Classical and Beyond
- Written by Paul Ennis
- Category: Classical and Beyond
"Not Reconciled: The Cinema of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet” is a retrospective of 31 films by the singular filmmaking duo that takes hold at TIFF Bell Lightbox March 3 with the screening of a new 35mm print of Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach. Whether or not you’re familiar with the austere dissociation of the filmmakers’ style, this black and white 1967 film is essential viewing for any music lover. Compulsively watchable, it’s of key historical importance on two counts. As a portrait of J.S. Bach, it’s a focused biography zoning in on the last decades of his life, from the end of his stint working for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen to his time in Leipzig as cantor of St. Thomas Church (1723-1750). And as a 50-year-old film in which Bach is portrayed by harpsichordist Gustav Leonhardt and the music is directed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt with musicians from his Concentus Musicus Wien, it’s also a record of a period-instrument movement that was then in its infancy.
The film is awash in music, all inspired by Bach’s love of, and devotion to, God. Almost the entire film consists of excerpts from 24 of Bach’s works – it’s a total immersion experience largely because most of the excerpts are each several minutes long. The bewigged Bach and musicians perform in period costume in the very places where the compositions were first played. The Straubs’ rigorous aesthetic reinforces this effect by selecting a camera position with a striking perspective and letting their unmoving camera soak up the moving image; they concentrate our attention on the music.
The film is narrated in a matter-of-fact manner by Bach’s second wife, a singer he married in 1721 after the death of his first wife. She gives a bare outline of Bach’s early years, touching on his organ prowess and the famous 250-mile walk he took from Arnstadt to Lübeck to hear his idol Buxtehude play, but once she introduces herself events flow according to the pulse of time. For the most part the music follows in chronological order beginning with a sizable excerpt from the middle of the first movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No.5, the first great keyboard concerto and arguably the zenith of his time in Köthen. The camera placement is over the right shoulder of Bach as we watch Leonhardt play his double-keyboard harpsichord unfettered.
Just as Bach is about to take up his post in Leipzig, we’re treated to Leonhardt and Harnoncourt in lovely performance of the first movement adagio from the Sonata No.2 for viola da gamba and harpsichord BWV 1028. Then it’s a seamless parade of cantatas (embracing many instrumental passages, Bach conducting from the keyboard) with the Magnificat, St. Matthew Passion and Mass in B Minor included, all integral to the narrative. Only a smattering of keyboard works interrupt the flow, notably the opening of the magisterial Prelude in B Minor for Organ BWV 544. Later, the camera actively moves in on Leonhardt for an intimate snippet of the Clavier-Übung organ chorale. He explains how his left hand plays written notes (basso continuo) while the right hand plays in consonance and dissonance; and that the music is for the glory of God.
Camera placement is critical. For example, in the Cantata BWV 198, written for the funeral of Queen Christiane, the vantage point is from the instrumental side focused on the lute, with Bach at left in front of the choir. Occasionally there will be a cut to a close-up of a singer or instrumentalist; even a view of the thick scores black with the density of notes. Despite the lack of camera movement, there is a variety of perspective, often at an angle, which adds to our involvement. The filmmakers also point us to original documents, contracts and the like. They are careful to point out the economics of Bach’s daily life and his concerns with his working conditions as he navigates his relationship to his employers.
The other major musical component of the retrospective, is the screening March 12 of the Straubs’ film of Schoenberg’s unfinished opera Moses and Aaron (1974), shot in a Roman amphitheatre with the Austrian Radio Choir and Austria Radio Symphony Orchestra (recorded in Vienna), along with the 1972 short film Accompaniment to a Cinematic Scene (which uses text by Schoenberg and Brecht to condemn anti-Semitism). Preceding the films will be a 15- to 20-minute live performance of five extracts from Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire as well as Claude Vivier’s Hymnen an die Nacht presented by Against the Grain Theatre with soprano Adanya Dunn and collaborative pianist Topher Mokrzewski.
Associates of the TSO. Now in their 45th season, the Associates of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra continue their current series March 6 with “Classics of Vienna Meet Voices of Britain.” TSO oboist Sarah Lewis is joined by Eri Kosaka, violin, Diane Leung, viola, and Emmaneulle Beaulieu Bergeron, cello, in Mozart’s effervescent Oboe Quartet K370, Britten’s Phantasy Quartet for Oboe and Strings Op.2 (written when the composer was 19 and featuring a singing oboe line). Beethoven’s splendid Trio Op.9 No.1 opens the concert.
On February 13, I heard their second concert of the season, “Paris en mille notes,” a delightful evening of chamber music in the friendly confines of Jeanne Lamon Hall. The distinctive Gallic-flavoured program began with a lively look at Stravinsky’s Suite from L’Histoire du Soldat. Stravinsky’s septet consisted of violin, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, double bass and percussion, a larger number of players than the Associates usually bring to a concert. The enthusiastic audience, who appeared to be made up of the proverbial “seven to seventy,” took up most of the seats on the main floor and seemed to energize the players.
Stravinsky’s score, which takes advantage of its instruments’ unique instrumental colour, was suitably raucous and lively with memorable violin playing by TSO assistant concertmaster Etsuko Kimura (as it should be given the story of a violinist-soldier who sells his instrument to the devil), the sweet bassoon of Fraser Jackson and buffoonery from the brass.
Poulenc’s Sonata for Flute and Piano, which followed, acted as a palate cleanser after the Stravinsky’s exoticism, creating a wonderful sense of space with long flute lines and wide intervals that felt very French, all delivered with aplomb by Leonie Wall and collaborative pianist Monique de Margerie.
After intermission the duo joined the septet plus another percussionist for Jackson’s clever chamber arrangement of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major which was being performed for the first time. With similar instrumentation as the Stravinsky, the concerto began in wind-band style before moving into its languorous piano theme with piccolo backing. Conductor Ryan Haskins brought a subtle baton to Ravel’s jazz touches, providing a good steady groove for the second movement’s lovely theme, while de Margerie’s intimate solo piano playing was well-suited to the chamber format.
Kudos to the musicians and their contagious spirit. It augurs well for the rest of the season to come. Following the March 6 concert previously mentioned, their season continues May 29 with a transcription of Schubert’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin arranged for violin and viola and Beethoven’s String Trio in E-flat Major Op.3. June 5, it’s music for piano trio by Haydn, Luedeke, Piazzolla and Brahms.
Dmitry Masleev. Following in the footsteps of the 13 first-place winners of the International Tchaikovsky Competition, the Siberian-born Dmitry Masleev joins such legends as Van Cliburn (1958), Vladimir Ashkenazy (1962) and Grigory Sokolov (1966) and most recently Denis Matsuev (1998), Ayako Uehara (2002) and Daniil Trifonov (2011). His Koerner Hall recital March 22 includes works he played in Round 1 of that competition (two of Rachmaninoff’s Études Tableaux Op.39 and Beethoven’s Sonata Op.81a “Les Adieux”) and Liszt’s Totentanz from Round 2. Four Scarlatti sonatas, additional Rachmaninoff pieces and Prokofiev’s Sonata No.2 in D Minor Op.14 complete his ambitious program.
In response to a question I emailed him shortly before we went to press, Masleev told me that his musical hero is Sergey Rachmaninoff. “He was not only a genius composer whose music inspires all classical music lovers, but he was also a brilliant pianist,” he said. “Thank God we have lots of his recordings available and can listen to them.
“He has his own style of performing,” the 28-year-old said. “You will always be amazed by his precise touch, deep forte and piano, and of course, just incredible technique. His music combines deep meaning that touches your heart, a variety of harmonies, just unbelievable beautiful melodies. There is a quality in it that will find a response from any person in the audience.
Daniil Trifonov. Coincidentally, the previous Tchaikovsky winner, Daniil Trifonov (having just turned 26) returns to Koerner Hall just six days after Masleev, March 28 in a recital devoted to Schumann, Shostakovich and Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka. The concert is sold out but a few rush tickets will be available 90 minutes prior to the performance. When he was 23, Trifonov gave a masterclass/interview at Mazzoleni Hall one evening in January 2015. He mentioned Rachmaninoff, Friedman, Horowitz, Hofmann and Michelangeli among pianists from the past who inspired him. He said then that the two hours before a concert is a period of intense concentration and that “somehow warming up for me is more mental [than physical].”
Mar 4: Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra principal trumpet Michael Fedyshyn joins violinist Bethany Bergman, cellist Rachel Mercer and pianist Angela Park as 5 at the First presents music by Biber, Barnes, Ewazen and Piazzolla.
Mar 4: Academy Concert Series presents “A Frankly Fabulous Foray,” piano quintets by Franck and Fauré (See what they did there!), two lush chamber works. OSM principal second violin Alexander Read, HPO second violinist and Windermere String Quartet first violinist Elizabeth Loewen Andrews, TSM 2016 fellow Emily Eng, viola, Academy Concert Series artistic director Kerri McGonigle, cello, and Leanne Regehr, piano, bring the works to life.
Mar 5: Trio Con Brio Copenhagen’s concert, presented by Chamber Music Hamilton, includes Schubert’s uncommonly beautiful Piano Trio in B-flat Major Op.99.
Mar 5, 7 and 9: The Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents the Aviv String Quartet performing Mozart’s great last ten quartets. Mar 21 and 23: Movses Pogossian honours Bach’s birthday by playing his six sonatas and partitas for unaccompanied violin in the KWCMS music room. Mar 22: Peter Vinograde, who played the first solo recital in that music room in 1980, returns to play Bach, Beethoven and Peter Mennin. Apr 2, 4, 5, 7 and 9: Another major programming coup for KWCMS: the Lafayette String Quartet playing the complete Shostakovich string quartets.
Mar 5: It’s cloning time as Mooredale presents Paganini Competition prizewinner In Mo Yang at Walter Hall, while RCM presents the inimitable Sir András Schiff at Koerner Hall, and Roy Thomson Hall presents Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, recent Grammy winners for Best Orchestral Performance. All concerts will take place Sunday afternoon at three o’clock.
Mar 7: GGS scholarship student Charissa Vandikas plays Chopin, Schumann and Rachmaninoff in a free noon-hour concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Apr 4: Another COC free noontime concert features Mark Fewer in solo violin works by Bach, Ysaÿe and Chris Paul Harman. Apr 5: Rossina Grieco, a native of Southern California and winner of the GGS Ihnatowycz Prize in Piano, fills the Bradshaw Ampitheatre with Liszt’s iconic Sonata in B Minor in her free concert.
Mar 9: The relatively new Trio Shaham Erez Wallfisch brings their chamber music bona fides to the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto for what promises to be a memorable afternoon of music by Rachmaninoff, Schumann and Shostakovich.
Mar 10: The celebrated duo pianists, Anagnoson and Kinton, continue their 40th anniversary season with a concert at Brock University in St. Catharines.
Mar 16: Music Toronto presents the Philharmonic Quartett Berlin (made up exclusively of members of the Berliner Philharmoniker) in a classic program of late Haydn, early Beethoven and middle Schumann.
Mar 18: TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow is the soloist in Brahms’ lyrical Violin Concerto with the Niagara Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bradley Thachuk, at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines.
Mar 19: Four days before his Music Toronto recital, Marc-André Hamelin performs at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston. The all-sonata program is anchored in the first half by Beethoven’s fervid Appassionata Sonata and in the second by Chopin’s dark Sonata No.2 in B-flat Minor “The Funeral March.”
Mar 23: One-time protégé of the great Arthur Rubinstein, Janina Fialkowska brings her pianistic sensibility to an all-Chopin recital at the Aurora Cultural Centre.
Mar 27: The U of T Faculty of Music presents the dedicated and dependable Gryphon Trio performing Beethoven’s buoyant Piano Trio Op.11, Dinuk Wijeratne’s Love Triangle and Brahms’ romantic signpost, the Piano Quartet No.1 in G Minor Op.25. Currently artists-in-residence at the faculty, the Gryphon is joined by guest violist Ethan Filner for the Brahms.
Apr 1: The indefatigable Angela Park joins Canadian Sinfonietta’s first violinist, Joyce Lai, and first cellist, András Weber, for an evening of chamber music by Rachmaninoff, Handel-Halvorsen and An-Lun Huang.
Apr 1, 2: Tokyo-born, Montreal-raised Karen Gomyo brings her superb musicianship to Beethoven’s splendid Violin Concerto. Young American, Robert Trevino, also conducts the TSO in the 1947 version of Stravinsky’s Petrushka rooted in Russian folklore and melody. Apr 6, 7: TSO favourite Thomas Dausgaard returns to conduct Deryck Cooke’s version of Mahler’s magnificent Symphony No.10; TSO principal cellist Joseph Johnson is the soloist in Schumann’s ravishing Cello Concerto in A Minor Op.129, the opening work on the program.
Apr 2: Pianist Anton Nel, fresh from two masterclasses on March 31, performs Mozart and Schumann in a free concert (tickets required; available from March 2) in Mazzoleni Hall.
Apr 7: Bravo Niagara! Festival of the Arts presents pianist Jon Kimura Parker in a fascinating program comprised of Beethoven’s formidable Appassionata Sonata, Ravel’s shimmering Jeux d’eau, Alexina Louie’s Scenes from a Jade Terrace and two movie-themed pastiches by William Hirtz: Bernard Herrmann Fantasy and Fantasy on the Wizard of Oz.
Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.
- Written by Paul Ennis
- Category: Classical and Beyond
Avi Avital: Israeli-born mandolin virtuoso Avi Avital (b. 1978) – who will appear at Koerner Hall with the zestful Dover Quartet on February 11 – once described his relationship with his instrument as “a bit like a rider and his horse.”
“I know my mandolin very well,” he told 15questions.net. “My hands remember blindly every curve and every fret of it. I have a deep understanding of how it works, but when I’m on stage it becomes part of me – I almost forget I’m holding it.”
A relative of the lute, the mandolin has grown in popularity over the last 300 years. “Familiar and foreign, folkish and classical, the mandolin is both a musical chameleon and a seasoned traveller,” Avital wrote in his introduction to his eclectic Deutsche Grammophon CD Between Worlds (2014).
Avital told Fifteen Questions about a transformative meeting he had in his mid-20s with the famed klezmer clarinetist Giora Feldman. After Avital played him a piece by Bloch, Feldman asked him to improvise. When Avital said he didn’t know how, Feldman insisted. “So I closed my eyes and for the first time in my life I started to play something that wasn’t written in notes. Giora took his clarinet and joined me, and we continued to improvise together for a little while that afternoon. That encounter opened the window to a new world and led me to play different genres of music.”
Avital spoke with medici.tv last year about his admiration for Menuhin, Heifetz and Rubinstein, about how he takes different things from different artists. And about how he was “really into rock ‘n’ roll” when he was 14. “I was the real grunger from Seattle; I remember making a lot of noise on the drums.”
He still carries something of the rock band experience when he plays in a classical music hall.
Describing his arrangement of Bach’s Chaconne from the Partita No.2 for solo violin, he talked about how the freshness for an audience of discovering a monumental piece of music played on a different instrument is like hearing it for the first time. And that you hear contemporary music differently after listening to Bach in a recital. “It’s like the ginger with the sushi or the lemon sorbet between the dishes in a very fancy restaurant.”
So on February 11, after he plays the Chaconne, he and the Dovers will perform the Canadian premiere of David Bruce’s Cymbeline, for string quartet and mandolin, a piece written for him in 2013 and dedicated to Avital and his wife “in honour of their recent marriage.” The title is an old Celtic word meaning Lord of the Sun. “I think the idea of the piece being about the sun emerged out of the colours of the string quartet and the mandolin together,” Bruce wrote on his website. “The mandolin itself has always seemed to me to create a ‘golden’ sound, and when combined with the warmth of the strings it seems now obvious that I should be drawn towards something warm and golden.”
The concert opens with Tsintsadze’s Six Miniatures for String Quartet and Mandolin; Tsintsadze, who died in 1991, invariably wove his Georgian homeland’s folk music into his works. Then the Dovers give Avital a break when they take on Smetana’s penetrating autobiographical tone picture, his String Quartet No. 1 in E Minor “From My Life.” I’ve been eagerly awaiting their return to town ever since their memorable Toronto Summer Music performance of Beethoven quartets last summer. The Dovers’ playing was empathetic, subtle, impeccably phrased, marked by forward motion, drive and energy, musically mature, vibrant and uncannily unified in purpose and execution. Their collaboration with the larger-than-life Avital promises much joyous music making.
In Mo Yang was 19 when he became the youngest winner of the Paganini International Violin Competition in 2015. Now 21, he makes his Canadian recital debut March 5 (with pianist Renana Gutman) presented by Mooredale Concerts. Born in Indonesia, Yang moved to Korea at two and began playing violin at five. He currently studies with Miriam Fried on a scholarship to the New England Conservatory. Yang told me in an email exchange that he first met Fried in Korea when he was about 14 and played the Mendelssohn concerto for her. “I was struck by how drastically my sound improved with her methods of sound production.” In 2012, when it was time to find his next teacher, he wanted to have another lesson with her. “She was about to come to Korea to attend a festival in Seoul. I went to her hotel room and played the Tchaikovsky concerto. I was again struck and determined that she had to be my teacher.”
It’s striking as well that Yang’s Paganini success came 47 years after Fried herself won the same competition. I asked if she had passed on any insights to him. “She told me her story of winning the competition and encouraged me [saying] that I had a good chance of winning. During the competition, I was dissatisfied with one of the rehearsals and frustrated. I called her and she told me how to deal with the situation, which relieved me. It was also very insightful of her to recommend that I eat pesto.”
Yang’s Toronto program begins with Bach’s unaccompanied Violin Sonata No.1 in G Minor BWV 1001. Bach has only recently been included in his recital programs. “Bach’s music is endlessly imaginative and has such communicative power,” he said. “I would like to share this with the audience, not just with jurors [because these pieces are always required repertoire at auditions and competitions].”
He loves the rhapsodic aspect of Ysaÿe’s music and thinks the Sonata No.3 in D Minor for Solo Violin Op.27 No.3 “Ballade” highlights that rhapsodic aspect more than any of the other sonatas. “Despite its obscurity, the beauty of Schumann’s Violin Sonata No.3 in A minor is evident throughout,” he told me. “I want to show that this is not a piece by a madman but a person who has extraordinary imagination and introspection.” Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No.7 in C Minor Op.30 No.2 is new for him; he started learning it only a month ago. ”I am especially working on the overall architecture of the sonata, because it is understanding the structure and living through the whole piece with a sense of inevitability that heighten the incredible drama of the piece,” he said.
His answer to my question about what musicians may have influenced him surprised me: “I am more influenced by non-musicians,” he said. “Plato’s Theory of Forms greatly inspired me; the idea that the most accurate reality exists in a non-physical world, and what we sense is a mere reflection of Idea, made me rethink the relation between composer, composition and performer. The audience is often an influential figure in my musical career; I got to play in a senior centre once and the smile of five patients who listened to me taught me an important lesson about the societal role of a musician.”
That’s quite a revealing comment, especially from a musician launching an international career. He’s clearly a talent to watch. When he made his Carnegie Hall recital debut in April 2016 he wanted to play on a great instrument. With the help of Reuning & Sons Violins, he met the owner of a Stradivarius violin and was very fortunate to be given a loan of it. As Anthony Tommasini wrote in the New York Times of that Carnegie concert, “Mr. Yang proved himself most deserving of this fine instrument in an impressive program.”
Music Toronto. Music Toronto’s 45th season continues at the Jane Mallett Theatre with a pair of “discovery” concerts (pianist Ilya Poletaev on February 7 and the Eybler Quartet on February 16) before welcoming back the Prazak Quartet on March 2.
Poletaev began studying piano in Moscow at six, continuing his lessons in Israel before emigrating to Canada at 14. A year after winning the 17th JS Bach competition in Leipzig, he joined the Schulich School faculty at McGill. His February 7 recital at the Jane Mallett Theatre includes Bach’s richly textured French Overture BWV831, Enescu’s hymn to his native Romania, the Sonata in F-sharp Minor Op.24 No.1 and Schumann’s episodic Humoreske Op.20.
The Eybler Quartet consists of cellist Margaret Gay and three members of Tafelmusik (violinists Julia Wedman and Aisslinn Nosky, and violist Patrick G. Jordan), two of whom (Wedman and Aisslinn) are also members of I FURIOSI. Devoted to the repertoire of the early years of the string quartet, their namesake is the little-known composer Joseph Leopold Edler von Eybler, a contemporary of Mozart who outlived Schubert. True to form, their February 16 program includes works by the lesser-known Viennese-based Johann Baptist Vanal and Franz Asplmayr as well as Haydn’s Op.33 No.1 (the first of his quartets “composed in a new, special way”) and Beethoven’s gentle Op.18 No.3.
In 2015, Jana Vonášková, a graduate of the Royal College of Music in London and a member of the Smetana Trio for nine years, joined the Prazak Quartet as first violinist, succeeding Pavel Hula who founded the quartet in 1972. Second violinist Vlastimil Holek has been with the Prazak for nearly four decades. Violist Josef Kluson is the last founding member still active in the quartet. Cellist Michal Kanka joined the group in 1986. Internationally acclaimed and an audience favourite, the Prazak makes their seventh appearance on the Jane Mallett stage since 1993 with a March 2 program that begins with late Haydn (the buoyant Op.71 No.1) and Bruckner’s rarely performed, highly Romantic Quartet before concluding with Dvořák’s beloved “American” Quartet.
TSO. The Toronto Symphony welcomes the renowned Jiří Bělohlávek, music director and artistic director of the Czech Philharmonic, to lead the orchestra in Martinů’s Symphony No.6 “Fantaisies symphoniques.” Bělohlávek has been focused on Martinů’s work for years so this is an opportunity to hear what may be a definitive reading of the piece. Adding to the allure of these February 9 and 11 concerts is the imposing figure of Garrick Ohlsson, the soloist in Beethoven’s resplendent Piano Concerto No.5 “Emperor.” Debussy’s seductive Première Rhapsodie, which opens the program, is a showpiece for TSO principal clarinetist Joaquin Valdepeñas’ sweet sound. On February 15 and 16, rising star Jakub Hrůša, a Czech conductor half Bělohlávek’s age who is permanent guest conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, leads the TSO in two masterful orchestral ruminations, Richard Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration and Scriabin’s The Poem of Ecstasy. That being said, the main attraction on the program will be Schumann’s Piano Concerto with soloist Jan Lisiecki, the first time Toronto audiences will hear what is the major work on Lisiecki’s latest CD. Another treat on the TSO menu: February 18, American conductor Sarah Hicks will lead the TSO in two performances providing a live accompaniment to the Pixar animated classic Ratatouille. This delightful, sophisticated film about an enterprising rat who creates his inimitable ratatouille dish in a Paris restaurant for a discerning food critic, features a sentimental symphonic score that is all cane sugar, no saccharine. Peter O’Toole’s melodious narration as the critic adds another musical layer to the proceedings.
RCM. In addition to the Avital-Dover recital, the Royal Conservatory is presenting three other concerts of note. On February 4, Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltica celebrate Kremer’s 70th birthday year and the ensemble’s 20th at Koerner Hall with “Russia – Masks and Faces,” including music by Pärt, Weinberg, Tchaikovsky, Silvestrov and Mussorgsky (an arrangement for string orchestra of the iconic Pictures at an Exhibition). A free concert (ticket required) February 5 in Mazzoleni Concert Hall will introduce Andrés Díaz, the inaugural Alexandra Koerner Yeo Chair in Cello at the RCM. Díaz performs works by Martinů, Richard Strauss and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts, with Barry Shiffman and other special guests. Then on March 3 acclaimed Scottish-born violinist Nicola Benedetti and the Venice Baroque Orchestra celebrate the pleasures of her Italian heritage with an engrossing program of selections by Galuppi, Avison (after Scarlatti), Geminiani and two works by Vivaldi including The Four Seasons. Finally, the masterful Sir András Schiff brings his classical warmth to a selection of late-Schubert piano pieces March 5. The composer’s Moments musicaux D780 and Drei Klavierstücke D946 are bookended by his two sets of Impromptus D899 and D935, delightful works that are made for Schiff’s own stylish sense of panache.
Feb 7: Following his refreshing performance of Mozart’s Rondo for Violin and Orchestra K373 with the TSO (part of this year’s Mozart @261 festival), 19-year-old Kerson Leong (and collaborative pianist Philip Chiu) gives a free noontime recital of French music at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.
Feb 13: Associates of the Toronto Symphony adopt a French accent for a program of Poulenc’s insouciant Sonata for Flute and Piano, Stravinsky’s cunning Suite from L’Histoire du soldat and TSO bassoonist Fraser Jackson’s arrangement of Ravel’s jazzy Piano Concerto in G. Mar 6: TSO second oboist Sarah Lewis is featured in Mozart’s charming Oboe Quartet in F K370 and Britten’s bewitching Phantasy Quartet for Oboe and Strings Op.2.
Feb 13: The Perimeter Institute, one of the joys of Waterloo, presents the remarkable violinist Christian Tetzlaff and the outstanding pianist Lars Vogt in a compelling program of Beethoven, Mozart, Widmann and Schubert.
Feb 19: Any chance to hear Jan Lisiecki is a chance to be taken. In this Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts’ recital in Kingston, the super-talented young pianist treats us to repertoire new to Southern Ontario: Bach’s Partita No.3 in A Minor BWV827; Schumann’s Klavierstücke Op.32; Schubert Impromptus Op.142; and a trio of Chopin pieces including the high-powered Scherzo No.1 Op.20.
Feb 21: Sae Yoon Chon, a Korean-born scholarship student at GGS and a prizewinner at the last two Hilton Head International Piano Competition tackles Beethoven’s monumental Sonata No.29 in B-flat Op.106 “Hammerklavier” in a COC free noontime concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. (Mar 7: Fellow GGS scholarship student, Unionville-born Charissa Vandikas, performs works by Chopin, Schumann and Rachmaninoff in her own COC free noontime concert.)
Feb 23: Irène Jacob performs original material sprinkled with covers of Georges Brassens at Jazz Bistro. The French actress, luminous in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Double Life of Veronique (where she sang) and Three Colours: Red, recorded her first album Je Sais Nager (I Know How To Swim) in 2011 with her brother Francis, a guitarist and jazz-based arranger. Now they’re touring their latest CD, En Bas de Chez Moi (Downstairs at My House), with their multinational band (including Senegalese bassist Mamadou Ba and Franco-Peruvian Jose Ballumbrosio).
Feb 26: The Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents the Turgeon Piano Duo, husband-and-wife pianists, in a surefire program: Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances, Mozart’s Sonata in C K521, Gavrilin’s Sketches, Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Mar 5: Israel’s Aviv String Quartet begins a traversal of Mozart’s last ten string quartets in three concerts in five days at the KWCMS Music Room.
Mar 4: The astonishingly gifted 23-year-old Montreal native Stéphane Tétreault, brings his Bernard Greenhouse cello to the Toronto Centre for the Arts when he performs Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No.1 with Sinfonia Toronto. Conductor Nurhan Arman also leads the orchestra in Morawetz’s Sinfonietta and Arman’s own string orchestra arrangement of Grieg’s String Quartet in G Minor.
Mar 5: The famed Boston Symphony Orchestra (with special guest Emanuel Ax performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.2) makes their first visit to Canada in 21 years. Conductor Andris Nelsons also leads the orchestra in Berlioz’s delirious, spectacular and enduring Symphonie Fantastique. Look for my interview with BSO principal horn James Sommerville elsewhere in this issue.
Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.
- Written by Paul Ennis
- Category: Classical and Beyond
It is said that making your mark in a prestigious international competition changes your life and for Charles Richard-Hamelin that is exactly what happened when he was 25. “There is something magical about this legendary hall [Warsaw Philharmonic Hall] that somehow made it possible for me to be myself on stage, and be able to say what I wanted to say, at least most of the time,” he wrote on the Scene and Heard International website.
Richard-Hamelin won the silver medal at the International Chopin Piano Competition in 2015 as well as the Krystian Zimerman Prize for best performance of a sonata and his career took off. “This silver medal was of course incredibly unexpected and has single-handedly changed my whole life,” he said. “I’ve never performed professionally outside of Canada before the Chopin and now I have confirmed engagements in Canada, the USA, Poland, France, Spain, Mexico, Japan and South Korea.”
By May 2016 when he spoke to Yves Leclerc (Journal de Québec) he had already given 40 concerts that calendar year with 40 more to come. One of those concerts is his upcoming Sinfonia Toronto performance, December 9, of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.23 in A Major K488 conducted by Nurhan Arman. The pattern continues in 2017 when he joins Christian Reif and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony January 13 and 14 for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.20 in D Minor K466. The following evening he gives a recital for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society that mirrors most of the repertoire Analekta captured on the CD of his May 2016 Quebec City concert – two Beethoven Rondos, Enescu’s Suite No.2 and Chopin’s “Heroic” Polonaise No.6. There his playing sparkled, his confidence was clearly evident, his musicianship mature and engaging.
“I love this new life, even if it is a bit tiring,” he said to Leclerc. “I am not in a position, however, where I can afford to refuse offers that arrive on my table. This is what will enable me to secure a future abroad. I have contracts for the next two years and we will see if it will continue and open doors.”
A mere five months before his Chopin Competition success, he was awarded the prestigious Career Development Award by the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto. That venerable institution will reap the benefits of their prescience when Richard-Hamelin returns May 4, 2017, for his first Toronto solo recital since winning the Chopin Competition prizes.
Isabelle Faust and the Mozart @ 261 Festival.
When German violinist Isabelle Faust was 11, she played in a string quartet. “That was in Stuttgart, where I grew up,” she told Jeff Kaliss (San Francisco Classical Voice, May 28, 2012). “That was my father’s brilliant idea. It was even more unusual than now that young kids would get together and try to do chamber music. My brother Boris also played in this, the viola part. And the parents had a very important role to play, driving everybody from one rehearsal to the other. We played for five years, every weekend rehearsals and lessons and competitions, national and international, and we started, slowly, to play little concerts. At age 15, we stopped with that. I wanted to make an impression with my solo playing, [to learn] where I actually stood internationally. So I went to participate in this Leopold Mozart Competition in Augsburg, and I was so lucky, I won it right away. So that opened a new chapter in my musical life.”
Winning led to her playing Dvořák under Yehudi Menuhin, an experience she found to be special since “if you play the standard repertoire, you can see that the conductor knows every little corner, and whether technical difficulties require a bit of attentive conducting.”
Known for her pristine sound and incisive approach, Faust will be the soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 3 in Koerner Hall January 18 and 20, part of the TSO’s Mozart @ 261 Festival. All five of the composer’s concertos for violin were completed during the year he turned 19 (1775) but none is so universally loved as the elegant, playful and joyous Third which is particularly tuneful and buoyant.
When Faust spoke with Aart van der Wal for the Dutch website Opus Klassiek in April 2011, she talked about keeping an open mind (and open ears) about different performances of familiar repertoire: “Music must be enjoyed without prejudice. I notice so often that people have made up their minds already before really listening to a piece. They know it all, they have heard it so many times, and they know exactly which recordings are fabulous and which are not. It happens often that one is so deeply engaged with one specific recording or interpretation that each and everything else is compared to and diminished by it. I was at a concert where a Beethoven symphony was performed. One of the critics recognized me and, already before the performance, started to explain to me which specific very old recording he thought was the one and only version of this symphony…I advised him not to go to any concert anymore because he would never be happy with any living conductor, or any live performance for that matter…”
Mozart @ 261 begins January 11 and 12 under Peter Oundjian, with wunderkind Leonid Nediak (b.2003) playing Mozart’s final piano concerto on a program that also includes Mozart’s moving Symphony No.40 K550. The festival continues January 13 and 14 when Emanuel Ax brings his pianistic geniality to the spirited Concerto No.16 K451 and the effervescent Concerto No.22 K482. Mozart’s vigorous Symphony No.33 K319 opens the program with the TSO led by Michael Francis. Bernard Labadie leads the orchestra in the grand Symphony No.38 K504 “Prague” which concludes the January 18 and 20 concerts.
The Heath Quartet. The Heath Quartet – making their Canadian debut in concerts in Kitchener-Waterloo and Toronto in January – is a young British ensemble whose star has recently risen considerably since their recording of Tippett’s string quartets won Gramophone magazine’s 2016 Chamber Music Award. It was their debut recording. A slew of adjectives like “vibrant, adventurous, irresistible energy” has followed in their wake over the last few years. First violinist Oliver Heath, violist Gary Pomeroy and cellist Chris Murray originally met at Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music. Five years after getting together, they moved to London in 2009 where they met Cerys Jones, freshly returned from graduate studies at Juilliard. She became their second violinist, and their career path ascended. Now, November 2016, she has announced that she is stepping down from the quartet to devote more time to her family.
“We had eight wonderful years with Cerys,” Ollie Heath told me via email. “But that chapter has now closed and we are looking forward to the next stage in the future of the quartet.” I asked what qualities he was looking for in a new violinist. “To be a great second violinist you need many different qualities,” he said. “To be a first-rate violinist and musician, of course, and to have the ability to be the glue of the ensemble, but most importantly you need a strong fire in your belly! Our first teacher said a good second violinist is always on the brink of revolution.”
I asked how he would characterize the ensemble’s approach to quartet playing. “We try to be as truthful to the composer’s intentions as possible,” he said. “To discover the way of speaking each composer’s language in a way that communicates most dynamically the emotional core of the work. Also we are very communicative with one another when we perform – there is a lot of energy that flows between the members of the quartet. We are also open to things being different from performance to performance – we never try to create a definitive way to interpret a work.”
The programs in Toronto for Mooredale Concerts January 22 and for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society January 20 are somewhat similar, with Bartók’s First and Dvořák’s 13th in each, but opening with Bach Organ Preludes in Toronto and Beethoven’s Op.18 No.3 in Waterloo.
I asked how he constructs a program. “Nearly always we begin a concert with a piece from earlier in the repertoire,” Heath said. “The simpler, cleaner textures and conversational aspects of these pieces is a good way of bringing everyone ‘into the room,’ and introducing the possibilities of what a string quartet can do. The second work is often more complex – more demanding on both listener and player. We then fill the second half with a more generously sized work – from one of the Romantic, nationalist composers or one of the big Beethoven quartets.”
Ergo Bartók’s masterful String Quartet No.1 Op.7 which is formally modelled on Beethoven’s unsurpassable String Quartet No.14 Op.131 (the movements of each are played without a break, for example). And Dvořák’s String Quartet No.13 Op.106, with its joyous opening, poetic slow movement, idiomatic third, and ebullient conclusion, one of the composer’s most expressive chamber works, emblematic of his return home in 1895 after his American sojourn.
Till Fellner. Viennese-born Till Fellner has spoken elsewhere of his pleasure working with Kent Nagano and the Montreal Symphony on their ECM recording of Beethoven’s Fourth and Fifth Piano Concertos, mentioning the orchestra’s ability to play softly and transparently. In our conversation for The WholeNote’s March 2015 issue, I asked about his own transparent approach with its focus on the music’s singing lines. He confirmed that transparency (clarity) and a singing way of playing the piano are essential goals of his. He told me that when he played for his teacher Alfred Brendel in 1990, it was the first movement of Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata that started the teaching process. Brendel told him that the beginning of a Beethoven sonata was crucial, that everything is there. Brendel also said that your playing should be so clear that a musical person would be able to write down the score just by listening.
Fellner’s subtle approach and the apparent ease with which he and the OSM carry it off augurs well for their appearance performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 Op.58 at Roy Thomson Hall December 8. In a brief interview (available on YouTube) with Jim Cunningham of Classical 89.3 in Pittsburgh, Fellner talked about the character of that same concerto which he was about to perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony in late November 2013:
“It’s a very poetic piece, a lyrical piece – even pastoral – so it’s very different from the other Beethoven concertos. The second movement is an Andante con moto so it shouldn’t be played too slowly. It’s a traumatic scene between the orchestra and the piano, a very tragic movement. The music kind of dies away at the end of this movement. There are lyrical elements in the third movement but there is also this joy and enthusiasm. It’s like seeing a person you haven’t seen for a very long time.”
December 13, Fellner turns his musical artistry to Brahms (Four Ballades Op.10) and Schumann (Humoreske in B-flat Major Op.20 and Fantasie in C Major Op.17) in a recital presented by the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society.
Music Toronto. The invigorating sounds of the St. Lawrence Quartet will again fill the Jane Mallett Theatre, January 26. The exuberant Geoff Nuttall leads the quartet in their continuing examination of the treasure trove that is the music of Haydn, this time with his Quartets Op.20 Nos.1 and 5. The two Haydn quartets bookend works by Rachmaninoff and Jonathan Berger. On his website, Berger describes Swallow, commissioned by the St. Lawrence String Quartet in celebration of their 25th year: “My daughter taught me that swallows communicate in a rich sonic repertoire that humans categorize as chirps, whines, and gurgles. These sounds – lowered in pitch and stretched in time – inspire the musical materials of my sixth quartet. In addition to chirps, whines, and gurgles, the work pays homage to blues musician Mance Lipscomb, as well as Haydn, (in the scherzo of the third movement), and Schubert (in the elegiac fourth movement).”
Young American pianist Sean Chen, who finished an impressive third in the most recent Cliburn Competition makes his Toronto debut January 10 with an ambitious program primarily devoted to his piano transcriptions of larger works. He sets the stage with one of Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata and L’escalier du diable (Étude No.XIII) before beginning a series of his own transcriptions: Mozart’s Offertorium from his Requiem and Madamina (Catalogue Aria) from Don Giovanni and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No.2 mvt.3. Beethoven-Liszt’s Symphony No.2 mvts.3 and 4 completes what promises to be a wild ride.
Dec 4: The highly skilled artistry of Toronto’s own Stewart Goodyear is on display at Koerner Hall in a typically ambitious program that includes Bach’s Fifth Partita, Beethoven’s final piano sonata, two Chopin favourites, selections from his own concert-length piano arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker (’Tis the season) and the world premiere of Acabris! Acabras! Acabram! commissioned in honour of Canada’s 150th birthday. Jan 28: Goodyear returns home to perform Tchaikovsky’s evergreen Piano Concerto No.1 with Peter Oundjian and the TSO after their mini-tour to Montreal and Ottawa.
Dec 11: Simone Dinnerstein links Schubert’s Impromptus and Philip Glass’ Metamorphosis at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston. If you’re wondering what these two composers share besides a common birthday (January 31), pianist Hans Pålsson shed light on their musical kinship on the Swedish TV series I döda mästares sällskap (In the company of dead masters). One example: they both have an economical way of composing; they use simple harmonics, few tones and a limited amount of musical material.
Dec 11: Syrinx Concerts showcases clarinetist Shalom Bard in trios by Brahms and Beethoven. Feb 5: Syrinx presents two pianists: Walter Buczyinski performing his own Sonatas Nos.13 and 14; and Richard Herriot playing works by Chopin, Albéniz, Ravel and Turina. The octogenarian Buczyinski, a Canadian icon, is an accomplished pianist whose devotion to the classical repertoire has informed his compositions.
Dec 13: The Cameron House, once home to Handsome Ned and countless other musicians, atypically plays host to “A Winter’s Night” with works by Bach, Schumann and Mozart performed by the Duo Mechant (Joseph Nadurata, viola; Linda Shumas, piano) and James Petry, clarinet.
Dec 13: Ukrainian-Canadian Dmitri Levkovich’s Heliconian Hall recital includes such staples of the piano repertoire as Chopin’s Sonata No.2 and12 Études.
Dec 19: The amazing talents of Nadina Mackie Jackson are on display in her traditional “Vivaldi Christmas Concert,” six festive and rarely heard bassoon concerti performed by Toronto’s top professional bassoonists, including Michael Sweeney, Catherine Chen and Jackson, with chamber strings and harpsichord. Jan 22: Jackson’s Bassoon out Loud series continues with a recital by Chen, the TSO’s new associate principal, accompanied by pianist Rachael Kerr, performing works by Jeanjean, Elgar and Boudreau, as well as a two-bassoon concerti with Jackson herself.
Jan 13: If you’re in London, don’t miss the vibrant, musically mature playing of the Dover Quartet in works by Mozart, Britten and Shostakovich (in which they are joined by pianist Arthur Rowe).
Jan 14: Pocket Concerts’ latest presentation of quality chamber music in an intimate setting features violinist Csaba Koczó and pianist Emily Rho performing two musical pillars, Beethoven’s Sonata No. 9 Op. 47 “Kreutzer” and Brahms’ Sonata No. 3 in D Minor Op. 108.
Jan 15: The Royal Conservatory presents Canadian violinist Dennis Kim, who was recently appointed concertmaster with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and Diana Doherty, currently principal oboe with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, in works by Bach and Mozart, among others, in Mazzoleni Hall. Jan 21: Stefan Jackiw (violin), Jay Campbell (cello) and Conrad Tao (piano) – the JCT Trio – perform an early and a late trio by Mozart as well as music by Ives and Dvořák in this unusual program in Koerner Hall. Feb 4: Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica return to Koerner Hall, thanks to the RCM, in a program with an Eastern European tilt: works by Pärt, Weinberg, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Silvestrov.
Jan 18: The COC free noontime Piano Virtuoso Series continues with the talented, young (20-year-old) Chinese pianist, Jingquan Xie, performing Bach’s magnificent Partita No.6 and Chopin’s Sonata No.2 with its famous funeral march.
Jan 27: Armenian-born Kariné Poghosyan returns to Sinfonia Toronto to play Schumann’s impulsive and passionate Piano Concerto in A Minor.
Jan 28: 5 at the First Chamber Music Series presents pianist Angela Park, violinist Yehonatan Berick and cellist Rachel Mercer – the AYR Piano Trio – in a Saturday afternoon Hamilton recital. The program by the three high-powered musicians includes works by Ysaÿe, Haydn and Sigesmund but the icing on the cake is Schubert’s luminous Trio Op.100 in E-flat Major. Jan 29: the “Star Canadian Trio” travels to the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society’s Music Room for a reprise.
Feb 7: Nineteen-year-old violinist Kerson Leong – First Prize-winner in the Junior Category of the 2010 Menuhin Competition – and collaborative pianist Philip Chiu perform works by Ravel, Poulenc, Fauré, Debussy and Dompierre in this free noontime concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Leong can also be heard Jan 11 and 12 with the TSO, launching Mozart @ 261 with the Rondo for Violin K373.
Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.
- Written by Paul Ennis
- Category: Classical and Beyond
When Sir Simon Rattle – who brings the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO) to Roy Thomson Hall for two concerts in November – was two years old, he showed his rhythmic talent by beating in time while his father played Gershwin songs on the piano. Born in Liverpool in 1955, he quoted his more famous fellow Liverpudlians when he announced in 2013 that he would cease his post as chief conductor and artistic director of the BPO in 2018. “It is impossible not to think of the Beatles’ question, ‘Will you still need me…when I’m 64?’ and I am sure that then it will be time for somebody else to take on the magnificent challenge that is the Berliner Philharmoniker.” Two years later, he was appointed music director of the London Symphony Orchestra.
- Written by Paul Ennis
- Category: Classical and Beyond
The venerable Juilliard String Quartet opens Music Toronto’s 45th season October 13 with a typically strong program - Bartók’s String Quartet No.1 and Beethoven’s String Quartets Op.95 “Serioso” and Op.59 No.1 “Rasumovsky.” And a first. In its 71st year, the quartet has hired a woman; cellist Astrid Schween has replaced Joel Krosnick, the quartet’s cellist since 1972, who was the last link to its original members. With characteristic elegance, the Juilliard introduced Schween by including her as the second cello in Schubert’s String Quintet in C, playing alongside Krosnick last year (violist Roger Tapping had done a similar thing in 2013, performing with outgoing violist Samuel Rhodes). A member of the Lark Quartet for two decades, Schween studied with Jacqueline du Pré for seven years during school holidays and summer breaks. She spoke about their relationship in a recent interview in Strings shortly after being hired by the Juilliard.
“Jacqueline was one of my idols, and I had every recording she made. Her playing captivated my imagination, and I spent countless hours listening to these recordings and trying to work out what lay behind her extraordinary tone colour, long singing lines and sheer power. When I was actually with her, we would spend quite a bit of time listening to these recordings, analyzing her interpretations and discussing the secrets behind those wonderful colours. There was also time for plenty of stories and anecdotes. She had a wonderful sense of humour.”
Janina Fialkowska opens Music Toronto’s piano section with an all-Chopin recital October 25. Winner of the first Arthur Rubinstein International Master Piano Competition in 1974, Fialkowska went on to be mentored by Rubinstein who helped her establish an international career. Born to a Canadian mother and a Polish father, her natural affinity for Chopin has long been apparent. In a Music Toronto masterclass at Mazzoleni Hall, October 29, 2014, she had much to say about her relationship to her countryman.
“Chopin didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve,” she told one of the RCM students. “Sing! as if you were a great singer,” she continued. “In Chopin, never shorten a dotted note; if anything elongate it.”
“Don’t eat all the chocolates in the box at once,” she said to a student whose performance had no shape and too much rubato, making it self-indulgent; she went on to help him shape the piece by emphasizing its long lines and making it sound spontaneous and simple.
She mentioned that Rubinstein was very intellectual; his goal was to make everything sound simple and natural. She revealed that he would put down the soft pedal when he played Chopin so he could play louder and she noted Rubinstein’s great sense of rhythm, especially in the Mazurkas (three of which she will be performing in the Jane Mallett Theatre). Fialkowska mentioned that Liszt said that Chopin rubato was like a tree in the forest with the trunk barely moving and the leaves fluttering in the breeze. There will be ample opportunity to see these precepts in action in her varied program that includes a Nocturne, an Impromptu, a Ballade, the Polonaise Fantasie, two Waltzes, two Scherzos and the Op.50 Mazurkas. (Fialkowska performs the same recital for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society on October 23 and gives a masterclass at Mazzoleni Hall the morning of October 26).
Esther Yoo. BBC New Generation Artist, Korean-American Esther Yoo was 16 when she became the youngest prizewinner of the Sibelius Violin Competition in 2010. Two years later she won a prize in the Queen Elisabeth Competition. Vladimir Ashkenazy, who conducted her Deutsche Grammophon recording debut of the Sibelius and Glazunov violin concertos, said she was “without any affectations” in a YouTube video preview of that recent CD. On October 8 and 9 she joins the TSO under the baton of Karina Canellakis (the 2016 Georg Solti Conducting Award winner) whose exuberant conducting has been celebrated over the last two years when she was assistant conductor to the Dallas Symphony. She leads the TSO in Mozart’s thrilling Marriage of Figaro Overture and Beethoven’s underrated Symphony No.4. Yoo is the soloist in Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular uber-Romantic Violin Concerto. Yoo grew up in a musical household, took up the piano at four and was “really inspired by music from a young age,” she said in a BBC Radio 3 YouTube post. “The most important thing is that you love and are passionate about what you choose to do,” she said. “I think being exposed to a lot of different activities, be it in culture or in studies or in sports, it all comes together to inspire you and to help you grow as a person and all of that reflects in your playing and in your music, so to be exposed to many different opportunities and experiences is really important.”
Yuja Wang. Yuja Wang, the 29-year-old, Beijing-born pianistic marvel, turns her sharp mind and impeccable technique to Bartók’s haunting and complex Piano Concerto No.3 when she makes her fourth appearance (and seventh overall in Toronto) with the TSO since 2011. Krzysztof Urbański returns to the TSO as guest conductor to lead the orchestra in Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No.1 and Dvořák’s evergreen Symphony No.9 “From the New World.” Wang is known for her unerring accuracy, prodigious memory, consummate musicianship, slinky dresses and four-inch heels. According to Janet Malcolm in the September 5, 2016, issue of The New Yorker, she may be undergoing a kind of midlife crisis, one which has led her to new repertoire away from the Romantic Russians that brought her early fame. When Malcolm asked Wang’s close friend Gary Graffman, the 87-year-old former head of the Curtis Institute where Wang studied, how Wang compared with the other prodigies at Curtis, he said, “She was remarkable among remarkable students. She didn’t play like a prodigy. She played like a finished artist.”
In an interview with Michael Enright for CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition broadcast on June 14, 2013, she spoke about being “very surrounded by music in her childhood.” Her father was a percussionist, her mother a dancer. The first thing she remembered hearing was Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake; she began piano at six. She talked about virtuosity being a tool for the music: “I never think of technique. I failed if the audience pays attention to how fast I can play or how powerful I can play because in the end I’m trying to portray the music’s character, the mood, the atmosphere and also the logic of how the composer is structuring the piece. All of that is a completely different level of how to listen to music rather than how fast can one play.”
Enright commented on her small hands, wondering if they could stretch an octave. Wang told him they can stretch a tenth on the keyboard and that her thin fingers (which can fit between the black keys) gave her great accuracy, though occasionally in big Russian pieces, she would need more arm weight to compensate.
Early in 2014, Yang sat down at the piano in conversation with Living the Classical Life (available on YouTube). As she answered questions she casually and effortlessly played excerpts from Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Variations and Concerto No.3, as well as Prokofiev’s Concerto No.3 and Art Tatum’s arrangement of Tea for Two. She said that once she’s learned a piece she no longer practises it: “Just keep it as it is, just not touch it, see what kind of magic I can do with it on stage.” Then she played parts of Chopin’s Waltz Op. 64 No.2, the first piece she performed in public; the Gluck-Sgambeti Melodie dell’ Orfeo from Orfeo ed Euridice Act 2; and Liszt’s arrangement of Schubert’s Gretchen am Spinnrade. “It’s the emotion of the music of those pieces that catches me so much; I feel like I own those pieces…Life and music and what I do has to be intermixed, has to be together. Otherwise I just feel like I’m not alive, like I’m wasting my time. Even though I love sauna, tanning, shopping, movies.” (She laughs.)
Denis Matsuev. Winner of the 1998 International Tchaikovsky Competition at age 23, virtuosic Russian pianist Denis Matsuev makes his third Koerner Hall appearance under the Show One banner on October 15. This recital nicely underlines Show One’s string of Tchaikovsky prize winners which began earlier this year with a unique joint concert by Lucas Debargue and fellow 2015 Tchaikovsky runner-up, Lukas Geniušas, April 30, and which continues with the 2015 Gold Medallist, Dmitry Masleev, the newest Russian virtuoso, at Koerner January 28, 2017.
It’s no wonder that Matsuev is back so soon; his recital on January 30, 2016, was ecstatically received. The enthusiastic, large Russian audience component made for a totally different experience than the usual Koerner gathering. Matsuev was presented with an enormous bouquet of flowers just before intermission, four bouquets after the concert, which included the pianist signing an autograph, two more bouquets after the first encore (Liadov’s charming The Musical Snuff Box) and one more autograph after the second of four encores. The fourth, in the style of Kapustin or Earl Wild, was Matsuev’s scintillating version of Ellington’s Take the A Train.
The January recital began with Schumann’s Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood,) suitably small-scale and wonderfully understated where appropriate, followed by Schumann’s Kreisleriana, with an emphasis on lyricism (lovingly played). After intermission, a selection of Rachmaninoff’s Études Tableaux Op.39 preceded Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No.2. The whole evening seemed to have been a warm-up for the latter’s profusion of melody and technique set off by a simple lyrical phrase. Matsuev fell into the sonata’s beginning almost before he sat down, like casually plunging into the deep end of the pool. It was bravura playing at its finest.
There will be more Schumann (Symphonic Études) in the October 15 recital, as well as Beethoven’s euphoric Op.110, Liszt’s wildly popular Mephisto Waltz No.1, Tchaikovsky’s Meditation Op. 72 No.5 and Prokofiev’s dramatic Sonata No.7. It’s a major program by a major artist.
The Isabel. Russian pianist Georgy Tchaidze, 2009 Honens International Piano Competition First Prize Laureate, heads a packed month of appealing concerts at Kingston’s acoustically satisfying new hall. His October 16 recital includes works by Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Liszt and Prokofiev. The Isabel’s Violin Festival, which begins October 13 with a concert by Quebec’s nine-piece string ensemble, collectif9, takes hold October 17 with the superb James Ehnes (and Andrew Armstrong) performing Handel and Beethoven sonatas and a new work by Bramwell Tovey. The Zukerman Trio visits on October 28 to play Brahms, Shostakovich and Mendelssohn while the splendid Midori (and pianist Leva Jokubaviciute) conclude the month’s activities on October 31 with an attractive program of works by Mozart, Brahms, Schubert and Ravel.
Gallery 345. The upcoming lineup at this west-end venue features several intriguing concerts beginning October 14 with the unusual combination of tuba, viola da gamba/harmonica and prepared piano that is Hübsch/Martel/Zoubek. Italian prize-winning pianist Marco Grieco’s October 18 recital features works by Bach-Busoni, Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt. On October 28 Katherine Dowling gives us “A Portrait from the Piano,” an imposing selection of the works of Henri Dutilleux. Twin sisters born in Iran, Hourshid and Mehrshid Afrakhteh, perform an evening of piano four hands under the name of TwinMuse, on November 3. Their tempting program includes works by Debussy, Stravinsky, Matthew Davidson and Lecuona, as well as solo pieces by Nicole Lizée.
Oct 2: The Windermere String Quartet puts their period instruments to the service of Haydn’s final word on the subject of the string quartet, the two-movement Op.103, before attacking Beethoven’s immortal Op.131.
Oct 16: Baritone Russell Braun, TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow and a cohort of topnotch musicians (including the marvellous TSO principal hornist, Neil Deland) join Amici for an inventive program exploring vocal and chamber works by Richard Strauss and Johann Strauss, Jr. Franz Hasenöhrl’s clever deconstruction of Till Eulenspiegel is certain to be a highlight.
Oct 18: Lang Lang brings his grand showmanship to Koerner Hall for the RCM Season Gala - already sold out - featuring music by Debussy, Liszt, Albéniz, Granados and de Falla.
Oct 21: Schubert’s enduring Octet highlights the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble’s visit to Koerner Hall.
Oct 21: Sheng Cai, who won the TSO National Piano Competition in 2003 as a teenager, is the soloist in the chamber version of Rachmaninoff’s Romantic masterpiece, his Piano Concerto No.2. Nurhan Arman conducts Sinfonia Toronto, which also performs Tchaikovsky’s graceful Serenade for Strings.
Oct 22: Attila Glatz presents the acclaimed German orchestra KlangVerwaltung with Chorgemeinschaft Neubeuern Chorus celebrating its 20th anniversary with its second North American tour. Conductor Enoch zu Guttenberg along with soloists Susanne Bernhard, soprano, Anke Vondung, mezzo-soprano, Daniel Johannsen, tenor, and Tareq Nazmi, bass, perform two canonical masterpieces at Roy Thomson Hall: Mozart’s Requiem and Bach’s Magnificat. Founded by musicians who had collaborated with zu Guttenberg throughout his career, the Munich-based orchestra is composed of renowned players from the Berlin Philharmonic, Stuttgart State Opera, Deutsche Oper am Rhein, and Cologne Radio Orchestra, as well as soloists and chamber music players. The basis of their interpretative approach is a collaboration of historically informed performance practice combined with the unexpected and emotional.
Oct 26, 27: The TSO celebrates the 1920s in the first Decades Project of the new season with a rousing program that includes Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Kodály’s delightful Suite from Háry János and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.4. Russian pianist Denis Kozhukhin, winner of the 2010 Queen Elisabeth Music Competition, is the soloist; Kristjan Järvi, a member of the very musical family, guest conducts. Nov 2, 3, 5: Continuing the 1920s Decades Project, Jon Kimura Parker is the soloist in Prokofiev’s best-known piano concerto, the Third; conductor James Gaffigan leads the TSO in Milhaud’s jazzy La création du monde and Shostakovich’s precocious Symphony No. 1. The TSO Chamber Players perform Neilson’s Woodwind Quintet prior to the November 2 concert.
Oct 29: The Kindred Spirits Orchestra and conductor Kristian Alexander welcome the new season with Michael Berkovsky in Tchaikovsky’s beloved Piano Concerto No.1.
Nov 1: As part of their weeklong residency at the University of Toronto, the New Orford String Quartet performs Les veuves by Uriel Vanchestein-inspired by Richard Desjardins’ song by the same name, Debussy’s hypnotic String Quartet in G Minor Op.10 and Beethoven’s String Quartet Op.127, the first of his Late Quartets, in Walter Hall.
Paul Ennis is managing editor of The WholeNote.