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.

Fearless Haas Quartet Debut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent Events

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

•“Have the courage to do nothing sometimes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concert-copia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Paul Ennis is managing editor of The WholeNote.

Symphonic Adventurers Dudamel & Outwater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Ennis is managing editor of The WholeNote.


Back to top