One of the most impressive discs to cross my desk this month is a private release featuring the first five works to win the Karen Kieser Prize in Canadian Music. This prize was established in 2002 to honour the memory of one of the true, brave champions of the Western Art Music tradition in Canada. Karen Kieser’s long career at the CBC culminated in her appointment as Head of Radio Music, the first woman to ever hold that position. During her tenure she spearheaded programs for the commissioning and recording of Canadian concert music and later went on to become the first General Manager of Glenn Gould Studio. As a triple-graduate of the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto it is fitting that the prize in her name, endowed by friends and colleagues following her untimely death, should honour a U of T graduate student in composition whose work is judged to be especially promising. As I mentioned, the CD includes the prize winning works from the first five years of the award’s existence: Abigail Richardson’s dissolve for harp, piano and percussion; Andrew Staniland’s Tapestry for clarinet, cello and tape; Craig Galbraith’s The Fenian Cycle for mezzo soprano, English horn and string quartet; Katarina Curcin’s …walking away from… for string quartet; and Christopher William Pierce’s Melody with Gesture for wind quintet, string quintet, celeste and percussion. I find the maturity of the works and the diversity of stylistic expression to be quite exceptional. The live performances were recorded during the Gala 5th Anniversary Concert of the Karen Kieser Prize at Glenn Gould Studio in January 2007 and feature distinguished artists including Gregory Oh (piano and direction), Norine Burgess (mezzo-soprano) and the Penderecki String Quartet, among a host of others. This limited edition disc, which provides an invaluable glimpse into the formative years of these aspiring composers on the brink of professional careers, is available by donation only.
The Karen Kieser Prize, which usually includes a $1,000 cash stipend and a CBC broadcast, is funded by the proceeds of an endowment fund which is normally sufficient for the purpose. Due to the exceptional market conditions of the past 18 months, the Faculty is seeking additional funding to ensure that this year’s prize can be awarded at its usual level. Once the prize amount is reached, any additional funds raised will be added to the endowment. I encourage you to support this worthy cause which fosters and rewards excellence in Canadian composition.
Contact Tyler Greenleaf at 416.946.3580 or email@example.com to make your donation and obtain your copy of this excellent disc.
Concert Note: On March 19 in Walter Hall this year’s Karen Kieser prize will be awarded to Constantine Caravassilis for his work Sappho De Mytilère for mezzo soprano, flute and piano which will be performed by members of the gamUT ensemble under the direction of Norbert Palej. The concert will also include Three Songs of Great Range by Igor Correia, last year’s prize winning work. The concert is at 7:30 and admission is free.
Here is a brief mention of other discs that have piqued my interest this month:
When approached by music publisher Erich Doflein, Bela Bartok embraced the idea of writing a graduated pedagogical series in which, in Bartok’s words, “students would play works which contained the natural simplicity of the music of the people, as well as its melodic and rhythmic peculiarities.” His 44 Duos for two violins could have been mere didactic exercises with little inherent musicality, but as evidenced in the fine and nuanced performances by Jonathan Crow and Yehonatan Berick on a new XXI recording (XXI-DC 2 1669), there is real music here, from the pieces for the most elementary performers to the most advanced. The 2 CD set also includes Luciano Berio’s Duetti per Due Violini, a set of teaching pieces inspired by Bartok’s duos but also intended for the concert stage.
Do we really need another recording of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden or the C Major Quintet? After listening to these performances by the Belcea Quartet with Valentin Erben (EMI 9 67025 2) I am willing to answer in the affirmative. But another question is begging to be asked: Can there be too much of a good thing? I have often thought so after sitting through the almost hour-long string quintet or the forty-five minute quartet. But while listening to these warm and expressive performances I did not find myself checking my watch even once. Bravo to this fine British ensemble.
The final disc I will mention is hard to categorize, although it is a logical extension of Andrew Burashko and the Art of Time Ensemble’s recent forays into the world of Art/Pop song. A Singer Must Die (Pheromone Recordings PHER CD 1013) features the iconic voice of Steven Page in “arty” arrangements of songs by Elvis Costello, Rufus Wainwright, Leonard Cohen, Jane Siberry, Radiohead and, of course, Page’s own Barenaked Ladies (I’m Running Out of Ink). Among the distinguished arrangers are Gavin Bryars (Cohen’s A Singer Must Die), Jim McGrath, Cameron Wilson and Rob Carli, who is also featured on sax and clarinet.
Concert Note: Steven Page and the Art of Time Ensemble will be touring this eclectic repertoire with dates in Kingston (March 3), Toronto (March 4), St. Catharines (March 5), Kitchener (March 6), North Bay (March 7), Brampton (March 10), Belleville (March 11), Barrie (March 12) and Peterborough (March 13).
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