Evgeny Kissin held an appreciative audience in his thrall May 1. Roy Thomson Hall was filled from top to bottom including the choir loft and dozens of stage seats for the Russian-born pianist's first solo recital in Toronto in 15 years. Three rows of seats on either side of the stage marked the outer edge of an umbrella of light that illuminated Kissin as he put his inimitable stamp on Beethoven's “Waldstein” Sonata, Prokofiev's Sonata No.4, three nocturnes and six mazurkas of Chopin as well as Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No.15 “Rákóczi March.” The Prokofiev, which ended the concert's first half, elicited a spontaneous standing ovation. The final notes of the Liszt at program's conclusion generated even more response, four standing ovations, three of which resulted in encores, culminating in Prokofiev's March from the Love for Three Oranges. It was an adoration complete with whoops, cheers and even a spate of unified rhythmic clapping.
A highly charged, fully packed Koerner Hall audience greeted the appearance of Yannick Nézet-Séguin and his Montreal-based Orchestre Métropolitain for their Toronto debut April 24. In a brief introduction to the concert's first half, Nézet-Séguin spoke of his 15-year relationship with the orchestra and the “French colour” they would bring to the evening of English music he had programmed.
Elgar's Enigma Variations had an intensity that revealed the architectural solidity of the piece. Wonderfully balanced full chords proceeded via a series of crescendos. There was sentiment without sentimentality (swells were swell) and a jocularity that foreshadowed the Edwardian Age about to dawn. (The work was composed just at the end of the 19th century.) With each variation dedicated to a friend or loved one (the first lovingly portrays the composer's wife), Elgar's creation is filled with tenderness and nostalgia. Its pastoral qualities (for King and Countryside you might say) were epitomized by a wind choir supported by strings. The famous Variation IX, “Nimrod” was dedicated to the memory of Paul Desmarais, a great supporter of the orchestra. The slow build begun by the flute and oboe duet buttressed by low strings reached great and stately heights before suddenly disappearing into the air, like fluttering insects in the wind.
Ann Cooper Gay was born, raised and educated in Texas. There are two photographs that she digs out on cue to prove to disbelieving Canadians that she is truly a Texas girl. The first is a shot of her adolescent self in her backyard proudly carrying a rifle. The second confirms that she was a majorette in college, baton included. How this Texan became a prime mover and shaker in the Toronto music scene is an incredible journey.
Cooper Gay, 71, recently announced that she is stepping down as executive artistic director of the Canadian Children’s Opera Company. In her life she has been a pianist, organist, flutist, opera singer, elementary school teacher, college instructor, instrumental conductor and choir director, not to mention social activist, master of languages and a talented tennis player. No one who knows her believes that Cooper Gay will actually settle into a life of quiet retirement. Somewhere she will find a place to make music.
Ancestors on Cooper Gay’s maternal side arrived in Texas by covered wagon before it was even a state. Her paternal ancestors guarded cattle trains headed for the military, which included supplying the command of George Armstrong Custer.
Errol Gay lives in North York, Toronto, with Ann Cooper Gay and their beloved golden retriever, Patch. Some of his other pastimes include working out possible European train travel and solving not-too-difficult Sudoku and crossword puzzles.
Mention Errol Gay to a group of musicians and you’ll get some warm smiles of recognition: ask each of them how they know him and you’ll get many different answers. In Paula Citron’s article in this issue (page 8) about his wife, Ann Cooper Gay, there are more details about his extraordinary life, including his association with the Canadian Children’s Opera Company.
"I rather suspect you are going to be running into a bit of a ‘Sir Andrew Davis, this is your life’ ambush when you hit town this time” I say into the phone. The response is an amiable guffaw. It’s 8:05am Sunday morning, Melbourne time, for him; just after 6pm Saturday night here in Toronto for me. Davis is “waking up slowly” he says, after a performance with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the third of three towering programs over a four-week period.
Davis is Chief Conductor at Melbourne, Conductor Laureate of the BBC Orchestra, and, for the past 15 years Music Director and Chief Conductor of Lyric Opera of Chicago (an appointment recently extended through the 2020/21 season).
He is, of course, also Conductor Laureate of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, a position he assumed after being the TSO’s Music Director from 1975 till 1988. So, add the 27 years he’s been returning every year as Conductor Laureate to the 13 he spent as Music Director, and the stage is set for the “Forty Years on the TSO Podium” possible ambush I alluded to when he returns to town mid-May for a two-week, three-program stint commencing with the Verdi Requiem May 21, 22 and 23.
The April 14 announcement of Philip Glass from the Koerner Hall stage as the 2015 winner of the $100,000 Glenn Gould Prize was perhaps more imbued with history for one of the jurors, pipa player Wu Man, than anyone else on the stage. Granted, she was just one of a distinguished international jury of ten (including jury chair Bob Ezrin). They convened in Toronto for a 48-hour period, charged with the near-impossible task in that short time of whittling down to one winner a briefing book of 80 nominees.
Where Wu Man stood out on the jury is that in her previous brush with the Glenn Gould Foundation, she was a winner herself – not of the Glenn Gould Prize, but as 1999 Gould laureate Yo-Yo Ma’s choice for the accompanying City of Toronto protégé prize, whom the laureate himself (yes so far the laureates have all been men) chooses.
Being chosen as Ma’s 1999 protégé was immensely significant for Wu Man. “When I received the protégé prize in 1999 I can say it changed my musical life,” she told me backstage at Koerner, after the announcement, “because in 1999 I was just landed in North America from China and the prize actually inspired me to think of larger musicianship and encouraged me to explore new ways to communicate with people through music. So this year I am back but since 1999 I have been working differently in music. It’s a great honour to be back and sitting in the jury side by side with all those highly respected individuals.”