vision string quartetThe Strings aspect of Music Toronto’s 48th season gets off to an auspicious start with the local debut of two European-based string quartets, the more established Quartetto di Cremona from Genoa, Italy, and the more recently formed (2012) vision quartet centred in Berlin. The Quartetto is said to be the spiritual heir to the fondly remembered Quartetto Italiano; the vision string quartet (like the Polish Apollon Musagète Quartet) plays standing up but in addition performs their concerts completely from memory. Both ensembles will be new for me, so I asked Music Toronto’s artistic producer Jennifer Taylor to give me some background. How long had they been on her radar? How did she discover them? What excites her about them?

She told me that in general she takes a lot of recommendations from artists, managers, other series presenters and concertgoers. She also does a lot of Internet research and listening. “Quartetto are a 20-year quartet; I had heard of them some years ago, but … then they made what I think was their first North American tour, and I wasn’t on it – too late for my planning. They have some well-regarded recordings. In fall 2017 they were entrusted with the Paganini Strads, owned by the Nippon Foundation, that the Tokyo [Quartet] played in their final years. They later signed with a New York management who by coincidence were the Tokyo’s original management three decades ago. It is easier to invite Europeans who have North American management because there may be a tour; very tough to bring anyone for a single date. So I invited them.

“The vision string quartet – they prefer no caps in their name (I’ve just recently been told) – won two European competitions in 2016, but as a four-year-old quartet, I hesitated. Then they signed with a British management I know well, and I started getting info and recordings in early 2017. Later in 2017 they signed with a New York manager I know even better, and we started talking. I made the arrangement in October 2018. Yes, the standing up – I think for the vision it is part of being edgy young guys. We’ll see.

“That’s the way it generally goes. It usually takes about two years from thinking of an artist to finding out to having it suit my timing. I have just today concluded an arrangement for a pianist for 2020/2021. When I started investigating three full years ago, I tried for a date for this season; at long last I have a date. And now we wait to see if all that was worth it! The most long-term interest on my part was Quatuor Mosaïques who opened for us in October 2017. I had tried repeatedly over 20 years to bring them and finally managed it.”

Quartetto di Cremona performs music by Boccherini, Verdi, Puccini and Respighi in the Jane Mallett Theatre on October 17; vision quartet’s recital of works by Haydn, Bacewicz and Schumann takes place November 7.

Music Toronto’s Piano Series opens on October 22, with a gala concert by Piano 6 New Generation, a collective of six internationally acclaimed Canadian concert pianists – Marika Bournaki, Angela Park, Daniel Wnukowski, David Jalbert, Ian Parker and Anastasia Rizikov – who have taken up the mantle of the original Piano 6, founded by Janina Fialkowska. From 1994 to 2004, Piano 6 performed in small communities all over Canada concentrating on remote regions of the country. The appealing program for the Music Toronto Piano 6 New Generation gala will see each of the pianists perform solo as well as participate in a variety of two pianos, four hands repertoire. Solo works by the likes of Schumann, Korngold, Rzewski, Kapustiin, Gershwin and Ravel share the stage with two pianos four hands showstoppers by Ravel, Milhaud, Bernstein and Gershwin. Dead centre, just after intermission, Kevin Lau’s commission Chimaera for two pianos twelve hands will be showcased. It’s an 88-key cornucopia.

Denis MatsuevThree Questions for Denis Matsuev

In advance of his return to Koerner Hall on October 17, Russian piano virtuoso Denis Matsuev, whose victory in the 1998 Tchaikovsky Competition brought him international fame, took time out of his busy schedule – he plays 265 concerts a year – to answer the following questions:

WN: What was the first piece of music you fell in love with?

DM: It was not classical music. I listened to Soviet songs, Oscar Peterson’s jazz improvisations, which I love from my childhood. And since then this music is my favourite.

Who were your musical heroes in your student days?

One cannot say that I believed only one musician or composer to be my musical hero. In different periods of my life I had different heroes. If we talk about performers, I can name Vladimir Horowitz, Svyatoslav Richter, Arturo Michelangeli, Emil Gilels and Sergei Rachmaninoff, of course, as a pianist, composer and great personality.

Your Toronto program is very impressive. Please tell us about what specific thoughts went into your selection of the Tchaikovsky and Liszt works you will be playing in Koerner Hall.

It is always really difficult to formulate for which reason I choose this or that program. My repertoire includes 45 concertos with orchestra and 21 solo programs. Every year I learn one solo program and two concertos [which he’s never played before] with orchestra. It is my usual schedule. Works that I am planning to perform in Toronto have been in my repertoire for some time already. We have a really affectionate relationship with them. Liszt is the apex of Romantic music, I mean his Sonata in B Minor and Mephisto Waltz as well. As for Tchaikovsky’s Grand Sonata, I believe that this music is not performed as frequently as it deserves to be performed. It is really difficult because of its form; one can call it a piano concerto without orchestra. I play it all over the world, so I am happy that I have an opportunity to perform it in the amazing Koerner Hall, that I am deeply in love with.

The Art of the Piano at Gallery 345

The ongoing Art of the Piano series at Gallery 345 takes a giant step forward in October with five concerts by four pianists (and a violinist) of predominantly 19th-century repertoire beginning on October 3 with 32-year-old Israeli pianist Raviv Leibzirer performing Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Prokofiev’s Sonata No.3 and the solo piano version of Gershwiin’s Rhapsody in Blue. On October 6, musical royalty in the person of Victoria Korchinskaya-Kogan – she is the granddaughter of violinists, Leonid Kogan and Elizaveta Gilels (the sister of iconic Ukrainian pianist Emil Gilels) – takes the stage for a program of Schumann and Chopin before joining with acclaimed Canadian-Lithuanian violinist Atis Bankas to perform Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas Nos.1 and 8.

Mark Pierre Toth’s complete Beethoven Sonatas Project continues with Part 5 (highlighted by the “Appassionata”) on October 11, and Part 6 (the “Pathetique”, “Hammerklavier” and more) on October 20. Toth, whose international career, teaching and performing, is flourishing, also performs for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society: Part 5 on October 12 and Part 6, October 16. Finally, on October 25, in a clever programming touch, Bulgarian-born, Chicago-based performer and pedagogue Ani Gogova follows Beethoven’s Sonata quasi Fantasia “Moonlight” with Liszt’s Fantasia quasi Sonata “After Reading Dante” before proceeding with two Rachmaninoff Études-Tableaux that lead into Mussorgsky’s monumental Pictures at an Exhibition.

Academy Concert Series New Price Policy

Established in 1991, Academy Concert Series (academyconcertseries.com) offers innovative and intimate chamber music concerts spanning the Baroque, Classical and Romantic eras on period instruments. Recently, artistic director Kerri McGonigle announced that ACS is making a big, bold move to Pay What You Decide. “We no longer have ticket prices. People can pay what they want, when they want and how they want! Tickets can be reserved online or by phone,” she said. Audience feedback led to the change. Some people thought the ticket prices were too low and should increase; others found the ticket prices limited the number of concerts they could attend. With Pay What You Decide everybody gets to decide how much they want to give. The hope is that those that can give more will give generously.

The hoped-for funds will allow ACS to pour the receipts right back into the community via outreach, increasing the payment to their artists, hiring an administrative assistant and increasing the number of ACS concerts. As the ACS website puts it: “Music heals, connects and touches our soul. It moves us, inspires us, energizes and relaxes us.”

As examples of where the hoped-for extra money might go: supporting a new concertgoer, $20; and one community outreach concert in a school, hospital, retirement home or elsewhere $1000 to $1500.

October 5, ACS presents “Family Has Your Bach” – with music by Telemann, J.S. Bach and C.P.E.Bach – performed by recorders/Baroque flute virtuoso Alison Melville, harpsichordist Christopher Bagan, violist/violinist Emily Eng, and cellist Kerri McGonigle. Whatever you decide to pay, you’re welcome. 

CLASSICAL AND BEYOND QUICK PICKS

OCT 9, 6:45: Founded in 2014, The Toronto Symphony Orchestra Chamber Soloists offer a diverse and varied range of instruments in a wide range of infrequently performed repertoire, along with some best-loved chamber works. They perform inside the Roy Thomson Hall auditorium with the audience seated in the choir loft, with admission included in the price of that night’s TSO concert ticket. The first of this season’s five concerts presents TSO principal flutist Kelly Zimba, assistant principal violist Theresa Rudolph and harpist Heidi Elise Bearcroft performing Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp and Skaila Kanga’s arrangement of Ravel’s inimitable Sonatine. And, in rare opportunity to hear the Soloists away from RTH, the program will be repeated OCT 10, 12PM as part of the COC’s free noon-hour concert series, in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

OCT 11, 7:30PM: The Don Wright Faculty of Music, Western University, presents Stewart Goodyear in recital. The following day, OCT 12, 11AM, Goodyear will give a free two-hour masterclass.

Elisso GogibedaschviliOCT 18, 8PM: Teenage violinist Elisso Gogibedashvili is the soloist in Paganini’s rousing Concerto No.1 in the opening concert of Sinfonia Toronto’s new season. As well, conductor Nurhan Arman leads his string orchestra in Dvořák’s lyrical Chamber Symphony - Quintet Op.77a. The following day, OCT 19, 7:30, Barrie Concerts brings Arman, the Sinfonia and Gogibedashvili north for a repetition of the program.

OCT 19, 8PM: Formed in 1998, The highly touted Bennewitz Quartet, who made a strong impression in two visits to Ottawa in the last three years brings their middle-European sensibility to the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society and the music of Schumann (String Quartet No.2), Janáček (String Quartet No.2 “Intimate Letters”) and Dvořák (“American” String Quartet). The following afternoon, OCT 20, 3:15PM, they make their Toronto debut opening the new season for Mooredale Concerts. Their Walter Hall recital begins with selections from Bach’s The Art of the Fugue followed by Beethoven’s transportative String Quartet Op.132, and concluding with Mendelssohn’s String Quartet Op.13, which was directly inspired by Beethoven’s Op.132.

OCT 21, 7:30PM: U of T Faculty of Music presents TSO bulwarks, concertmaster Jonathan Crow and principal cellist Joseph Johnson, performing Ravel’s stripped-down Sonata for Violin and Cello (dedicated to Debussy’s memory) and Kodály’s Duo for Violin and Cello in Walter Hall.

OCT 23, 8PM: The Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents the Dvořák Piano Quartet with Slávka Vernerová-Pěchočová, piano, in an intriguing recital: Dvořák’s Op.87, an arrangement of Beethoven’s Quintet for Piano and Winds Op.16 and Mahler’s engaging Piano Quartet.

OCT 25, 8PM: TSO principal cellist Joseph Johnson joins Matthew Jones and the Etobicoke Philharmonic Orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s delightful Variations on a Rococo Theme.

OCT 26, 8PM: Two sonatas by Beethoven – including the indelible “Waldstein” – and two works by Schumann should make for another memorable evening by the redoubtable Sir Andras Schiff who seems to be quite at home in Koerner Hall. The preceding afternoon, OCT 25, 3PM, he will give a free masterclass in Mazzoleni Hall. Neither event should be missed.

NOV 2, 3PM: For the opening concert of their tenth anniversary season, 5 at the First Chamber Players presents the AYR Trio (Angela Park, piano; Yehonatan Berick, violin; Rachel Mercer, cello) performing trios by Smetana and Dvořák (the melodious “Dumky”). It’s worth a trip to Hamilton.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

As summer fades into fall, it’s time for one last lingering look at Toronto Summer Music’s 2019 season. I was fortunate to attend 16 events this year, nine mainstage concerts, five edifying TSM Connect sessions, one Shuffle Hour solo recital (excerpts from violinist Jennifer Koh’s Shared Madness project) and one reGENERATION concert. [See my two Concert Reports on thewholenote.com.] Several of the mainstage concerts were among the ten that were sold-out. Spontaneous standing ovations were the rule – Jonathan Crow and Philip Chiu’s recital on July 29 garnered two: the first following the singular beauty, roiling intensity and dynamic contrasts of Franck’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major; the second after John Corigliano’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, which Crow called “youthful, exciting, with lots of notes, fun to play.”

The 33 Academy fellows and the 42 artist mentors entertained a record 16,000 audience members, of whom a score or so sat on the Koerner Hall stage (a TSM first!) for Angela Hewitt’s idiosyncratic, wildly well-received traversal of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The recital was preceded by a conversation between Eric Friesen and the award-winning author of Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien. Thien wrote her Scotiabank Giller Prize winner while listening to Glenn Gould’s recordings (mostly the 1955 version) of the Goldbergs 10,000 times over the five years it took her to complete the novel. She was walking beside rail tracks in Berlin listening to music on headphones in shuffle mode when Gould’s 1955 recording began to play. It had been years since she’d heard it and it “cracked her open,” she said. So began her purposeful routine. Hewitt’s performance on July 30 was the first time Thien had heard the piece live.

TSM’s irrepressible artistic director, Jonathan Crow, was the fulcrum of the festival, essential to its success and well deserving of the accolades he received. He and several of this year’s mentors will return to their main gig as members of the TSO – more on that later – but his next local appearance is an unexpected one, delightful as it promises to be.

Alexandru Tomescu. Photo by Ioana HameedaGeorge Enescu Festival

On September 7 in Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, Crow and pianist Coral Solomon will inaugurate Toronto’s part in the George Enescu Festival. “We actually centred all three recitals mainly around pieces we loved,” Solomon said via email. “We also wanted to lightly centre these as a tribute to George Enescu who was one of the most remarkable musicians of 20th century Europe. An internationally acclaimed violinist, pianist, conductor, and composer who often advocated for new music and composers, as well as being an inspiring pedagogue and mentor to many prominent young musicians. We will follow his tradition and include some pieces that are not too often performed but that we are really passionate about, and hope the audience will fall in love with them as well!”

The festival began in Bucharest in 1958, three years after Enescu’s death; it’s been held every two years since then, with concerts throughout Romania and the world, including Canada for the first time this September. (Coincidentally, Charles Richard-Hamelin, a TSM mentor in 2019 will give two recitals in Romania as part of this year’s festival.) The programs for the three Toronto recitals sparkle on paper, with exciting and varied works spread over three venues.

Crow and Solomon (who is the artistic director of the Canadian branch of the festival) fill their program with late-19th- and early-20th-century fireworks representative of Enescu’s legacy. Ravel’s Sonata in G Major was premiered by Ravel at the piano and Enescu on the violin in 1927; Ysaÿe’s “fiery” Sonata for solo violin No.3 was dedicated to Enescu in 1923; Bartók’s Romanian Dances; Brahms’ Sonata No.3 for Violin and Piano; and Enescu’s Toccata from Piano Suite Op.10 and Impromptu Concertant.

RCM faculty members, pianist Michael Berkovsky, violist Barry Shiffman with violinists Conrad Chow and Nuné Melik and cellist David Hetherington settle in for the second concert (at Eglinton St. George’s United Church) featuring Enescu’s Sérénade lointaine, for violin, cello and piano; selections from Ilan Rechtman’s ”very engaging” Jazzicals for Piano Trio and Paul Schenfield’s Cafe Music; plus Brahms “epic” Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op.34. “In the mission of promoting young talent, this concert will also showcase a young rising star, Bill Vu from the Taylor Academy of the Royal Conservatory of Music, in a performance of a short and sweet highly virtuosic Toccata by Paul Constantinescu,” Solomon said.

Omar Massa. Photo by Alex VladAfter playing Montreal on September 21, violinist Alexandru Tomescu and bandoneon master Omar Massa repeat their program on September 22 in the Glenn Gould Studio. It’s a classical potpourri of Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Massenet, Kreisler, Enescu and Porumbescu miniatures before intermission “related to Enescu’s inspirations from Romanian and other European cultures” and “some of the finest works by the jazz giant, Astor Piazzolla,” in the second half. Tomescu’s Strad – he won the right to play it by winning a competition in his native Romania – will doubtless shine.

Barbara Hannigan. Photo by Marco BorggreveToronto Symphony Season Begins

The TSO’s season-opening concerts, September 19 and 21, will showcase the unique talents of the guest artists – Canadian soprano/conductor Barbara Hannigan and Finnish violinist/conductor John Storgårds. Hannigan, the supernova of contemporary song, who just happens to be enamoured of Haydn, will conduct Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Haydn’s Symphony No.96 “Miracle” and Dutilleux’s Sur le même accord for violin and orchestra, with Storgårds as soloist. Then Storgårds takes the baton for Hannigan to sing Bret Dean’s And once I played Ophelia for soprano and string orchestra before leading the entire orchestra in Sibelius’ Symphony No.3.

Dean’s work uses Shakespeare’s original lines from Hamlet to present Ophelia’s thoughts, as well as what other characters say to and about her, delivered from her own perspective. The libretto is by Matthew Jocelyn, formerly artistic director of Canadian Stage. Interestingly, when Hannigan was in Toronto in March 2015 to take part in the New Creations Festival and give a lecture at U of T, she performed Hans Abrahamsen’s let me tell you, the text of which (by Paul Griffiths) consists entirely of Ophelia’s words in Hamlet. On September 20, Hannigan returns to U of T to give a masterclass on one of her signature roles, Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre, which she called her “party piece” back in 2015. “I felt that Ligeti’s music was so strong that I could exist inside it,” she said. “I felt I could become myself.” The soloist will be Maeve Palmer, who sang Stravinsky’s The Nightingale’s Soliloquy in Hannigan’s 2017 masterclass at the Glenn Gould School, as a Rebanks fellow.

Immediately after the September 20 masterclass in Walter Hall ends at 3pm, Hannigan and Dean will sit down for an hour-long conversation, also in Walter Hall. Both events are free to attend and highly recommended.

Ever-popular conductor Donald Runnicles returns to the TSO on September 27, 28 and 29 leading the orchestra in Brahms’ bucolic Symphony No.3 and two works by Richard Strauss. TSO principal oboist, Sarah Jeffrey, brings her singing tone to Strauss’ charming Concerto in D Major for Oboe and Small Orchestra before Runnicles illuminates the climactic radiance of Strauss’ early tone poem Death and Transfiguration. (Jeffrey was also a mentor at TSM2019. Weeks later, I still vividly recall the lovely interplay between her oboe and Crow’s violin in Schoenberg/Riehn’s stripped-down chamber version of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde played by an all-star band of virtuosi.)

Last June 28, 29 and 30, Gustavo Gimeno conducted the TSO for the first time as music director to be – his five-year contract begins with the 2020/21 season – and the result was an exhilarating evening the night I was there, a scene that reportedly repeated itself on the other nights as well. It was a love-fest of music making highlighted by the visceral virtuosity of Stravinsky’s The Firebird. Gimeno returns to the RTH podium on October 9, 10 and 12 and I look forward to listening for the orchestral balance and sense of musical architecture that Gimeno evinced then in a quite different program featuring the remarkable 26-year-old pianist, Beatrice Rana, who will bring her fearless expressiveness to that bravura staple of the repertoire, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.3. Gemeno follows with Tchaikovsky’s The Tempest Fantasy-Overture and Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé Suite No.2. After the concert, the audience is invited to stay for a chat with the personable Spaniard whose intelligence and charm were evident after the June concerts when he, concertmaster Jonathan Crow and TSO chief executive officer, Matthew Loden held a lively conversation onstage.

U of T Music Events

The new season of Thursdays at Noon free concerts begins in a big way in Walter Hall on September 12 with a performance by the venerable Gryphon Trio. The following week, September 19, Aiyn Huang and TorQ Percussion perform works by Michael Oesterle, Peter Edwards and more. Violinist Erika Raum and pianist Lydia Wong complete the month’s Thursday midday concerts with Székely’s Sonata for Solo Violin, Op.1 and Bartók’s Violin Sonata No.2.

On September 30, fresh from mentoring at TSM, pianist Steven Philcox joins fellow U of T faculty member, soprano Nathalie Paulin, to present a program inspired by Messiaen’s Chants de Terre et de Ciel (1938), a deeply personal song cycle celebrating the birth of Messiaen’s son in 1937. Quartet-in-residence, the Calidore String Quartet, puts its youthful virtuosity on display as it gets an early jump on Beethoven’s 250th birth-year celebrations with a program of the composer’s Op.74 “Harp,” Op.18, No.4 and Op.131 String Quartets.

CLASSICAL AND BEYOND QUICK PICKS

SEP 9, 5:30PM: Leaf Music presents an album release concert for Duo Kalysta’s latest recording Origins. The harp (Emily Belvedere) and flute (Lara Deutch) twosome, collaborators since 2012, perform Debussy’s haunting Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and Morlock’s Vespertine I & II at Burdock Music Hall (free admission).

SEP 13 TO 15 AND 20 TO 22: The Prince Edward County Chamber Music Festival, with its distinctive and appealing program, takes over Picton’s St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church for two weekends. The A-list lineup includes the New Orford String Quartet; Jon Kimura Parker and Jamie Parker, pianist-brothers; the Gryphon Trio; soloists from Les Violons du Roy; soprano Julie Nesrallah and pianist Robert Kortgaard; and Charles Richard-Hamelin. Details at pecrmusicfestival.com.

SEP 14, 6PM: DISCoveries contributor Adam Sherkin launches The Piano Has Fallen on Your Head at Rainhard Brewery.

SEP 15, 4PM: Visiting cellist Kate Bennett Wadsworth takes time away from her Tafelmusik commitments to perform Bach’s Suite No.5 in C in the Toronto Music Garden.

SEP 28, 8PM: Confluence Concerts celebrates the music of pianist-composer Clara Schumann with performers Christopher Bagan, Alison Beckwith, Patricia O’Callaghan, Angela Park and Ellie Sievers, all hosted by the engaging Tom Allen. At St. Thomas’s Anglican Church, Toronto.

OCT 3, 1:30PM: The Women’s Musical Club of Toronto’s 122nd season opens with the effervescent Montreal-based Trio Fibonacci in a diverse program anchored by Beethoven’s sparkling Piano Trio Op.70 No.1 “Ghost” – its nickname derived from its eerie-sounding slow movement.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

This summer’s many festivals promise music to engage the most discerning listener across the GTA and the vast country beyond. What follows is meant to augment our Green Pages supplement, with special emphasis on the Toronto Summer Music Festival but touching on other noteworthy festivities elsewhere.

Toronto Summer Music

With more than 200 ethnic groups speaking 140 languages, Toronto is one of the world’s most diverse cities – slightly more than half the population is foreign-born – setting the stage for Toronto Summer Music Festival’s 2019 edition. “Beyond Borders” will explore and celebrate the “cross-cultural influences that have pervaded classical music from the times of Mozart and Mahler, right up to the composers of today.” With such a timely theme opening up our ears to listen afresh to the richness of a packed three weeks of concerts, TSM’s 14th festival has become the go-to musical event of the summer.

A look at the content of the opening night Koerner Hall concert on July 11 gives us an insight into how these cross-cultural influences work in practice. Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka’s part in the evening includes Ravel’s Cinq mélodies populaires grecques directly inspired by Greek folk songs. Violinist Kerson Leong contributes Sarasate’s electrifying Zigeunerweisen, an homage to Gypsy fiddling prowess. Pianist Jon Kimura Parker will perform Mozart’s Piano Sonata No.11 in A Major, K331 with its famed “Turkish March” final movement; as well as Chopin’s Ballade No.4 in F Minor, Op.52, written in France, far away from his native Poland.

An unusual connection to the Beyond Borders leitmotif is Madeleine Thien’s pre-concert conversation with Eric Friesen preceding Angela Hewitt’s Koerner Hall performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations on July 30. Thien’s novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing is filled with musical references from Bach to Beethoven and Shostakovich. The Malaysian-born, Chinese-Canadian began writing the novel in a Berlin cafe, spending five hours a day listening on headphones to Glenn Gould’s 1955 recording of the Goldbergs on repeat to block out the cafe’s noise as she wrote. She told the literary journal Brick that she was experimenting with musical time in her novel (which won the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor-General’s Literary Award for Fiction) and that the Goldberg Variations “is both a structure for the novel and a way of trying to make space for the vast inner lives of the characters.” She said: “Bach always seems to me to be creating time. He makes space where there seems to be none and makes something feel eternal in a finite space.”

Other examples of border crossing? On July 12, the world premiere of Greek-born Canadian composer Christos Hatzis’ String Quartet No.5 “The Transmuting” is part of the New Orford String Quartet’s tenth anniversary celebration which also includes one of Beethoven’s finest achievements, his String Quartet No.9 in C Major, Op.59, No.3, the last of the three string quartets that Count Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador in Vienna commissioned. Then, on July 15, the fruits of a five-year collaboration between the musicians of Montreal’s Middle Eastern/early music group, Constantinople, and Ablaye Cissoko, a West African griot, will be on display in Walter Hall. And the remarkable Dover Quartet’s concert on July 17 at Koerner Hall features three works with strong links to the USA: England’s Benjamin Britten composed his String Quartet No.1 in California in 1941; Hungarian composer Bela Bartók’s String Quartet No.3 was dedicated to the Musical Society Fund of Philadelphia; and Antonin Dvořák spent three years in America away from his Czech homeland – he wrote his immensely popular “American” Quartet in Spillville, Iowa, a town of 300 Czech immigrants where he was surrounded by his home culture.

Dover Quartet. Photo by Carlin MaCharles Richard-Hamelin’s July 19 recital in Walter Hall includes Chopin’s Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante Op.22, a piece he began composing soon after he left Warsaw for Paris in 1830. Also on the program (with members of the Dover Quartet) is Brahms’ Piano Quartet No.1 in G Minor, Op.25, with its Hungarian-rhapsody finale. A July 26 Walter Hall concert titled “Souvenir of Florence,” headed by violinists Jonathan Crow and Jennifer Koh, and pianist Philip Chiu, features Tchaikovsky’s sumptuous Sextet in D Minor, Op.70 (written while the composer was visiting Florence, Italy), Debussy’s Piano Trio in G Major (also while living in Italy), and Prokofiev’s Five Melodies for violin and piano, written in 1920 while touring California.

Crow and Chiu, incidentally, give a recital on July 29 that reaches beyond TSM’s thematic borders but one that, based on its recent COC noon-hour preview, should not be missed: their performance of César Franck’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major was truly transformative, dramatic, delicate and dynamic, from its magical hushed opening onwards.

World-class performers like Pieczonka, Parker, Hewitt, countertenor Daniel Taylor, tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, and the New Orford, Dover and Rolston String Quartets, are only part of what TSM offers: 32 emerging professionals are given the opportunity to be mentored by a faculty of established musicians. These fellows, as they are called, from TSM’s Art of Song and Chamber Music Institute come together to perform at the Festival’s reGENERATION Saturday concerts, alongside their mentors. In addition, Chamber Music fellows also perform in ensembles that receive coaching from mentors at free noon-hour concerts in Heliconian Hall.

From July 11 to August 3, TSM provides a sumptuous serving of midsummer music. I will be there.

Mark FewerStratford Summer Music

After 18 years as founding artistic director, John Miller has ceded leadership of Stratford Summer Music to violinist Mark Fewer, and Fewer’s interest in jazz and improvisation shows in this year’s program. Stephen Prutsman, Duane Andrews, Phil Dwyer, Jodi Proznick (with Heather Bambrick), John Novacek and Fewer himself will participate in a Friday night series at Revival House. There will be tributes to Nat “King” Cole and Dave Brubeck, and appearances by John McLeod’s Rex Hotel Orchestra, Laila Biali and The Two Bass Hit (Joel Quarrington and Dave Young) with Novacek.

That being said, Stratford Summer Music’s longstanding focus on chamber music as “a vital aspect of music-making … fostering listening, awareness, flexibility and collaborating with others, while offering the audience exposure to different styles, genres, and forms of music” still remains. Highlights include Isabel Bayrakdarian with pianist Robert Kortgaard and violinist Fewer in recital August 9; “Party Like It’s 1689” with Suzie LeBlanc, Matthias Maute (recorder) and Fewer on August 22; cellist (and SSM favourite) Stéphane Tétreault, Prutsman and Fewer on July 21; the Dann Family in separate chamber and jazz programs on August 8; clarinetist James Campbell, Stephen Prutsman and friends on August 22. Pianist Janina Fialkowska presents an intriguing recital of Mozart, Debussy, Ravel, Chopin and more on August 3.

Of special note, in a nod to the 1960s when Glenn Gould was part of a triumvirate (with violinist Oscar Shumsky and cellist Leonard Rose) directing music programs as part of the Stratford Festival, Art of Time Ensemble is reviving “Hosted by Glenn Gould” where the iconic pianist introduces performances of chamber music by Shostakovich and Beethoven via clips from the CBC’s Glenn Gould on Television. Fewer’s first Stratford Summer Music promises to enhance this music festival’s reputation as something more than a sidebar to Stratford’s theatrical main event.

Ottawa Chamberfest

There is a plethora of musical pleasure to be found July 25 to August 8 at this year’s Ottawa Chamberfest – beginning with the collaboration between the St. Lawrence String Quartet and versatile pianist Stephen Prutsman in Franck’s masterful Piano Quintet and then, later that evening, providing the soundtrack for Buster Keaton’s classic comedy, College. On July 26, Finland’s KallaKvartetti (flute, violin, viola and cello) harkens back to its Nordic ancestors; on July 27, pianist David Jalbert performs an ambitious program of Shostakovich, Rzewski and Wijeratne; and on July 28, Janina Fialkowska offers a strong lineup of piano works by Mozart, Debussy, Ravel and a considerable selection of Chopin.

And there’s more. The Netherlands’ all-female saxophone quartet, Syrène Saxofoonkwartet, returns to the festival on July 29 with arrangements of Handel’s Water Music, Vivaldi, Barber’s Serenade for Strings and excerpts from Bernstein’s West Side Story. Honens laureate, German pianist Hinrich Alpes plays 15 of Beethoven’s first 20 piano sonatas in two concerts, July 30 and August 1. French string quartet Quatuor Danel plays Russian repertoire (Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Weinberg) on July 30. And James Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong play all of Beethoven’s Sonatas for Violin and Piano broken into two concerts on July 31 and August 2.

Other highlights: Ottawa’s own Angela Hewitt joins violinist Yosuke and the Cheng2 Duo for a tribute to Clara Schumann, August 3; then, August 5, Hewitt plays Bach, focusing on the first three English Suites and the Rolston String Quartet performs Schafer’s String Quartet No.2 and Beethoven’s “Razumovsky” Quartet No.7, Op.59 No.1. Various combinations of the Manhattan Chamber Players perform diverse Mozart and Dvořák on August 6; and the next day they team up with the celebrated Dover Quartet for Shostakovich’s String Octet.

Two Mini-Tours

National Youth Orchestra Canada’s 59th year has been an auspicious one so far with the spring release of the NFB documentary That Higher Level, the result of two months spent with the 100 musicians between the ages of 16 and 28 who comprised the orchestra as they prepared for last year’s Canadian tour. A trip to Spain will follow this summer’s Odyssey Tour to five cities: July 21 during Ottawa Chamberfest; July 22 at the Maison symphonique de Montréal; July 25 in Parry Sound at the Festival of the Sound; Stratford on July 27 at SSM; and, finally, Toronto, July 29 at Koerner Hall, as part of TSM.

The summer tour concert program includes Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, Op.64; Suites Nos.1 and 2 from Manuel de Falla’s The Three Cornered Hat; Mahler’s Symphony No. 5; and Sinfonia Sacra (Symphony No.3) by Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik. The tour will also feature Brahms’ Double Concerto for Violin and Cello Op.102, with the winners of the Canada Council for the Arts’ Michael Measures Prize as soloists (to be announced in July).

Simone Dinnerstein, the soloist in Philip Glass’ Piano Concerto No.3 when it had its Canadian premiere at last year’s 21C Music Festival in Koerner Hall, is on something of a mini-tour of her own, with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra: this summer she performs the work in Ottawa (at Music and Beyond July 15, 16), Stratford (July 17), Festival de Lanaudière (July 19), and Westben Concerts at the Barn (July 20). A treat to savour.

Two 40th Anniversaries

The Festival of the Sound begins its 40th anniversary year on July 19 with a celebratory Gala Opening Concert comprised of highlights from past seasons. From Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah; excerpts from Bach’s B-Minor Mass and Orff’s Carmina Burana; Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and favourite bits from Gilbert and Sullivan, the specialness of the occasion is underlined.

Other highlights include two concerts by the Rolston String Quartet playing pillars of the classical repertoire: Beethoven’s String Quartet Op.59, No.1 “Razumovsky” and Piano Concerto No.5 “Emperor” (with Janina Fialkowska), July 24; and Mozart’s “Dissonance” String Quartet and Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden”, July 25. Larry Beckwith’s production of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons is enhanced through narration by Indigenous elder John Rice (who participated with Beckwith in last year’s FOTS opening event), an art song, the sonnet on which the concerto is based, and projected images. With Mark Fewer, violin; John Rice, narrator; Julie Nesrallah, soprano; Robert Kortgaard, piano; and the Festival Ensemble, July 30.

The first concert of the FOTS was held at 2pm on August 5, 1979 in the Parry Sound High School Gymnasium under the direction of Anton Kuerti. That same all-Beethoven program will be replicated at 2pm on August 5, 2019 at the Stockey Centre, headed by artistic director James Campbell and the Cheng2 Duo. There will be an all-day celebration of 40 works from 40 years of the festival’s history on August 9, beginning with a musical morning cruise, followed by several events running concurrently from noon to 4pm, an afternoon tea and an evening concert.

Not to be outdone, the Elora Festival’s 40th Anniversary Opening Night brings together many world-class artists for a celebration in song on July 12 in the Gambrel Barn. Carmina Burana heads a varied program featuring the Elora Singers, the State Choir LATVIJA, members of the Grand Philharmonic Children’s & Youth Choirs, singers Jane Archibald, James Westman and Daniel Taylor, TorQ Percussion, two members of Piano Six, and conductors Maris Sirmais and Mark Vuorinen.

Some of the festival’s many highlights include the entire lineup of Piano Six on July 13; André Laplante (piano), Mayumi Seiler (violin) and Colin Carr (cello) performing Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio and Ravel’s Piano Trio on July 14; the Cheng2 Duo on July 20; countertenor Daniel Taylor and tenor Charles Daniels, on July 21; and Measha Brueggergosman on July 27.

My Magic Carpet Wish

If I had a magic carpet, I’d ride to the Festival de Lanaudière northeast of Montreal on July 12 to hear Charles Richard-Hamelin and Les Violons du Roy perform Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos.22 and 24. And I’d return on July 28 for Marc-André Hamelin, Yannick Nézet-Seguin and Orchestre Métropolitaine for Brahms’ Piano Concertos Nos.1 and 2.

Safe travels and happy listening.

Circle the Dates

June 28, 29, 7:30pm; June 30, 3pm: Anticipation for these concerts has been building since last September when Spanish-born conductor, Gustavo Gimeno, was announced as the TSO’s 11th music director. Having guest-conducted the orchestra in February 2018, this will be his second appearance on the Roy Thomson Hall podium. The appealing program opens with Sibelius’ richly melodic Violin Concerto, with concertmaster Jonathan Crow as soloist. Prokofiev’s exuberant Symphony No.1 “Classical” and Stravinsky’s ever-popular Suite from the Firebird follow. Gimeno’s term as music director begins with the 2020/21 season.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Founded in 1994 by pianist Janina Fialkowska, Piano Six and Piano Plus brought live classical music events – mostly solo performers – to under-serviced parts of Canada until 2010. Over a period of 16 years, Fialkowska’s efforts reached over 100,000 people directly – and tens of thousands indirectly – through over 430 events across Canada. In addition to Fialkowska, the other original members of the powerhouse ensemble were Angela Cheng, Marc-André Hamelin, Angela Hewitt, André Laplante and Jon Kimura Parker.

At each destination, a musician would collaborate with local presenters, schools and volunteers to provide multiple experiences directly with audiences, through concerts, workshops, masterclasses and Q&A sessions.

The initiative was launched in February 1995 with concerts in Toronto (broadcast on CBC) and Quebec City. Although the program concentrated on individual rather than ensemble visits, the pianists occasionally appeared together – at the Festival international de Lanaudière in 1999 and the 2000 Ottawa Chamber Music Festival, for example.

Daniel Wnukowski. Photo by Claudia ZadoryIn 2017, pianist Daniel Wnukowski resurrected the original Piano Six model and relaunched it as Piano Six – New Generation. The new ensemble consists of Marika Bournaki, David Jalbert, Angela Park, Ian Parker and Anastasia Rizikov. Using many technological advances including web 2.0, social media and video streaming, Wnukowski has shifted the model to focus on the next generation of Canadians, especially post-millennials. Five colleagues joined the board having only met via Skype and Facetime.

Piano Six – New Generation will begin its first season of touring this month, starting with Wnukowski visiting Rainy River and Fort Frances in Ontario on May 6 and 8 respectively, and Fort Nelson BC on May 9 and 10, in a program he calls Piano through the Ages (Handel, Mozart, Chopin and Morawetz). Park and her program, Scenes from Nature (Chopin, Ravel, Burge, Beethoven, Lizst and Debussy), travel to Fort St. John BC (May 13 and 14) and Slave Lake in Alberta (May 16 and 17).

Then, on May 25, Bravo Niagara! will present a special Piano Six Gala Concert at St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake featuring Bournaki, Jalbert, Park, Parker, Wnukowski and special guest Godwin Friesen.

Wnukowski told me that the goal of the gala concert is “to leave audiences awed and inspired by the solo, four and six hands repertoire – with performances that range from scintillating to formidable. We are aiming through the May 25th concert to generate awareness about our cross-Canada tours and to garner enthusiasm and support for next year’s tour,” he said.

“The idea behind this particular concert program is to showcase the individual personalities of each pianist. First, we commissioned jazz composer Darren Sigesmund to write a short work involving all six pianists,” he said. “And each pianist was then asked to submit a short solo piece as well as suggestions for four-hand/two-piano repertoire.”

To Wnukowski’s surprise, every pianist submitted a French work as their choice of a solo work! Bournaki submitted Poulenc’s Trois novelettes; Jalbert chose Fauré’s Nocturne No.6; Park picked Ravel’s Miroirs No.3, Une barque sur l’ocean; and Friesen selected Debussy’s Clair de lune. “This was an interesting coincidence,” Wnukowski said, “as the harmonic progressions of Impressionism have long been considered a catalyst to the development of the jazz idiom.” Ian Parker and Wnukowski also decided to jump onto the jazz bandwagon and contributed several jazz works to provide the program with better form. [Parker chose Gershwin’s Three Preludes and Wnukowski picked Bill Evans’ sublime Peace Piece; together they will play Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue for their four-hands/two-piano selection.]

The French/Jazz theme has at this point taken on a life of its own, “offering a fine balance between bombastic and artful, introspective” Wnukowski said. “The program ends on a whirling tone with ecstatic, two-piano arrangements of Bernstein’s West Side Story, followed by Darren Sigesmund’s commissioned work for 12 hands on two pianos. We spend a great deal of time curating our programs in order to immerse our audiences in an extrasensory experience,” he adds, “providing commentaries between pieces, pulling the music apart and suggesting why certain components generate specific emotional responses within listeners.”

For Wnukowski, having the concert in the Niagara region is extremely meaningful; he spent his early childhood in Niagara Falls where his mother owned a children’s clothing shop. “There is a great deal of sentiment for me in having the first Piano Six Gala Concert where my most precious childhood memories were formed,” he said.

The Montreal Chamber Music Festival: Ludwig van Beethoven was born mid-December of 1770, likely on December 15 or 16 – his baptism was recorded as December 17 – so 2020 marks the 250th anniversary of his birth. Beethoven’s music is always in the air, but there have been serious rumblings of ambitious celebrations to come in recent weeks, in programming by the TSO and Mooredale Concerts. So too the recent announcement that the Montreal Chamber Music Festival’s 24th anniversary season – June 7 to 16, 2019 – will be the first of a three-year project to celebrate Beethoven, with the master composer’s 250th birthday coinciding with the Festival’s 25th anniversary. “Unlike any programming Montreal has ever heard,” according to founder and artistic director Denis Brott, each of the 2019, 2020 and 2021 “Beethoven Chez Nous!” festivals will feature “significant cycles of complete works by Beethoven. Not only is Beethoven perhaps the greatest classical composer of all time, he also wrote the most chamber music, perfected the string quartet form, and single-handedly transitioned classical music from the classical to the Romantic era.”

Two complete surveys highlight the 2019 program: 2019 Grammy Award-winner James Ehnes, with longtime pianistic partner Andrew Armstrong, will perform Beethoven’s ten sonatas for violin and piano over three evenings (June 13 to 15). Gramophone magazine, in an Editor’s Choice review, called the duo’s recording of Sonatas 6 & 9 for Onyx Classics “a compelling addition to Ehnes and Armstrong’s remarkable discography.” And in an even more ambitious programming stroke, the Festival will present Franz Liszt’s astonishing transcriptions of Beethoven’s nine symphonies over a span of five late-afternoon concerts at Salle Bourgie (June 11 to 15). Among the most technically demanding piano music ever written, Liszt’s remarkable reproductions will be performed by six pianists including Alexander Ullman, First Prize winner of the 2017 Liszt International Piano Competition (Symphonies 1 & 3); Vancouver’s Jocelyn Lai (Symphonies 2 & 6); Juilliard alumnus Carlos Avila (Symphonies 8 & 7); Conservatoire de musique de Montréal faculty member, Richard Raymond (Symphonies 4 & 5); and the virtuosic David Jalbert and Wonny Song (artistic director of Orford Music and Mooredale Concerts) in a two-piano version of the Ninth Symphony. The 5pm concerts include a complimentary glass of wine!

Cameron Crozman. Photo by Nikolaj LundAnother festival highlight: a new series of five free noon-hour concerts (June 11 to 15 at Salle Bourgie) spotlights emerging artists under 30: pianist Alexander Ullman; cellists Cameron Crozman and Bruno Tobon; and violinists Christina Bouey, Byungchan Lee and Emmanuel Vukovich. Tobon opens the series with a program devoted to cello duets (artistic director Denis Brott is the other cellist); British pianist Ullman’s June 12 hour includes late Liszt and two dynamic suites (Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker arranged by Pletnev; Stravinsky’s The Firebird); Lee’s program on June 13 moves from Bach to Kreisler to Prokofiev, and Ryan to Hermann in music for a combination of violinists including Martin Beaver, Heemin Choi and Amy Hillis; the June 14 concert headlined by Bouey and Vukovich also features violinists Hillis and Carissa Klopoushak and cellist Crozman in music by Ysaÿe, Honegger and Ernst’s Last Rose of Summer; Crozman and violinist Lee bring their solo and collaborative skills to the June 15 program which ranges from Bach to Ysaÿe and Casado to Glière and Handel-Halvorsen.

Eager to get a start on the summer festival season? There are plenty of reasons to start in June as spring winds down. Beethoven Chez Nous beckons.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra: The TSO’s season intensifies this month as the 2018/2019 season moves toward June and the next visit of music director-elect, Gustavo Gimeno. On the heels of Kerem Hasan’s Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” the TSO turns to another English guest conductor, 33-year-old Nicholas Collon, to lead the orchestra May 11 and 12 in Beethoven’s fateful icon, the kinetic Symphony No.5. Born in London, Collon trained as a violist, pianist and organist, and studied as Organ Scholar at Clare College, Cambridge. He is founder and principal conductor of the groundbreaking Aurora Orchestra, chief conductor and artistic advisor of the Residentie Orkest in The Hague, and principal guest conductor of the Guerzenich Orchester in Cologne. Israeli-born, New York resident and Juilliard grad, 43-year-old Shai Wosner is the soloist in Mozart’s ever-popular Piano Concerto No.21 K467.

A month after their stirring performance of Mahler’s Symphony No.2 “Resurrection,” under guest conductor Matthew Halls, on May 15 and 16, the TSO takes on the composer’s Symphony No.7, a work of contrasting moods, from darkness to light, an orchestral chiaroscuro, under the baton of interim artistic director, Sir Andrew Davis. The elegant Louis Lortie is the soloist in Franck’s exuberant Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra. A week later, May 24 and 25, Lortie and Davis return with a program of showpieces – Rossini’s familiar Overture to William Tell, Saint-Saëns’ late-Romantic masterwork, Piano Concerto No.4 and Respighi’s electric crowd pleaser, Pines of Rome.

Jeremy DenkKnown for what The New York Times calls “his penetrating intellectual engagement,” pianist Jeremy Denk, winner of the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, has concocted an all-Mozart program which he will lead on May 29, May 30 and June 1. Included are the Piano Concerto No.14 (generally considered the first of the composer’s mature works in that genre) and the magisterial Piano Concerto No. 25 (separated in the evening by the darkly melancholic and ethereally beautiful Rondo for Solo Piano K511).

Karl-Heinz Steffens. Photo by Michael BodeFormerly principal clarinet with the Berlin Philharmonic, German-born conductor Karl-Heinz Steffens makes his TSO debut, June 5, 6 and 8, in Brahms’ inspired Symphony No.4. Earlier in the evening he and the orchestra are joined by Jan Lisiecki, the rapidly rising former wunderkind, in Mendelssohn’s infectious Piano Concerto No.1 (a version of which you can find on Lisiecki’s most recent Deutsche Grammophon CD).

CLASSICAL AND BEYOND QUICK PICKS

MAY 11, 7:30PM: The Georgian Bay Symphony and TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow perform Sibelius’ lush Violin Concerto at the Regional Auditorium in Owen Sound.

MAY 11, 7:30PM: Gemma New leads the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra in Mahler’s Symphony No.5. According to Sir Simon Rattle: “Of all Mahler’s symphonies, this is the one most rooted in Viennese rhythms. This makes it much tougher to play. You don’t play what you see in the score. You have to play what it means.”

MAY 12, 1PM: Bravo Niagara! Festival of the Arts presents pianist Jamie Parker, hornist Brian Mangrum and violinist Boson Mo in a sparkling program that ranges from solo piano (a Debussy Book Two Prélude and Brahms’ quintessentially Romantic Intermezzo Op.118, No.2), piano and horn (Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro Op.70) piano and violin (Franck’s glorious Sonata in A Major) to all three instruments (Brahms Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano in E-flat Major). Stratus Vineyards, Niagara-on-the-Lake.

MAY 12, 2PM AND MAY 13, 7:30PM: Canzona Chamber Players present Richard Strauss’ early Serenade Op.7 for 13 Winds and Mozart’s great Serenade K361 “Gran Partita.”

MAY 12, 5PM: Nocturnes in the City presents Montreal-based Duo Ventapane (Martin Karlicek, piano, ManaShiharshi, violin) in works by Martinú, Janáček, Dvořák and others at St. Wenceslaus Church, 496 Gladstone Ave.

MAY 21, 12PM: COC presents pianist Stéphane Mayer playing Frederic Rzewski’s De Profundis. Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Free.

MAY 24 AND MAY 25, 8PM: Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents cellist Cameron Crozman and pianist Philip Chiu performing music by Bach, Debussy, Françaix and Mendelssohn on May 24. The following evening, Jeffery Concerts presents the same program at Wolf Performance Hall, London.

MAY 25, 8PM: Gallery 345 presents James Giles in an ambitious program in their Art of the Piano series. Giles, who is based at Northwestern University in Chicago, follows a selection of Brahms’ Waltzes Op.39 and Schubert’s final sonata (D960) with miniatures from the piano’s golden age by Godowsky, Levitski, Rosenthal, Friedman and Paderewski.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

In the summer of 2016 I was given a package of Mahler DVDs produced and directed by Jason Starr, a prolific maker of dozens of video and films, from classical music and modern dance performances to documentary profiles of artists and cultural issues. He began his Mahler odyssey in 2003 with a splendid deconstruction of what Mahler himself called “a musical poem that travels through all the stages of evolution.” I wrote about What the Universe Tells Me: Unravelling the Mysteries of Mahler’s Third Symphony – Starr’s impressive 60-minute film – in the September 2016 issue of WholeNote in conjunction with the TSO’s performance of the symphony then.

Gustav Mahler

Having noticed the TSO’s upcoming performance of Mahler’s Symphony No.2 “Resurrection” on April 17, 18 and 20, I decided to take another look at Of Love, Death and Beyond, Starr’s 2011 exploration of that monumental work. The combination of an all-star orchestra and chorus conducted by Neeme Järvi, with narration by Thomas Hampson and talking Mahlerian heads led by Henry-Louis de La Grange, produced a rich tapestry of insight and background, some of which I thought I would share to illuminate what has become a cornerstone of the symphonic repertoire.

When Mahler began working on his second symphony in 1888, he was “a 27-year-old itinerant conductor and virtually unknown as a composer.” By the time of its premiere in December 1895, Mahler’s conducting star was burning brightly, although the negative reception of his first symphony still lingered.

Mahler believed that there must be something cosmic about a symphony; it should be as inexhaustible as the world. With the “Resurrection” Symphony, he burst the confines of symphonic form with a massive instrumental and choral cohort that outdid Beethoven. Haunted by death throughout his life – he lost several family members to early death – the symphony was a means to explore his own ideas of death and the purpose of life. (Early on in the symphony, Mahler picks up the hero’s theme from his Symphony No.1 and shockingly kills that hero right away, burying him with funeral-march references and Dies Irae allusions. Waves of struggle alternate with periods of serenity – the role of love always a factor for Mahler.)

After this 1888 start on the symphony, five years passed before Mahler returned to work on it. But during those years his conducting experience had grown, and a key relationship blossomed with the eminent conductor Hans von Bülow after Mahler’s appointment to the Hamburg State Opera. He settled on the edge of an Austrian lake in 1893 and finished the second, third and fourth movements. (It would, however, take von Bülow’s memorial service in 1894 to unleash Mahler’s creativity and act as a catalyst to compose the choral movement that would complete the work.)

The Andante Moderato second movement is mysterious and threatening in tone, but not without considerable charm, as happiness alternates with melancholy memory. The spooky and sardonic third movement is a parody of the Biblical fish sermon with a mocking tone that leads into music riven by despair. The basis of the fourth movement (Primal Light) is a child-like woman’s voice (sung by a mezzo-soprano) with text from one of Mahler’s favourite literary sources, the poems of Des Knaben Wunderhorn. There is compassion and simplicity in the voice of the child who is driven by a desire to enter heaven and be reborn into eternal blessed life.

The fifth and final movement opens with a reference to the third movement before we are treated to a series of tableaux that expand the bounds of the concert hall with two off-stage bands and otherworldly horns. The notes of the Dies Irae musical reference of the first movement is reversed, a sign that personal rebirth is on its way. A visceral percussion build followed by a march made up of popular music announces the struggle between the Dies Irae and resurrection motifs which morph into an apocalyptic tension. Then, after barely audible offstage brass, mass hysteria leads into celestial calm and an omnipotent feeling of love takes over. The chorus enters (everyone partakes of the resurrection) in one of the most sublime moments in all of music. Mahler’s own text leaves out much of the original religious content, replacing it with spirituality. Ultimately, a new life is unleashed. There had never been a symphonic movement of such scope and dramatic impact. It still generates a genuinely palpable feel-good climax.

Juanjo Mena. Photo by Mark LyonsMahler’s Massive Cohort

To illustrate the instrumental scope in personnel alone, this is what Mahler called for: four flutes (all doubling piccolo), four oboes (two doubling English horn), four clarinets (one doubling bass clarinet and another doubling E-flat clarinet) plus E-flat clarinet, four bassoons (two doubling contrabassoon), ten horns, ten trumpets, four trombones, tuba, timpani (two players), cymbals, triangle, military drum, orchestra bells, chimes, bass drums, tam-tams, two harps, organ and strings, plus soprano and mezzo-soprano soloists and a mixed chorus; an offstage band comprising four trumpets, bass drum with cymbals attached and additional triangle; another off-stage band consisting of four horns and additional timpani.

The TSO presents Mahler’s Symphony No.2 “Resurrection” on April 17, 18 and 20 at 8pm in Roy Thomson Hall. With Joëlle Harvey, soprano; Marie-Nicole Lemieux, contralto; Amadeus Choir; Elmer Iseler Singers; renowned Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena takes the baton.

Louis Langree. Photo by Jennifer TaylorLouis Langrée has been music director of the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center in New York since 2002 and of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra since 2013. On April 10, 12 and 13, he will lead the TSO in another pillar of the classical music canon, Beethoven’s Symphony No.3 “Eroica.” Originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte (the composer later defaced his original dedication to the French emperor, calling him a tyrant), the Eroica marked the beginning of Beethoven’s Middle Period and was a major musical step forward in his symphonic writing. The first movement’s grandeur is followed by the unnerving, influential funeral march and the uncanny scherzo which set the stage for the finale’s theme and variations that pushed the expressive envelope of 1803. Uncompromising and challenging to this day, the Eroica marked a bold step into the 19th century for a work that has never lost its power to connect emotionally.

Opening the program is another keystone of the repertoire, Debussy’s hugely popular Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1894) that stretched the traditional system of keys and tonalities to their late 19th-century limits. Rounding out the evening’s first half is Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No.1 (1916), considered one of the first modern violin concertos and a musical heir to Debussy’s work. Christian Tetzlaff, whose consummate musicianship and versatility have long been a source of great pleasure, is the violin soloist.

Students Rule

As spring blossoms fill our senses, it’s time to partake in the fruits of another year’s worth of musical training. Nine Sparrows Arts Foundation presents “Rising Stars” of the U of T Faculty of Music on April 2 and of the Glenn Gould School on April 30 and May 7. Admission is free for these 12:10pm recitals at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church in midtown Toronto. The Royal Conservatory presents the Glenn Gould School Chamber Music Competition Finals in Koerner Hall at 7pm on April 3. Tickets are required (but free) and can be reserved a week in advance. At noon on April 9, the COC presents “Rachmaninoff-Go-Round,” a free concert featuring GGS piano students playing selections from Six Moments musicaux, Op.16 in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre of the Four Seasons Centre. In the same location, on April 10 at noon, the COC presents a free concert featuring the winner of the GGS Chamber Music Competition. On the same day at 7:30pm in Mazzoleni Hall, RCM presents the final Rebanks Family Fellowship concert of the season (free; ticket required). The future is ours to see.

CLASSICAL AND BEYOND QUICK PICKS

APR 7, 2PM: The Gallery Players of Niagara present the Gryphon Trio at 25 years young! Fresh from winning their latest JUNO, the venerable trio’s program includes works by Haydn, Brahms and Wijeratne. FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, St. Catharines.

APR 7, 3PM: RCM presents the justly celebrated American pianist Richard Goode in an all-Beethoven recital topped off by the master’s final sonata, the celestial Op.111. Goode will also give two masterclasses in Mazzoleni Hall, to which the public is welcome, on April 5 at 2pm and April 6 at 2:30pm.

APR 7, 7:30PM: Gallery 345 presents pianist/scholar/writer Jarred Dunn in a recital comprised of a selection of Chopin pieces along with Beethoven’s penultimate sonata, Op.110. Featured on the 2018 CBC Top 30 Under 30 list, Dunn has been highly praised by piano stalwarts Seymour Bernstein and David Dubal.

APR 14, 2PM: Chamber Music Hamilton presents the luminous Calidore String Quartet in a superbly constructed program of Haydn’s String Quartet in F Major Op.77, No.2, Beethoven’s String Quartet Op.131 and two pieces by Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw (whose Taxidermy was one of the revelations of the recent 21C Music Festival performance by Sõ Percussion).

APR 14, 3:15PM: Mooredale Concerts presents the New Orford String Quartet whose impeccable musicianship will be on display in an all-Beethoven program featuring a quartet from each of the composer’s early (Op.18, No.4), middle (Op.74) and late (Op.131) periods.

Ariel QuartetAPR 18, 8PM: Music Toronto presents the Ariel Quartet (winner of the prestigious Cleveland Quartet Award in 2014) in a program they call “Neue Bahnen (New Paths).” The title comes from Schumann’s famous article from 1853 heralding a new era with the arrival of the then-unknown Brahms. The program highlights the special relationship Schumann and Brahms shared, and looks back to Beethoven and forward to Webern.

APR 27, 7:30PM AND APR 28, 2:30PM: Elsewhere in these pages David Jaeger writes extensively about Marjan Mozetich, whose Postcards from the Sky is part of this concert by the Niagara Symphony Orchestra. Another reason to attend is to catch up with one-time prodigy, pianist Anastasia Rizikov, featured in Shostakovich’s Concerto in C Minor for Piano and Trumpet and String Orchestra. Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings complete the surefire program. Bradley Thachuk conducts.

APR 28, 3PM: Jeffery Concerts presents the five-time Grammy Award winner, MacArthur Foundation Fellow, Dawn Upshaw, singing Respighi’s haunting Il Tramonto and Schoenberg’s visionary String Quartet No.2 with the esteemed Brentano String Quartet (who also perform Haydn’s Op.20, No.2 and Bartók’s String Quartet No.2). Wolf Performance Hall, London.

Peter Serkin. Photo by Regina Touhey SerkinMAY 1, 8PM: Pianist Peter Serkin, heir to the Busch-Serkin musical family, makes his Koerner Hall debut performing Mozart's Adagio K540 and Piano Sonata K570 as well as Bach's Goldberg Variations. Serkin replaces the originally scheduled Murray Perahia, who is unable to appear due to a sudden medical setback.

MAY 2, 12PM: Spring may be in the air, but summer’s not too far from violinist Jonathan Crow’s mind as he previews the 2019 Toronto Summer Music Festival – Crow is its artistic director – in this COC free concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre in the Four Seasons Centre.

MAY 2, 1:30PM: The Women’s Musical Club of Toronto closes out their season in Walter Hall with a strong program – Mozart, Schafer and Beethoven – by the acclaimed Rolston String Quartet, who have been on an extensive tour since winning the 12th Banff International String Quartet Competition in 2016. Named one of CBC’s 30 Hot Canadian Classical Musicians Under 30 and recent winner of the prestigious Cleveland Quartet Award, the Rolstons – who take their name from Canadian violinist Thomas Rolston, longtime director of the Music and Sound Programs at the Banff Centre -- are currently fellowship quartet-in-residence at the Yale School of Music.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

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