James Ehnes and Jonathan Crow at a TSM launch in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Photo by Chris HutchesonOf all the musical events I’ve taken in online recently, the highlight was watching new TSO music director Gustavo Gimeno in Amsterdam conducting the regathered Concertgebouw, the orchestra in which he played percussion for 11 years beginning in 2001. 

Both Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony (recorded June 2 and broadcast June 3) and Dvořák’s Symphony No.8 (livestreamed on June 5) are now available on YouTube. The Dvořák, its live aura palpable, struck special notes of smooth and sweet, its dance movements floating effortlessly. The musicians observed quite distinct social distancing rules, with the strings separated by 1.75 metres, the winds and brass by two metres, which led to many members being placed on the steps behind the stage.

I was in the midst of a telephone conversation with TSO concertmaster and Toronto Summer Music artistic director, Jonathan Crow, when I wondered. Had he seen it? Yes, he had. Wasn’t it extraordinary, I asked rhetorically.

Read more: “As Live as We Can Do It” – TSM Reborn

Soon they realized that simply being together could be a risk. A quartet is, by its nature, an intimate gathering. Players can’t sit more than six feet apart and still hear each other, breathe together or respond to what are often subtle visual cues.

- James B. Stewart writing on April 19 about the Tesla Quartet’s coping with the coronavirus in The New York Times.

The New York Philharmonic had already cancelled its live performances through early June, but social distancing couldn’t stop more than 80 of its musicians from dedicating a special performance of Ravel’s Boléro to healthcare workers fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Orchestra members recorded their parts in their own homes for a virtual performance posted April 3 on YouTube.

Read more: Virtual Concerts Offer Some Consolation

Art of Time Ensemble was to have presented “S’Wonderful,” their Gershwin brothers’ tribute at the beginning of April and “Dance to the Abyss,” with music by Kurt Weill (and lyrics by Bertold Brecht), Schulhoff, Spoliansky et al, early in May, both already cancelled. To ease the pain, artistic director Andrew Burashko has created “The Self-Isolation Playlist” on Soundcloud, inviting everyone to listen, and saying this:

This song list is a desire to share with you some of the music we’ve made over the years - a kind of offering at a time when everything is being taken away. Suddenly, having more time than I know what to do with - trying to distract myself from the fear and madness outside my window, I’ve been digging through recordings of past concerts - some not heard in years, and reflecting on the immense privilege I have had of making music with such remarkable people/musicians. I hope you will enjoy it.

If you’re reading this online, go to: soundcloud.com/user-185119516/sets/the-self-isolation-playlist, where you can hear Art of Time’s take on nine songs by the likes of Charles Aznavour, Jacques Brel, Gilles Vigneault, Charles Trenet and Robert Charlebois.

Read more: The Cruellest Month: A Portrait of April 2020 as It Might Have Been

Benjamin Grosvenor. Photo by Patrick AllenBenjamin Grosvenor first came to prominence when he won the Keyboard Final of the 2004 BBC Young Musician Competition at the age of 11. He was invited to perform with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the First Night of the 2011 BBC Proms at 19. In the same year he became the youngest British musician ever, and the first British pianist in almost 60 years, to sign with Decca Classics. Gramophone named him Young Artist of the Year in 2012. A riveting performer with keen musical insights, many inspired by pianists of the past, Grosvenor’s Music Toronto recital on March 31 marks his fourth appearance here since 2014, a testament to his prodigious talent. In the following email Q & A, which took place in mid-February, Grosvenor spoke about his latest CD and the program for his upcoming Toronto concert.

WN: I very much enjoyed your new recording of the Chopin piano concertos which I found to be highly contemporary yet informed by a sensibility reaching back into the last century. I interviewed you in the fall of 2017 and remember your response to my question “Who was the first composer you fell in love with as a child?” being Chopin. How did you decide to select his piano concertos as your first recording since Homages in 2016? How long have the concertos been part of your repertoire?

Read more: Fourth Grosvenor Recital Tops an Intriguing List

Stephen Hough. Photo by Sim Canetty-ClarkeIn Billy Wilder’s classic 1955 film The Seven Year Itch, Tom Ewell fantasizes seducing his upstairs neighbour (Marilyn Monroe) while playing a recording of the slow movement of a piano concerto – “Good old Rachmaninoff,” he says, “the Second Piano Concerto, it never misses.” Monroe replies, “It’s not fair. Every time I hear it I go to pieces.” Indeed, the power of the concerto was extensive. Its second movement played a major role in David Lean’s Brief Encounter (1945); Eric Carmen’s All by Myself (1975), notably used in Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), is also derived from the second movement; Full Moon and Empty Arms, a song written by Buddy Kaye and Ted Mossman derived from the third movement, has been covered by the likes of Frank Sinatra (1945) and Bob Dylan (2014). And that just scratches the surface of the impact of some of the most romantic music ever written. It’s an appropriate valentine to Toronto as Stephen Hough and the TSO, conducted by Elim Chan, perform it February 14 to 16 – the evening’s other major work is Rimsky-Korsakov’s crowd-pleasing Scheherazade with TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow as soloist.

A leading pianist of the generation that includes Marc-André Hamelin, Hough is also a polymath, the first classical performer to receive the MacArthur Genius Award, an exhibited artist, a published author and newspaper columnist. He’s also a lively participant on Twitter, engaging with his audience, posting personal photos (especially of food) and links to musical nuggets out of the past.

Read more: Romancing Rachmaninoff, and Ophelia Gets Mad
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