Not since Glenn Gould has a Canadian pianist had such a global impact as Marc-André Hamelin. Just as Gould’s interpretation of Bach revolutionized the way we heard his music, Hamelin made musical sense of late 19th and early 20th century pianist-composer romantic music so fiendishly difficult it had seemed lost until he unearthed it. As the years passed, Hamelin’s repertoire broadened to embrace more traditional repertoire and his March 1 Koerner Hall recital included Debussy’s Images Book II from his recently released Hyperion Debussy CD.
Till Fellner was 18 in 1990 when he was asked to play for Alfred Brendel. It was arguably the pivotal moment of his life. Three years later he won the Clara Haskil piano competition gaining a modicum of name recognition and an entrée into the world of recordings.
The head of the keyboard department at the Vienna conservatory, where Fellner had been a student since 1981, had suggested a meeting with Brendel in a castle in Grafenegg not far from Vienna where the noted pianist was giving a recital. Fellner was invited to listen to Brendel’s rehearsal in the morning and then play a few pieces for him. The older pianist immediately started teaching by correcting what the younger man was playing. His first lesson had just begun. Brendel then suggested that Fellner call him and arrange another.
Let us now take a moment to praise John Dowland. The early music movement owes much to the famed English composer and master of the Renaissance lute song. He gave us a sizeable body of work that has come to function as a kind of soundtrack to the English Renaissance for modern listeners. As impressive, in his own time, Dowland was famous throughout Europe, not only as a composer of popular songs (nearly 90) but also for his solo lute music (nearly 90 of those works as well).
As a Catholic in late Elizabethan England, though, Dowland found it difficult to make a living in the early stages of his career. Although he was a trained musician with a Bachelor of Music from Oxford (apparently they gave out music degrees in the 16th century too), Dowland blamed intolerance against Catholics for his inability to get a position in the English court, eventually leaving England in 1594, to make his fortune abroad on the Continent. His exceptional talents took him far and wide, and he earned renown from Denmark to Italy. After nearly two decades abroad, Dowland finally returned to England as a lutenist in the Catholic court of James I. Although the well-travelled composer was a citizen of the world who, as the story goes, eventually came home to England, he has come to symbolize a particularly English sound for the music of his time.
The Gryphon Trio’s ebullient pianist, Jamie Parker, is the most recent addition to the Conversations@The WholeNote video series. Publisher David Perlman continued his casual encounters with Toronto’s musical players in a wide-ranging interview that took place shortly before Parker and his chamber music partners, violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon and cellist Roman Borys, gave their annual Music Toronto concert at the St. Lawrence Centre February 26.
Props master Perlman had an informal questionnaire in the form of a deck of WholeNote cards with a topical allusion written on the back of each. The cards moved the chat in unexpected but entertaining and edifying directions. In response to “Music I Like,” for example, Parker spoke about one of the things that gives him and his wife (who have two boys, seven and nine) great pleasure. “To see the boys able to identify and sing along some Beatles tunes and also some Beethoven symphonies makes me very proud as a parent,” he revealed.
Am I just imagining it, or was musical life once much more tidily compartmentalized? There was the season (coinciding with the school year), on the one hand, and the summer on the other. Within the summer there were festivals and concerts to go to , or summer camps and courses one could enrol in.
Nowadays along with overlap between the seasons, there is a blurring of the lines: between summer festivals and academies; between opportunities for music lovers to attend concerts in the usual way and opportunities to become involved in a hands-on way. For serious music students, if you take the summer to recharge your batteries, you have to wonder if you are losing ground between school years. For concert presenters and summer music educators, the challenge is to figure out how to bridge the gap without losing their identity.
Hamilton’s Brott Festival is an interesting example. Led by conductor Boris Brott, the festival has long boasted a busy annual summer season chock-full of orchestral classics as well as lesser-known works. This year has 11 planned performances so far between June 18 and August 14 (including Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, a concert spotlighting Italian and Italian-influenced works, a performance of a Viennese gala evening with works by Strauss, Lehár and Piazzolla and collaborations with the National Ballet and Festival of the Sound). Brott and his team show no signs of letting up.
Jean Stilwell’s international career as a concert artist and operatic and lyric theatre mezzo-soprano has taken her all over the world but she has a well-maintained artistic presence in Canada. Her warm rich voice is currently familiar to many as radio co-host of Good Day GTA: Classical Breakfast with Mike Duncan & Jean Stilwell (weekdays 5-10am on the New Classical 96.3FM).
Some readers will remember Stilwell from the 1980’s in Stratford Festival Gilbert & Sullivan productions – including alternating with Maureen Forrester as the Fairy Queen in Iolanthe. Her first major operatic role in Canada was Olga (Eugene Onegin with the Vancouver Opera) followed by her very first Carmen (Lucian Pintilie’s Expo 86 production). Subsequent engagements to sing Carmen include more than a dozen different companies. In Ontario Stilwell has sung a wide range of roles with Opera Atelier, Ottawa’s Opera Lyra, the Canadian Opera Company, Opera in Concert and Tapestry New Opera, and made numerous guest appearances with orchestras. Her ongoing cabaret and small-stage collaborations – in particular those with long-time musical friend Patti Loach (pianist and writer) – round out what continues to be an adventurous career.