on thewholenote.com.

BBB-Classical2Janina Fialkowska’s entrée onto the world’s stage was launched in 1974 by Arthur Rubinstein after her prize-winning performance at his inaugural Master Piano Competition in Israel. She plays Chopin with a clarity and rigour that is formidable. Music Toronto hosts her October 28 and the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society does likewise October 30 in an identical program that includes three mazurkas and a ballade by Chopin among works by Grieg, Schubert and Ravel.

In her story in People magazine almost 40 years ago, Barbara Rowes told it like it was: “In January 1975 Fialkowska was summoned by Rubinstein to a series of auditions at Manhattan’s Drake Hotel. ‘I was the dessert after his elegant lunches,’ she smiles. He would puff on a cigar and request ‘sonatas and études I hadn’t touched in years.’ Janina would then rush home and practice through the night for the next day’s recital. Mornings, her stomach knotted and her palms turned clammy. The pace was exhausting, and the exacting master showed no mercy as he tested her range, touch and determination. After six days her prowess and endurance were proved, and Rubinstein became her mentor. Lest anyone leer, Janina insists that Rubinstein, an avowed womanizer, never made non-musical overtures to her. But he helped swing a record deal with RCA’s high-toned Red Seal classical series and then helped set up her first series of concerts through his management. ‘For me, he said after one of her performances, ‘Janina was a revelation. I have never heard any pianist play the great Liszt sonata with the power, temperament, understanding, beauty of tone and, above all, the emotion and complete technical command she has shown.’”

Víkingur Ólafsson, Iceland’s award-winning rising star pianist and host of the Icelandic TV series Útúrdúr (roughly translated as OutofTune), makes his Toronto debut October 27 at Remenyi House of Music and October 28 at the Richard Bradshaw Ampitheatre, performing Nordic music while also paying tribute to one of his greatest inspirations, Glenn Gould, in a performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

“I got the idea to do a TV series on music as early as in 2008, when I played the opening phrases from Beethoven’s Sonata Op.101 in an Icelandic TV interview, demonstrating how their impact can change drastically, depending on how one shapes them – you know, direction of line, balance between the voices, dynamics, pedal etc … The reaction I got took me by surprise, quite a few people told me that they really had no idea there was so much involved in playing a seemingly simple phrase, that they had a really vague idea about the elements which we interpreters spend our lives on refining.

“I kept this idea at the back of my mind for a few years (studying among other things the great stuff that Bernstein and Glenn Gould did on TV), and then started working seriously on the project in late 2011.”

Also appearing in a COC noontime concert (October 15) is award-winning 15-year-old Canadian pianist Anastasia Rizikov who, as mentioned earlier, helps launch the Canadian Chopin festival October 17. In this COC concert she showcases her virtuosity and passion in a demanding program of Russian repertoire: Tchaikovsky’s Romance in F Minor, a selection of Rachmaninoff preludes, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Balakirev’s knuckle-busting Islamey.

BBB-Classical3Bavouzet with the London Phil: French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet joins Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra October 17 in Roy Thomson Hall for Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.3. Bavouzet’s Chandos recording of all five of Prokofiev’s piano concertos with the BBC Philharmonic under Gianandrea Noseda was recently named the Gramophone award-winner in the concerto category. Toronto audiences are fortunate to be able to hear the most popular of these concertos. Rob Cowan wrote in the magazine that Bavouzet’s “superb cycle of the concertos promotes a combination of lyricism and chutzpah that lies at the very heart of these endlessly fascinating works” and that Bavouzet’s “way with the Third is chipper and cool.”

The Moscow-born Jurowski will undoubtedly connect with the emotional core of the major work on the program, Shostakovich’s Symphony No.8, which was composed at the height of WWII in 1943 and confronts the catastrophic violence and suffering Russians were being forced to witness daily in chilling, tragic and mysterious ways.

TSO: Shostakovich’s formidable Violin Concerto No.1 alternates profound melancholy with searing sarcasm; it highlights the TSO program October 22 and 23 conducted by Stéphane Denève. Scottish-born and Sistema Scotland-raised Nicola Benedetti will tackle this complex work that David Oistrakh premiered in 1955 – written in 1948, the composer wisely deemed it too dangerous to play in public until after Stalin’s death. Oistrakh reportedly begged Shostakovich to give the opening of the finale to the orchestra so that “at least I can wipe the sweat off my brow” after the daunting solo cadenza that concludes the third movement.

Earlier in the month, October 8, 9 and 11, another violinist, Tokyo-born and Montreal-raised Karen Gomyo, will play Sibelius’ shimmering, sensuous Violin Concerto and string quartets. Guest conductor Jakub Hrůša will lead the TSO in Dvořák’s tuneful audience favourite, Symphony No.9 “From the New World.”

A Sextet of Quartets: Music Toronto is bringing two world-class string quartets to the St. Lawrence Centre this month. The St. Petersburg String Quartet was formed in 1985 by graduates of the Leningrad Conservatory under the guidance of Vladimir Ovcharek, the first violinist of the Taneyev String Quartet.  As glasnost settled in and the Cold War thawed, their fame grew and their name changed from Leningrad to St. Petersburg just as the city’s did. Their complete Shostakovich string quartet recordings were greeted glowingly – Shostakovich’s String Quartet No.8 Op.110 from 1960 is included in their October 9 Toronto program. That program concludes with Tchaikovsky’s exquisite String Quartet in D Major Op.11, the composer’s first chamber work, a masterpiece by the 30-year-old Russian, noteworthy as the first work of Russian chamber music. Its second movement contains one of classical music’s greatest hits and, according to Tchaikovsky’s own diary, it moved Tolstoy to tears.

The Belcea (pronounced BEL-chah) are musicians of diverse cultural backgrounds, a characteristic that may account in part for their dynamic and free interpretative style. Founded at the Royal College of Music in London in 1994, the Belcea Quartet is based in Great Britain. However, Romanian violinist Corina Belcea and Polish violist Krzysztof Chorzelski, the two founding members, bring a very different artistic provenenance to the ensemble while drawing from the best traditions of string quartet playing received from the quartet’s mentors: the members of the Alban Berg and Amadeus Quartets. Their October 23 Toronto recital includes Beethoven’s Third Quartet as well as the First by Brahms and Schubert.

On October 9, the U of T Faculty of Music’s ensemble-in-residence, the Cecilia Quartet, is joined by the Gryphon Trio for an exploration of humour, play and games through the lens of chamber music in a free noontime concert at Walter Hall.

The Attacca Quartet continues its historic traversal of all of Haydn’s 68 string quartets October 24 to 26 under the auspices of the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society.

The legendary Talich Quartet, recognized since 1964 as one of Europe’s finest, is evolving as a more youthful ensemble under the leadership of Jan Talich, Jr., who took over the first violin post from his father. Chamber Music Hamilton presents them October 26 in a characteristic program that includes Dvořák’s String Quartet No.13 animated by its Czech dance rhythms and Smetana’s moving String Quartet No.1 “From My Life.”

Finally, Mooredale Concerts presents the New Orford String Quartet November 2 in a program that includes Ravel’s ravishing String Quartet in F Major. Violinists Jonathan Crow and AndrewWan are concertmasters of the Toronto and Montreal Symphony Orchestras, Brian Manker is principal cellist in Montreal and Eric Nowlin is assistant principal viola of the TSO. They will be joined by TSO principal violist Teng Li for Mozart’s String Quintet No.4 in G Minor K516. The program will be repeated at The Isabel in Kingston November 4.

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

Conversations with Vivaldi

 

“You know, my piece doesn’t erase the Vivaldi original. It’s a conversation from a viewpoint. I think this is just one way to engage with it.” – Max Richter

bbb - classicalThe opening notes seem to emanate from otherworldly ether, tentatively falling into the familiar notes that begin The Four Seasons, but there’s something quite different that’s engaging us. In a November 2012 interview with NPR’s Audie Cornish, German-born, British composer Max Richter elaborated on the opening bars of his recomposition: “I took the opening motif, which I always thought was a dazzling moment in the Vivaldi, but in the original it’s only four bars. I thought, ‘Well, why don’t I just treat this like a loop, like something you might hear in dance music, and just loop it and intensify it, and cut and paste – jump-cut around in that texture, but keep that groove going.’”

The essence of the music that was once the most recorded piece in the classical music catalogue is there but it’s got a contemporary feel, definitely not staid, bursting with energy, but not the heightened propulsion of Il Giardino Armonico, for example. In fact the clarity of violinist Daniel Hope’s crystalline playing is inviting.

The synth effects are so subtle they’re barely discernible but their presence is palpably modern, sleek and beguiling. The combination of the bones of Vivaldi’s original and the cloak Richter has wrapped it in make for a 21st-century experience that is pleasingly addictive, the kind of piece you put on repeat and listen to over and over and over. It never feels like it’s too much, its novelty easily trumped by its freshness, its mysteries slowly revealing themselves after five, six hearings.

Less than two weeks before he was to perform Richter’s Four Seasons Recomposed at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, the acclaimed British violinist Daniel Hope participated in a live YouTube chat on June 10, 2013. (In addition to a versatile solo career, Hope was a member of the distinguished Beaux Arts Trio from 2002-2008.) Now more than a year later, in anticipation of the September 30 Toronto premiere of the Richter work, I’m watching the genuinely engaging Hope patiently answer questions.

bbb - classical2“The fact that Max Richter was willing to recompose The Four Seasons was incredibly brave and I think he’s done a fantastic job,” he begins. “I was contacted by [him] about one to one and a half years ago and told about wanting to recompose The Four Seasons,” he continues. “The first thing I said was ‘What’s wrong with the original?’ He laughed and said nothing’s wrong with the original, it’s perfect, it’s a fantastic piece but I feel that in a sense I’ve fallen out of love with it. I’ve been bombarded with it. Every time I go into an elevator or a shopping centre I hear The Four Seasons piped at me. [Max] wanted to rediscover it and by recomposing it he was rediscovering it. He asked me if I would like to take a look at it and I thought that [it] was a really interesting way of revisiting a masterpiece ... As soon as I saw the early sketches for his piece I was absolutely knocked out. I thought this was something really amazing and I wanted to be part of it.”

Hope details his contribution to the process: “I made a number of suggestions. [Richter was very open to suggestions] with regards to the tempos and some of the passagework. It was so well written it didn’t need many changes but it did need to be adapted here and there to make it more violinistic. In the recording session we created it in the moment so a lot happened with sound effects and various colours.”

Asked if he has a “favourite” movement in the piece he hedges: “My favourite season is ‘Summer.’ The Recomposed is a different piece. It has all of the great themes of Vivaldi. It has the inspiration of Vivaldi but it also has its own music. The last movement of Max Richter’s ‘Summer’ is absolutely amazing. But also the last movement of ‘Winter’ is mindblowing.”

When asked if it’s difficult not to get mixed up with the original when playing the recomposed version, Hope – who has already divulged that he’s been playing the original since he was a boy (“It’s still so modern after 350 years”) – talks about the very subtle changes in the passagework, eight notes to seven, for example. He adds that every time they play Recomposed it changes and evolves.

Elsewhere in that 2013 YouTube chat, Hope reveals that when he was four he announced to his parents that he wanted to be a violinist. That got me curious about his musical education. I found a partial answer in a different (ClassicFM) YouTube video where he talked about his crucial relationship with Yehudi Menuhin, whom he knew from an early age: “Menuhin was very, very outward-looking. He’s somebody I think about almost every day – a huge inspiration to me and to many musicians and somebody who really believed in opening your ears to any kind of music. You know his legendary collaborations with Ravi Shankar or Stephane Grappelli are things that I witnessed as a small boy (Hope was born in 1973). I was lucky enough to grow up in that environment. It taught me from an early age that you can find connections in different musical worlds if you take it seriously and you spend the time.”

It has been two years since I discovered Richter’s recomposition on a listening post at Grigorian’s when it drew me in with its compulsive originality coupled with its uncanny resemblance to Vivaldi. Happily, Soundstreams is now making it possible to hear this innovative work live with Daniel Hope as the soloist, in their season-opening concert, September 30.

It’s Still Festive: Summer’s not over until the fall equinox and the Prince Edward County Music Festival (PECMF) in Picton and the SweetWater Music Festival in Owen Sound are taking full advantage of those last seasonal days to launch their 11th editions.

The “superlative acoustics” of St. Mary Magdalene Church play home to several content-rich PECMF concerts. Augmenting the opening concerts, artistic director pianist Stéphane Lemelin joins the Penderecki String Quartet to perform Taneyev’s romantic Quintet for piano and strings in g minor Op.30 on September 19, then accompanies cellist Denise Djokic in Rachmaninoff’s Sonata for cello and piano in g minor Op.19 the following day. September 21 brings André Laplante’s deep musical sensibility to bear on a trio of Liszt piano masterworks. Highlights of the rest of the festival include the young Canadian musicians Nikki Chooi, violin, and Philip Chiu, piano, in a September 25 recital that ranges from Bach to Prokofiev, and Ensemble Made In Canada in piano quartets by Dvořák and Fauré September 26.

St. Lawrence String Quartet violinist Mark Fewer, the artistic director of the SweetWater festival, brings his chamber music versatility to bear in a concert September 19 in the historic Leith church with its ideal acoustics. Vivaldi, von Biber, Schmelzer and Bach supply the music that the celebrated baroque violinist Elizabeth Wallfisch, Lucas Harris (theorbo), Hank Knox (harpsichord) and Fewer will perform.

The next day Fewer joins his St. Lawrence colleagues and soprano Meredith Hall, flutist Leslie Newman, double bassist Joseph Phillips and pianist Kati Gleiser for a program of Haydn and Beethoven. A few days later Fewer and the other members of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, along with Wallfisch, Newman and Phillips, are joined by Brad Turner (trumpet), Drew Jurecka (violin) and David Braid (piano) for a concert showcasing Bach and Braid.

bbb - classical3U of T Faculty of Music: Before travelling to Owen Sound, Fewer, violinist Geoff Nuttall, violist Leslie Robertson and cellist Christopher Costanza (aka the St. Lawrence String Quartet) bring their infectious energy to the opening concert of the U of T Faculty of Music season September 16, which includes Golijov’s tuneful Kohelet and Verdi’s sublime String Quartet. Two weeks later, the Faculty celebrates accordion virtuoso Joe Macerollo’s 70th birthday and his appointment as Officer of the Order of Canada with an accordion extravaganza featuring current and former students and guest artists, and including compositions from Macerollo’s past plus a new commission by Anna Höstman.

Macerollo’s infectious musical spirit was most recently on display July 28 at Church of the Holy Trinity in a Music Mondays re-imagining of the songs of Kate Bush, Prince and Radiohead with soprano Zorana Sadiq where the performers “boiled the songs down to their deep, dark essence – from the Bulgarian sweep of Bush’s pop-scenas to the sweet synth build of Prince’s perfect pop.” Macerollo’s recent CD, Persuasion – The Contemporary Accordion, showed his commitment to contemporary composers Walter Buczynski, Charles Camilleri, Alexina Louie, Torbjorn Lundquist, Norman Symonds and Beverley Johnston. August 30 Macerollo hosted the always interesting CBC Radio 2 program This Is My Music. If you’re quick you can still hear it streamed on the Internet.

Flute Street at Church of the Holy Trinity: Internationally acclaimed piccolo virtuoso Jean-Louis Beaumadier and pianist Jordi Torrent will perform music by Damase, Reichert, Feld, Novak and Gyöngyösi September 26. The legendary Jean-Pierre Rampal wrote about Beaumadier: “Endowed with marvellous technique, he stands out, thanks to his winning personality and his developed artistry. It is a joy to hear him in turn dream and turn pirouettes; he is the Paganini of the piccolo.”

TSO Returns: Back from their successful European tour, the TSO begins the new season September 18 with a trio of romantic orchestral showpieces with the charismatic violinist Joshua Bell as soloist in Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole. September 20 and 21 sees concertmaster Jonathan Crow take the spotlight in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, the first public performance of the piece since its August CD release that marked the TSO’s new recording contract with Chandos Records. The live performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is incentive enough to hear this iconic work but on September 23 to 25 the TSO is making it even more essential by including Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with piano soloist Daniil Trifonov. No less than the great Martha Argerich said of the young Russian’s touch: “I never heard anything like that – he has tenderness and also the demonic element.”

Two Innovative Presenters: Two of the most creative Toronto series reinforce their programming reputations with the opening concerts in their 2014/15 seasons. September 28, the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players bring their enthusiasm to a Mooredale Concerts program that includes Beethoven’s invigorating Septet, Dohnányi’s lyrical Serenade in C Major for String Trio and Mozart’s mysterious Clarinet Quartet in B Flat Major after K378.

And I’m particularly looking forward to the Toronto debut of the highly touted France-based Trio Wanderer (after Schubert). Their October 2 Women’s Musical Club of Toronto program includes piano trios by Fauré, Liszt and Tchaikovsky.

Paul Ennis is managing editor of The WholeNote.

 

Welcome to the 20th Century

1909 Classical 1When I first opened up the Toronto Summer Music Festival’s brochure several weeks ago, I was struck by the strength of the initial three concerts running from July 22 to 24: the return of the Emerson String Quartet; the debut of the young pianist Beatrice Rana; and the musical marriage of the Orion String Quartet with Peter Serkin. The festival’s theme – The Modern Age – caught my eye next. “What an enticing idea,” I thought.

As TSO musical director Peter Oundjian observed in his recent Conversations@The WholeNote with David Perlman, it’s a fascinating topic to contemplate. “The eruption of 20th-century musical language – romanticism, polytonal modernists, folk-influenced – opens up a completely new world to so many different styles. I think it’s a very interesting period.”

Three chamber music concerts explore this notion. The first, “Romanticism to Modernity” on July 25, positions Berg and Schoenberg as Romantics about to discard tonal roots, comparing them to Frank Bridge and Richard Strauss. The second, August 1, includes polytonal non-modernists Prokofiev and Shostakovich with folk-influenced Vaughan Williams. The third, August 7, takes another folk-based composer, Dohnányi, and juxtaposes his Sextet for Clarinet, Horn and Piano Quartet with Schoenberg’s arrangement of Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer and Schoenberg’s and Berg’s arrangements of three waltzes by Johann Strauss. Stirring the pot, indeed.

I had heard the Emerson, one of my favourite quartets, in Koerner Hall’s opening season, as well as in earlier appearances presented by Music Toronto. The inclusion of Beethoven’s Op. 95 “Serioso” quartet in their program brought back a summer music festival experience two decades ago at Tanglewood, when the Emerson performed the prodigious feat of playing all five of Beethoven’s middle-period quartets in one day. After 36 years, the group’s personnel changed in 2013 with new cellist Paul Watkins. Word is he brings a warmth and sense of humour that may have been previously subsumed by the quartet’s superb technique and infallible drive. Britten’s second string quartet inspired by Purcell (which was recently part of the Pavel Haas Quartet’s soulful WMCT concert) and Schubert’s essential “Death and the Maiden” quartet, complete what looks to be a memorable beginning to music in the city this summer.

I have been looking forward to hearing 20-year-old Beatrice Rana, who won the Audience Award at last year’s Van Cliburn Competition (where the judges placed her second), ever since reading Alex Baran’s glowing review of her Harmonia Mundi CD in the February 2014 issue of this magazine.

Peter Serkin brings a sterling record as a chamber musician to his collaboration with the Orion String Quartet, the quartet-in-residence at Lincoln Center. A program containing quintets by Brahms and Dvořák is a tantalizing prospect.

If having concertmaster Jonathan Crow and other TSO members participating in TSM weren’t enough, the entire orchestra will close out the festival August 12 in their first ever concert in Koerner Hall with a preview of their upcoming European tour which includes Claude Vivier’s Orion. “I have the impression that I’m sitting still on an airplane,” Vivier wrote, describing the piece. “I remain in the same place and yet I go from Cairo to Kuala Lumpur.” The TSO is off to Vienna, Amsterdam, Wiesbaden, Helsinki and Reykjavik.

1909 Classical 2Le Festival de Lanaudière bills itself as the largest festival of classical music in Canada. Located in Joliette, about an hour northwest of Montreal, it includes many artists who rarely travel to Toronto, as well as others who do. Pianists Alain Lefèvre (whose recital July 8 features all 24 Chopin preludes and Ravel’s La Valse) and Dejan Lazić (in a program July 14 ranging from C.P.E. Bach and Scarlatti to Britten and Bartók) fall into the former category while Kristian Bezuidenhout, who recently appeared here with Tafelmusik performing a Mozart piano concerto, gives two recitals (July 15 and 17) devoted to eight Mozart sonatas on a fortepiano built in the late 18th century around the time of the composer’s death.

Beatrice Rana plays the same recital in Lanaudière as in Toronto, two days later. Toronto native Stewart Goodyear offers a varied program July 22 of Berg’s Sonata No.1, Bach’s French Suite No.5 and Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations.

The marvellous Jennifer Koh, whose memorable appearance as the violin-playing Einstein in the 2012 Luminato production of Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach was the heart of the opera, performs two Bach sonatas, Berio Sequenza VIII and John Zorn’s Passagen on July 28.

No less enticing is the July 20 Orford Six Pianos concert which includes Mussorgsky’s A Night on Bald Mountain and Pictures at an Exhibition, Ravel’s Pavane pour une enfant défunte and Mère l’oye as well as two suites by Khatchaturian. Paavo Järvi and Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen clearly love Brahms. August 2 finds them performing his second symphony along with Lars Vogt in his first piano concerto, while Brahms’ first symphony and violin concerto (with Christian Tetzlaff) can be heard the following evening.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads the Orchestre Métropolitain in a mostly Wagner program August 6 while Debussy and Ravel help Kent Nagano make a big impression with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra August 8. Erin Wall, Susan Platts, Nagano and the MSO  bring the festival to a close with Mahler’s Symphony No.2  August 9. No Canadian summer festival can match these eight days of significant orchestral firepower. 

The Festival of the Sound’s 35th season offers a star-studded cast of performers in 75 concerts, lectures, cruises, dinners and galas over a three-week period from July 21 to August 10. The first week features the Tiberius, New Zealand and Afiara String Quartets, the Gryphon Trio and Richard and Lauren Margison. Pianist Leopoldo Erice, the Magellan Ensemble, violinists Mark Fewer and Drew Jurecka and the Brodsky and Penderecki String Quartets highlight week two. Ensemble Made in Canada, the Cecilia and Lafayette String Quartets and three notable pianists should make the final week exciting. Alexander Tselyakov, Janina Fialkowski and Jan Lisiecki will each give a recital and a masterclass. Lisiecki will also be in conversation with the inimitable Keith Horner.

Clear Lake: The week before his appearance in Parry Sound, Tselyakov curates the Clear Lake Chamber Music Festival just south of Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba with four packed concerts July 31 to August 3. The week before on July 25, he joins Rachel Mercer, cello, Marie Bérard, violin, Wallace Halladay, alto saxophone, and Leslie Allt, flute, in a wide-ranging program that includes Dvořák’s “Dumky” trio at the KWCMS Music Room, where it’s always a festival regardless of the season.

The Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival celebrates their 20th anniversary July 24 to August 7 with several concerts of interest: the Brentano String Quartet (best-known recently as the soundtrack providers for the film A Late Quartet) July 24; James Campbell and the Cecilia String Quartet in contrasting programs July 28 and 29; brothers Jon Kimura and James Parker, Hinrich Alpers and Pedja Muzijevic in a Debussy-Ravel-Stravinsky eight-hand piano extravaganza July 28; Jon Kimura Parker and the Miró String Quartet July 31; the Lafayette String Quartet August 1; Janina Fialkowska in a program almost identical to her Festival of the Sound recital August 1; the Dover String Quartet, winners of the 11th Banff International String Quartet Competition, August 3; the Brodsky Quartet August 4, again with Beethoven’s Op.95; and the irrepressible Gryphon Trio August 6.

Stratford Summer Music’s highlight, from my perspective, is the August 1 concert combining the considerable talents of violinist Hilary Hahn with pianist Jan Lisiecki and the Annex Quartet in a program comprised of Brahms’ Violin Sonata No.1 and Chausson’s charming Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to hear one of the most unusually scored chamber works of the 19th century.

Stratford’s Grand Piano Series showcases three performers ranging from the 14-year-old Daniel Clarke Bouchard (fresh from an appearance on the Ellen TV show) August 6 to 25-year-old Pavel Kolesnikov (Honens International first prize laureate 2012) August 13 and Bicycle Opera Project’s own Wesley Shen August 20 (in a program that includes Cage’s Suite for Toy Piano and Southam’s Glass Houses).

The Indian River Festival, set within sight of beautiful Malpeque Bay in the world-class acoustical setting of St. Mary’s Church on Prince Edward Island, may be the most idyllic and varied festival of any in Canada. A small sampling of their summer-long 13th season finds cellist Denise Djokic and pianist David Jalbert in a recital July 13, the peripatetic Jan Lisiecki appearing July 27, the traditional folk trio Bon Débarras performing August 8 and Patricia O’Callaghan singing Cohen, Piaf and more accompanied by Andrew Downing, bass, and festival director Robert Kortgaard, piano, August 17.

Forest Festival: Yet it’s hard to picture a more quintessential Canadian experience than listening to the Canadian Brass August 12, the acoustic duo of Greg Keelor & Jim Cuddy August 13 and Measha Brueggergosman August 14 at the Bone Lake Amphitheatre in Haliburton. As the Forest Festival puts it: “Imagine sitting in the middle of a forest away from the lights of the city, in an amphitheatre overlooking a lake listening to live music as the sun sets.”

1909 Classical 3Quick Picks

Yuja Wang joins the TSO and conductor Peter Oundjian June 11 and 12 in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.3 and Shostakovich’s triumphant Symphony No.5.  June 14 the Shostakovich is part of Luminato.

June 15 the TSO brings Luminato to a rousing close with a free outdoor concert in David Pecaut Square with music by Weinzweig, Copland, Bernstein, Piazzolla and Ginastera, among others.

The outstanding Austrian pianist Till Fellner returns to the KWCMS Music Room in Waterloo for a program of Mozart, Bach, Haydn and Schumann August 5.

Paul Ennis is managing editor of The WholeNote.

Show One Turns Ten

1908-ClassicalSometimes it’s not only what you know but who you know. Show One Productions’ founder Svetlana Dvoretsky came to Canada from St. Petersburg in 1998. Culture was a huge part of her upbringing – her mother, after a brief career as a concert pianist, taught piano – and Dvoretsky wanted to be an arts administrator here, having studied management in show business. So she looked for a job in the arts when she arrived but only volunteer positions were available. Instead she worked in retail – “the immigrant school of learning” – then in the corporate world before scratching her “itch” and launching Show One.

It had taken five years, but she was ready. When violinist-conductor Vladimir Spivakov came to Toronto for a concert she sought him out – he and her mother had been students together – and fortune smiled. She buttonholed him on an elevator from floors one to three, just enough time to garner an invitation to meet his management in New York City. She flew south and returned with Spivakov’s endorsement that she bring him to Toronto for his next concert here. “It was a lot of trust on his part,” she admitted. Show One piggybacked onto Spivakov and the Moscow Virtuosi’s 25th Anniversary World Tour with their concert October 30, 2004 at George Weston Recital Hall.

Working with Spivakov’s charitable education foundation, she launched “Young Stars of the Young Century,” a showcase for the crème de la crème of talent from the vast reaches of the countries of the former Soviet Union, alongside a dollop of young Canadians. Five more concerts followed, ending in September of 2009. Dvoretsky was clearly doing something right.

In between the first two “Young Stars” events, she got her feet wet with two popular vocal concerts, Mikhail Turetsky’s Men’s Choir and a second featuring Svetlana Portnyansky and Yevgeni Shapovalov fronting O. Burman’s jazz quartet. The Moscow Chamber Orchestra with soprano Galina Gorchakova and a memorable performance by the legendary Borodin String Quartet firmly established her presence. Not even 13 months had passed since Show One’s debut.

Dvoretsky broadened her reach by linking into Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltica’s Tenth Anniversary Tour in the spring of 2007 and then conquering Roy Thomson Hall with Russian superstar baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky backed by the Moscow Chamber Orchestra that fall. When Spivakov returned with the Moscow Virtuosi and pianist Olga Kern on their 30th Anniversary Tour, Dvoretsky booked them into RTH. She did the same for premier violist-conductor Yuri Bashmet and the Moscow Soloists the following winter. Two months later, Spivakov was back at RTH, this time with his other regular gig, the National Philharmonic of Russia, featuring Siberian-born piano phenom Denis Matsuev (who would return twice under the Show One banner in solo recitals at Koerner Hall).

Less than a year later she paired Dmitri Hvorostovsky with the fast-rising young soprano Sondra Radvanovsky in RTH. Meanwhile she branched out to Montreal, presenting Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra with Matsuev, and then native son Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Rotterdam Philharmonic with violinist Victoria Mullova as soloist. She would bring Gergiev back twice more and widen her terrain to include Ottawa, Hamilton and Vancouver.

Over the last ten years she’s presented 30 classical Toronto concerts, 32 pop and dance events and 15 theatrical engagements, the latter exclusively in the Russian language.

She brought Michel Legrand, John Malkovich and Placido Domingo to us as well as cellist Mischa Maisky for the first time since 1976 (with Yuri Bashmet in a superb program commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Moscow Soloists Chamber Orchestra, then last fall in a recital at Koerner Hall).

Dvoretsky will celebrate Show One’s tenth anniversary with two world-class concerts: Spivakov, clearly her backbone, returns for the sixth time, May 9 at RTH with the Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra’s 35th Anniversary Tour; Hvorostovsky is back for the third time, June 1, in recital at Koerner Hall with pianist Ivari Ilja. May 9 everyone is invited to a post-concert lobby performance and reception at RTH featuring Canadian-Italian Daniela Nardi’s jazz world project Espresso Manifesto. It’s been quite a first decade. What will the second bring?

Recent Events

The unpredictability of events is certainly a boon to the Ontario Lottery Corporation (among others) but when it smiles unexpectedly (as it did on me a few weeks ago) and reveals its serendipitous side it’s capable of bestowing a big gift.

Richard Goode, in Toronto for appearances with the TSO, was scheduled to give three masterclasses at RCM. Circumstances dictated that I was able to attend only one, Friday afternoon, April 4. The first thing that struck me as I picked up the information sheet at the entrance to Mazzoleni Hall was that there was only one piece on the agenda, Mozart’s Piano Concert No.22 in E-flat Major, K482. The name of Goode’s student for the masterclass, Jan Lisiecki, evoked recognition and disbelief in equal measure: Canada’s own wunderkind, Gramophone award winner, with two DG CDs already under his belt, several summer music festival appearances scheduled, and on the horizon this upcoming November, TSO concerts dedicated to Beethoven’s final three piano concertos.

Lisiecki had just turned 19, Goode was well into his 71st year (he made his TSO debut in 1963). Lisiecki began to play, a 750 ml bottle of San Pellegrino on the floor, his tone steely, the notes tight and crisp. Goode characterized Lisiecki’s playing as “very beautiful, natural, satisfying.” Goode offered a few words: “Feel the force of the passage go all the way through.” Pointing to the bottom of a page, Lisiecki asked what Goode thought of “those two bars.”

“I liked it,” Goode answered.

Goode followed the second movement’s dark melody intently, looking at the score, writing something in pencil (he wrote nothing during the first movement). Suddenly, Lisiecki, who has joy, youth and polka dot socks on his side, leapt up to turn the page of the accompanying pianist’s score before returning to his own piano without missing a beat. For his part, Goode had much to offer at the movement’s conclusion. “I think this is a delicate andante,” he pointed out. “It comes down to which notes to stress and which you want to be less important.” He played the five-bar phrase: “The most important thing is to think of the voices as moving not vertical.” And he added that just because Mozart doesn’t write elaborate dynamics, it doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have played them.

Goode then demonstrated his own consummate pianism, showing off his musicianship in phrasing that emphasized the important passages.

Goode interrupted the joyous third movement several times, acting like a conductor, standing, rolling from side to side, commenting, singing his instructions which seemed a more comfortable way for him to communicate his thoughts (Tellingly, he did verbalize one piece of advice, asking Lisiecki to play a little slower “but with the same pizazz.”) Following Lisiecki’s effortless passagework and an admonition not to “upset the serenity of it,” Goode announced to the audience of 20 or so that “Jan will play some Chopin for you.”

The half dozen Preludes were like ice cream on the afternoon’s cake. Lisiecki displayed a more rounded tone than in the Mozart and Goode offered some salient bon mots. It goes without saying that Lisiecki is a brilliant talent; the trick is to tamp down the brilliance when appropriate. The afternoon saw him being schooled by the old school.

Eight days later, Goode brought his consummate skills to the public in a performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.17, K453 with the TSO under Peter Oundjian. The notes of the first movement melted into the keyboard like butter. Goode gave them a liquid quality but with much definition, well-paced, relaxed, unrushed. The pianist quietly underlined the shape of the arpeggios behind the orchestra, his playing emotionally restrained but tonally lush, practising what he had preached in the masterclass by not emphasizing every note, letting many fall in service of the phrasing.

The darkly capricious second movement gained nobility as Goode displayed a brighter tone in the cadenza while the bright finale showed the classicist at work and play.

The following week I was privileged to sit in on a rehearsal of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No.1 with soloist Hélène Grimaud and Andrey Boreyko guest-conducting the TSO. It was fascinating to hear the concert the next day and notice how the orchestra had faithfully followed the conductor’s instructions; for example, Boreyko had wanted exact articulation in the opening of the first movement. “It is not a question of loudness,” he pointed out. The French horn solo on the other hand, was equally gorgeous in casual dress and in tails.

As for the remarkable Ms.Grimaud, her piano playing was strong and convincing in the rehearsal, each chord struck purposefully, each note sounding lyrically. In the concert she displayed a much greater dynamic range adding rounded pianissimos in particular to expand the music’s range. Her intimate pianism exposed the intrinsic beauty of the slow movement written “for Clara,” Schumann’s wife with whom Brahms was enamoured. (In the rehearsal, before taking up the second movement, Boreyko reminded the orchestra that the concerto was Brahms’ emotional reaction to his friend Schumann’s suicide attempt.) And Grimaud entered fully into the passion of the third movement with its rhapsodic cadenza spurring the audience into an immediate standing ovation.

Mozart in a Day

Violinist Jacques Israelievitch and pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico will play the complete Mozart violin sonatas Sunday, May 4 at Gallery 345. The opportunity to hear all 28 sonatas performed live in one day is likely a first for Toronto audiences. The marathon will be divided into four concerts beginning at 11am, 1pm, 3pm and 5pm, with only short breaks in between. 

“Playing the sonatas in one day allows the listener to hear the evolution of the form as the composer goes from featuring mostly the piano to making the violin gradually the equal of the piano,” Israelievitch says. “The earlier sonatas are generally simpler, as Mozart honed his craft. They evolve into works of greater complexity and depth. The performance itself requires a lot of stamina. I am fortunate in having a piano partner who is up to the task.”  

In preparation, the two musicians are doing a lot of stretching exercises.

Quick Picks

Less than two weeks after his Mozart marathon, Israelievitch joins Benjamin Smith, piano, and Jihyun Ahn, cello, in a trio of trios by Beethoven, Shostakovich and Schumann May 16 at Gallery 345.

Sondra Radvanovsky continues her productive sojourn in our city with a performance of Richard Strauss’ exquisite Four Last Songs June 5 and 7 at RTH with the TSO conducted by Shalom Bard.

One of the many standout concerts presented by the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society in the coming weeks is by Trio Arkel (Marie Berard, violin, Teng Li, viola, and Winona Zelenka, cello) May 12. Another is the first concert in QuartetFest 2014 by the Penderecki String Quartet June 1. An intriguing follow-up in the same series finds the Chiara Quartet performing their program of Haydn, Bartok and Brahms entirely by memory. More details on this latest incarnation of QuartetFest can be found on the k-wcms website.

The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony led by Edwin Outwater attractively pairs Aaron Copland’s Suite from Billy the Kid with Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story May 2 to 4; on May 30 and 31, Karen Gomyo is the soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D in a program that also features Stravinsky’s Petrushka and Sokolovic’s Ringelspiel.

Paul Ennis is managing editor of The WholeNote.


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