Rossini, Wagner, von Suppé, Tchaikovsky, Smetana, Donizetti, Grieg, Offenbach, J. Strauss, Jr., Liszt. Sure, they all hold membership in the pantheon of great composers, but do you know what else they have in common? Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and Wile E. Coyote, to name some of those lovable Looney Tunes characters who have danced, pranced, chased and raced around on screen, to the music of those aforementioned composer heavyweights, or rather, to brilliantly conceived and executed adaptations, orchestrations, arrangements and “borrowings” of their music by American composers, Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn, the ingenious creators of the symphonic soundtracks to those zany Warner Bros. cartoons of yesteryear. (They sure don’t make ’em like they used to.)

1808-classicalLooney Tunes: Remember The Rabbit of Seville? (1949) — “Welcome to my shop, let me cut your mop, let me shave your crop. Daintily, daintily.” (Can’t you just hear/see Bugs Bunny, dressed in a barber’s outfit, beckoning Elmer Fudd with that Rossini-inspired score à la Stalling?) And what about What’s Opera, Doc? (1957) that amazing tour de force where Franklyn manages to condense the four nights of Wagner’s Ring cycle into seven exhilarating orchestral minutes to accompany the cartoon capers as Bugs and Elmer battle it out in a parody of Wagner operas. It’s famous, of course, for Fudd’s “Kill the Wabbit,” sung to the tune of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” from Die Valküre. As George Daugherty, creator and conductor of “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony” has said, “Once you’ve seen Elmer Fudd chasing about on screen singing “Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit,” you will never hear Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” the same way again.”

Well, guess what? Bugs is back in town! And you’ll be able to test Daugherty’s theory when “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony” returns to the Sony Centre after its hugely successful 2011 engagement. Celebrating over two decades of Bugs Bunny on the concert stage, the production involves projecting the classic cartoons onto a large screen, while an orchestra, in this case the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, provides a live accompaniment, with Daugherty conducting. It’s great fun for both the audience and orchestra (though a little more tricky for the latter). There is one performance in Toronto on May 18, at 7pm; a 2pm show was recently cancelled. Two days earlier, on the 16th, Daugherty will conduct the KWS on home turf at Kitchener’s Centre in the Square, at 7pm.

And what’s on the program? In addition to the two iconic cartoons mentioned, I dangle a carrot with a few others: Baton Bunny, with music by von Suppé, orchestrated by Franklyn; Zoom and Bored (Road Runner “epic”), with an original score by Stalling and Franklyn, based on “The Dance of the Comedians” from The Bartered Bride by Smetana; A Corny Concerto, with music by Stalling, based on Tales of the Vienna Woods and The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II; and Long-Haired Hare, with an original score by Stalling, “after” Wagner, von Suppé, Donizetti and Rossini. You’ll also hear selections from the Great American Songbook and traditional American folk songs. And there will be “guest appearances” by Tom and Jerry, the Flintstones and Scooby-Doo, not to mention an appearance by Tweety and Sylvester in a cartoon titled (presciently) Home Tweet Home, with an original score by Franklyn. I guarantee it will contain a lot more than 140 notes ... and lots of character.

This is serious entertainment, folks. Resist (and poo-poo) at your own risk. Besides, as Daugherty contends: “If most people — even the most highbrow of opera and classical music lovers — were to admit the truth, they would fess up that they heard their first strains of the Ring cycle or ... The Barber of Seville courtesy of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd.” As for Stalling and Franklyn, Daugherty holds them in high regard, suggesting that they’re “up there” with the likes of Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. Come see for yourself.

1808-classical2Lenny tunes: Staying with the screening-with-live-orchestral-accompaniment idea for a moment, if watching Looney Tunes cartoons isn’t your thing, but Bernstein is, then you’re in luck! Because, on May 28 (7:30) and 29 (1:30 and 7:30), at Roy Thomson Hall, Bernstein’s dazzling score to West Side Story will be performed by the TSO, while the 2011 re-mastered version of the film (with original vocals and dialogue intact) is shown, in high definition, on the big screen. “West Side Story: film with live orchestra,” was initiated and shepherded by The Leonard Bernstein Office in New York City, to mark the 50th anniversary of the film which was originally released in October of 1961. You can read here about the amazing journey of the West Side Story reconstruction project — starting with the startling fact that the original score materials did not exist. The piece, alone, is a loving tribute to the film, and offers a real appreciation for, and a fascinating, in-depth account of, the complexities involved in bringing a project of this nature to fruition.

Steven Reineke, recently appointed principal Pops conductor of the TSO (and music director of the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall), will conduct the TSO in what is sure to be a magical and memorable experience. We’re invited to enjoy the two evening concerts with “drink in hand” and popcorn, both available for purchase.

I have to say, as an unabashed fan of the film’s music, choreography and Sondheim lyrics, that the TSO’s bringing it even further to life is going to be very “cool.”

(And if you’d like to hear the TSO play more Bernstein, you can catch the orchestra at the George Weston Recital Hall on June 2, 3:00pm, in a performance of his Overture to Candide, along with Elgar’s Enigma Variations and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Bramwell Tovey conducts and is at the piano.)

Birthday tunes: And with that nod to Bugs and Bernstein accomplished, I close this column with two bicentennial birthday acknowledgments: Wagner was born on May 22, 1813, and Verdi on October 10. Both the Oakville Symphony and the Etobicoke Philharmonic Orchestra mark the Verdi milestone with concerts titled, coincidentally, “Viva Verdi.” On May 11 (8pm) and 12 (2pm) at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts, the OSO offers selected Verdi overtures, arias and duets, with guest soprano Laurie Reviol. On May 24, the EPO returns to the Martingrove Collegiate, at 8pm, and performs the “Triumphal March” and “Ballet Music” from Aida, “Va Pensiero” from Nabucco and other selections. Baritone Jeffrey Carl and soprano Rachel Cleland join conductor Sabatino Vacca, along with special guest, tenor Richard Margison — another coup for the EPO! (Last month, it was pianist Arthur Ozolins performing the Rachmaninoff Third.)

For its free noonhour Chamber Music Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, the Canadian Opera Company presents "Happy Birthday, Wagner" on, you guessed it, the composer’s actual birthday, May 22. The intriguing program, featuring the cellists of the COC Orchestra, includes arrangements of Wagner’s opera overtures for four cellists, Bizet’s Carmen Fantasy for five cellos, and a work by 19th-century cellist, David Popper, who knew and admired Wagner, subsequently transcribing several of his piano solo works for cello. Hmmm. I wonder what either of them would have thought of Stalling’s and Franklyn’s way with Wagner.

Th-Th-Th-Th ... That’s all folks! 

Sharna Searle trained as a musician and lawyer, practised a lot more piano than law and is listings editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at classicalbeyond@thewholenote.com.


It’s impossible, given the copious concert-going options available each month, to note adequately all those that fall within the scope of this column. Each month, I take a deep breath and then choose a cluster of concerts, a theme, a genre, a group of artists or composers, to fill the few precious pages allotted to the Classical & Beyond beat, knowing full well that I will have left out innumerable events equally deserving of coverage. Such is the nature of the beast.

I’m aware, as well, that many concerts warrant more than the scant lines I’m able to afford them. Sometimes though, when the date of a short-shrifted concert falls within the first seven days of the month, thus overlapping two issues, I get to redeem myself. And while it means less space still for the newer listings, well ... I’ve resigned myself to the fact that there will always be those irked and annoyed at me for the concerts I select to write about each month: such, too, is the nature of the beast.

Redemption via Rachmaninoff: Hence my decision to revisit the Etobicoke Philharmonic Orchestra’s upcoming April 5 performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, with the distinguished pianist, Arthur Ozolins. In its 52-year history, the EPO has never performed the Rachmaninoff Third. For its 50th anniversary gala, however, Ozolins played Rachmaninoff’s Second with the orchestra. Sabatino Vacca, the EPO’s music director, tells what happened afterward:

“As we were coming offstage I gently remarked that we really should do the Third sometime. He politely declined, knowing how demanding a piece it is and how demanding he would be of himself to prepare it. I knew it was a lot to ask so I was not too disappointed. A few months passed and Arthur then called us to see if in fact it were possible to program the Third as he was considering playing it after all. You cannot imagine how delighted I was! I immediately began to see where it would best fit into our current season.”

Vacca goes on to describe the thrill of rehearsing the concerto in the two-piano version with Ozolins; of getting a glimpse into ‘’just how thoroughly Mr. Ozolins prepares a concerto; no ‘note’ is left unturned!” And how Ozolins “often manages, somehow to play both [piano parts] at the same time!” Though Ozolins has played it throughout his long career, Vacca remarks on the “boyish curiosity” that comes through Ozolin’s preparation, “as if coming to it for the first time, always discovering new things.”

Interestingly, in an audio interview with Paul Robinson (posted July 31, 2010 — date of conversation unknown; theartoftheconductor.podbean.com), Ozolins speaks endearingly of his early childhood exposure to (and enduring affinity for) the music of Rachmaninoff:

“I used to sit under my mother’s piano when she was practising before she died. [Ozolins was only five and a half.] Then afterward my grandmother kept playing because she was also a graduate from the St. Petersburg Conservatory in Russia. And she knew Rachmaninoff; and she just almost constantly was practising the First and the Second piano concertos of Rachmaninoff. Maybe that’s why I have such an identification with Rachmaninoff. I just adore Rachmaninoff so much; I’ve heard it ever since a child.”

Vacca clearly appreciates Ozolins’ deep connection to Rachmaninoff’s music, acknowledging that “it will be a great experience and privilege for us to perform [the Third Concerto] with someone who counts it as one of his signature pieces. “It will be,” he enthuses, “a rare opportunity for the Etobicoke community and beyond to hear Mr. Ozolins perform this concerto, one of the pinnacles of ultra-Romantic bravura pianism.”

It seems rather fitting that this exceptional concert, which gets under way at 8pm, is being performed at Martingrove Collegiate, home to the gifted program in Etobicoke. There certainly will be no shortage of musical gifts emanating from the stage that night.

classical russell braun 001115 years young: The EPO may be in its 52nd year, but it’s a mere tot compared to the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto, now in its 115th season — yes, 115, and going strong — it announced season 116 last month! And of course, the wonderful women — and men — of the WMCT are celebrating the organization’s 115th anniversary in grand style. On May 2 at 1:30pm, the stage of Koerner Hall will be graced by Canadian musical luminaries, violinist James Ehnes and baritone Russell Braun. Collaborative pianist Carolyn Maule, who happens to be married to Braun, joins them.

How do you get two of the busiest classical musicians on the planet to perform together? How does the program get chosen? How long does it take to nail down the details? And the venue? Last week I put these questions to WMCT’s artistic director, Simon Fryer (concurrently principal cello with the Regina Symphony, head of strings at the Regina Conservatory and active chamber musician), and here’s what he told me:

“The idea for this project came forward in the course of a discussion with Russell in Parry Sound at the 2009 Festival of the Sound. Both artists have been long-time favorites of the WMCT so when Russell mentioned that they had been talking about collaborating it was a no-brainer to grab the idea and run with it. The details of programming took longer to pin down but Russell had clear and wonderful ideas to build around and once the skeleton was in place James was able to fit appropriate works into it. These are both major artists with very busy schedules, but once we had a good handle on the program direction it fell into place nicely. With such possibilities the project was an obvious choice to present at a major event in Koerner Hall.”

Simple, eh? But it took a lot more than just being at the right place at the right time. Fryer’s background, experience and personality all contributed to his being at that “right place.” In asking what drew him to the WMCT position, which he assumed in 2005/6 — planning was then under way for the 110th season — he shed some light on all three:

“I had left the Toronto Symphony to join the Penderecki String Quartet in 2003. My sheepdog personality enjoys collecting artists and audiences together with great music, so bringing ideas for musical events and collaborations to reality had always been an interest for me. With many such events behind me, the opportunity to consolidate from random events to a coherent season was something I began to search for.

“The opportunity presented itself in the form of the WMCT. Here was an organization in strong financial shape, with a loyal and knowledgeable audience, looking for artistic direction from the professional arena for the first time ... I had known of the WMCT ever since I arrived in Toronto and was impressed by the people I met with and their clear sense of purpose.”

classical james ehnesTo what does he attribute the WMCT’s unparalleled success and how does he plan to sustain it?

“The success of the series over 115 years is a result of careful management, strong understanding of the tastes of the members and a large and enthusiastic resource of volunteers. It is my job to maintain and build that understanding so that tastes are developed and new horizons approached. Continuing the tradition of bringing a spectrum of Canadian and international artists to the WMCT stage, is a fascinating and rewarding task. I do not work alone either — I have a wonderful artists selection committee that provides both an expert sounding board for ideas and a superb resource of knowledge.”

It sounds like the WMCT is in very savvy and capable hands under Fryer’s artistic leadership.

And now back to the big event. While it won’t be the first time Ehnes and Braun will be sharing the stage for a WMCT concert — that happened in 1998 at the WMCT’s centennial celebration concert– it will be their first time actually playing together. (A further “fun fact”: in 1992 both Ehnes and Braun made their Toronto debuts with the WMCT in season 95, within a month of each other.)

The afternoon will begin with works by Bach (the first for voice and violin; the second for solo violin) and will end with settings of English songs based on poet A. E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad, by Vaughan Williams, Butterworth and Barber, for the combinations of voice and violin, voice and piano, and voice, violin and piano. In between you’ll get to marvel at Ehnes’ virtuosity with three Paganini caprices, and luxuriate in Braun’s rich tones in Beethoven’s only song cycle. A new work for voice, violin and piano by John Estacio, commissioned by the WMCT for the occasion, will complete the outstanding program — one fit for this most exciting and monumental occasion!

In addition to these two magnificent evenings of music making, there are probably another 115 listings to consider for April and early May. It’s spring — time to step out and take in the season’s multitude of musical offerings. Enjoy! 

Sharna Searle trained as a musician and lawyer, practised a lot more piano than law and is listings editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at classicalbeyond@thewholenote.com.

 


1806 classical and beyondWhat a difference a month makes! It seems that after weeks of intimate, romantic, light-hearted, sweet and sexy Valentine offerings, mighty, majestic and weighty Russian fare is to be the antidote to all that sweetness, judging by the proliferation of programs focusing on Russian music this month. (Not that Russian music can’t be romantic — think Rachmaninoff’s Second piano concerto.) With titles like “Russian Masters” and “Kiev to St. Petersburg,” works by Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff abound, with Prokofiev, Mussorgsky, Shostakovich, Rimsky-Korsakov and Rubinstein also represented. It all promises to be rather thrilling!

(And for those of you still hankering for the sexy stuff, at the end of the column there’s a Quick Picks of Piazzolla, whose tempting tangos turn up the heat all over the place this month.)

Community bookends: Interestingly, two community orchestras are offering programs comprised of symphonies and concerti by Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky, at each end of this issue’s date range. Perhaps one reason for the focus on these two Russian giants is the significant birth and death anniversaries occurring this month and further down in 2013. This year marks the 120th anniversary of Tchaikovsky’s death. Rachmaninoff was born 140 years ago on April 1 and died 70 years ago on March 28.

Whatever the reason, we’ve got two evenings of great orchestral fare to consider. Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 and his Violin Concerto in D Major are featured in Counterpoint Community Orchestra’s “Kiev to St. Petersburg,” March 2, 8pm, at Saint Luke’s United Church. Erica Williamson is the violin soloist and the CCO’s Terry Kowalczuk conducts.

About a month later, on April 5 at 8pm, it’s the Etobicoke Philharmonic Orchestra’s turn at Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, when they present “Russian Masters” at Martingrove Collegiate. The program also includes Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3. Reputed to be one of the most technically challenging in the repertoire, it will be in the most capable hands of Canada’s Arthur Ozolins, who recorded the Rachmaninoff Third, as well as the First, Second and Fourth, for CBC Records, with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, under Mario Bernardi, between 1985 and 1993.

Speaking of pianists and Russian repertoire, in between the CCO and the EPO, the TSO presents “From Mozart to Sibelius” on March 23 at 7:30. In between Wagner’s “Prelude to Act III” of Lohengrin and Mozart’s “Overture”to Don Giovanni, pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin will perform a personal favourite of mine, Rachmaninoff’s beautiful (and remember, romantic) Piano Concerto No.2, the piece he played when he won the 2011 TSO National Piano Competition. The guest conductor is Mélanie Léonard who is in her first season as associate conductor of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. And the Sibelius? The program, which repeats on the 24th, ends with his Finlandia.

Stravinsky on Sorauren: Sorauren Avenue, that is, number 345 — home of Gallery 345. Created in 2005 by Edward Epstein, the gallery has evolved into a wonderfully welcoming — and very busy — acoustically superb space for the performance of jazz and contemporary classical music, as well as standard, classical repertoire. Typically, you’ll find 12 to 15 Gallery 345 listings in any given issue and this one is no different. This round, there’s a kind of “mini Stravinsky festival” and, interestingly, a “mini Piazzolla festival” happening between March 1 and 26 — three concerts in each mini-fest.

There’s even one concert offering a work by both Stravinsky and Piazzolla: March 1, in a concert of music exploring dance, rhythm and movement, aptly titled “Pas de Deux,” cellist Kathleen Long and pianist H.W. Cecilia Lee perform Stravinsky’s Suite italienne, a very popular work based on several movements from his 1920 neoclassical ballet Pulcinella. For this arrangement, Stravinsky collaborated in 1932/33 with legendary cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, who later teamed up with fellow living legend Jascha Heifetz on an arrangement for violin and cello. (The most-often-performed arrangement, though, is the one for violin and piano, a 1933 collaboration between Stravinsky and violinist Samuel Dushkin.)

The other works on the program include Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances, two pieces by Kapustin, Poulenc’s Sonate pour violoncelle et piano, Op. 143 and, as promised, Le Grand Tango by Piazzolla, all ensuring an exciting musical study of dance, rhythm and movement.

The other two concerts in Gallery 345’s unofficial Stravinsky fest occur at 8pm on March 11 and 20. The first, with the Pivot Chamber Soloists (Minghuan Xu, violin; Soo Bae, cello; Romi deGuist-Langlois, clarinet; Winston Choi, piano), features two Brahms trios (A Minor, Op. 114 and B Major, Op.8)in addition to Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat for clarinet, violin and piano. Originally scored for septet, Stravinsky later arranged his work for the condensed trio version being performed here. Incidentally, the PCS plays the same program the next day in Waterloo, for the indefatigable Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society, which presents two other March concerts (3 and 10) featuring works by Russian composers; cellist Bae and pianist Choi perform as a duo in the latter. These KWCMS concerts are noted below in a selection of Russian picks.

The March 20 concert features Ensemble Paramirabo, a versatile and innovative quintet from Montreal. Dedicated to “reserving the lion’s share of their programming to new works,” the ensemble will perform The Rite of Spring, arranged by emerging, Canadian composer Kevin Lau. Lau’s Gates of Light , M.Y. Ha’s Fairy Tale and the eponymous Paramirabo, composed by Claude Vivier in 1978, complete the program.

More Stravinsky: While it might normally fall under the “In With the New” banner, in this case it only makes sense for me to include Arraymusic’s “Stravinsky’s Sphere: The Influence of Igor Stravinsky.” On the March 10 program: a new work by Oesterle, the Canadian premiere of Andriessen’s Life, L’Histoire du Soldat and a player piano version of The Rite of Spring by plunderphonics (google it) guru John Oswald. The Arraymusic Ensemble, with guest violinist Marie Bérard, perform at the Enwave Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, at 3pm.

A final hot tip:Doing Rite by Stravinsky” is the title of piano great, Jon Kimura Parker’s April 2 solo piano recital at Flato Markham Theatre. Starting at 8pm, Parker will no doubt dazzle as he performs his arrangement of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, along with Prokofiev’s Sonata No.3, Op.28, Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G Minor, Op.23 No.5 and the stirring Pictures at an Exhibition, by Mussorgsky. Miss it and weep!

RESIDUAL RUSSIANS PICKS

March 3 8:00: Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society. Toronto Serenade String Sextet. Rimsky-Korsakov: String Sextet in A; Rubinstein: String Sextet in D Op.97. Waterloo.

March 7 7:30: Iron Strings Quartet. Iron Strings Plays Tchaikovsky. Smetana: String Quartet No. 1 “From My Life”; Tchaikovsky: String Quartet No.3 Op.30.

March 10 8:00: Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society. Soo Bae, cello, and Winston Choi, piano. Rachmaninoff: Sonata for Cello and Piano; and works by Chan Ka Nin, Piatti and Messiaen.

March 14 7:30: Trinity College, University of Toronto. Music That Speaks To You: Shostakovich – Rumours, Lies, Enigmas and Music. . Shostakovich: Second Trio. Gryphon Trio; Gary Kulesha, commentator.

April 5 8:00: Gallery 345. Art of the Piano: Alejandro Vela. Works by Prokofiev and Granados.

April 6 7:30: University of Toronto Faculty of Music. University of Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Weinzweig: Symphonic Ode; Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings Op.48; Dvořák: Symphony No.8 in G Op.88. Victor Feldbrill, conductor.

QUICK PIAZZOLLA PICKS

March 3 2:00: Gallery Players of Niagara. Let’s Tango. Works by Villa-Lobos, Piazzolla and Jobim. St. Catharines.

March 3 3:00: Georgian Bay Symphony. Dance Forms. Byrd: Fantasias; Moulinié: Fantasias; and works by Haydn and Piazzolla.

March 8 8:00: Aurora Cultural Centre. Great Artist Piano Series: Seiler Piano Trio. Works by Mozart, Schubert and Piazzolla.

March 8 8:00: Flato Markham Theatre. Tangos: From Gardel to Piazzolla. Romulo Larrea Tango Ensemble; Romulo Larrea, bandoneon/compositions/conductor. Markham.

March 22 8:00: Gallery 345. Tango Café: An Evening of Music and Dance. Contemporary and traditional tangos by Piazzolla, Canaro, DiSarli and others.

March 26 8:00: Gallery 345. Duo Les Amis – Love: Innocence, Passion, Obsession. Piazzolla: Milonga en re; and works by Yanyuk, Franck, Rota, Frolov and Pepa.

Prepare to be amazed! Enjoy! 

Sharna Searle trained as a musician and lawyer, practised a lot more piano than law and is listings editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at classicalbeyond@thewholenote.com.

As I sit here, on the coldest January day in Toronto on record since 2009, it’s almost comforting to have to turn my thoughts to the romantic, warmth-inducing, Valentine’s Day-inspired concerts that February brings. And, indeed, there is much to tempt us, an array of delightful performances to warm the “cockles of your heart” — metaphorical or otherwise, whatever they are — and, hopefully, the rest of your body, too.

classical-feb2013Chopin, obviously: Think fast. Most romantic composer? Answer: Chopin. Yes, there are others, and he may not be your first choice (or not your choice at all), but, let’s face it: it’s not really possible to get through a column about concerts in the “season of romance” without mentioning those featuring the works of Chopin. Besides, who would want to? For so many, myself included, it’s gorgeous, seductive, romantic music.

Chopin’s oeuvre consists mostly of solo piano works — nocturnes, waltzes, préludes, études, ballades, impromptus, polonaises and mazurkas, to name some of the most familiar and beloved. In addition, he also wrote two piano concertos, some songs set to Polish texts and a few chamber pieces. This month, we are treated to at least one ballade, waltz and polonaise, two sets of études (12 in each), his set of 24 préludes, a sonata, two scherzos, a chamber work and a concerto. So much Chopin, so little time ... or space.

So let’s get right to it; and don’t forget to check the Quick Picks at the end.

Chopin, not so obviously: Chopin is not the first composer to spring to mind when considering repertoire for a chamber choir known for its historically accurate performances of music from the Baroque and Classical periods. Then again, the Georgetown Bach Chorale is not your average chamber choir. In addition to its innovative choral programming, as part of its season it also offers concerts of orchestral, chamber and solo performances, often involving creative collaborations with guest artists, in unique venues.

Its February 10 and March 3 concerts are a case in point: the first is a 4pm house concert titled “Winter Moods,” and features guest cellist Mary-Katherine Finch and the Chorale’s artistic director/conductor, Ron Greidanus, at the piano, in chamber works by Debussy, Chopin and Prokofiev. Regarding the Chopin “mystery music” (“works by” is all we were told), it’s a safe bet to expect either — or possibly both (there are only two Chopin works for cello and piano) — the Cello Sonata in G Minor, Op.65 and/or the Grand Duo concertant in E Major B70, (written, jointly, with Chopin’s friend, cellist Auguste Franchomme). If that isn’t filling enough, for the $45 in-advance-only ticket, you also get a choice of hot stews, cheeses and homemade bread after the concert. If music — and stews — be the food of love, indeed!

“Relics of the Romantic Era,” on March 3, 8pm, in the quaint Norval United Church, will feature solo works by Chopin performed by guest pianist Matthew Pope, in addition to choral works by Reger, Brahms and Tavener. As stated in its brochure, it has always been a mission of the Chorale “to expand the musical experiences of its listeners.” Judging by these two concerts, clearly it’s “mission accomplished.”

And with that interesting detour out of the way, on to the solo piano music!

Formidable Fialkowska: Celebrated Canadian pianist Janina Fialkowska is a musical force to be reckoned with and a distinguished interpreter of Chopin’s piano works. Along the way, she received some excellent mentoring: after her prize-winning performance at the inaugural Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition, held in Tel Aviv in 1974. Rubinstein, himself, took her under his wing and helped launch her international career. The rest, as they say ... 

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. In 2002, Fialkowska’s hugely successful career was sidetracked by the discovery of a cancerous tumour in her left arm. However, her heroic recovery and successful “two-handed” return to the stage in 2004 — for 18 months, prior, she performed the “left hand” concertos of Ravel and Prokofiev which she adapted for the right hand — is, by now, the stuff of legend and widely documented, so I won’t go on. Besides, as she told the Financial Times’ Andrew Clark in a January 11, 2013 interview, she “hates“ talking about that hiatus in her career, though she recognizes that it “makes a good story” and that it inspires others. Clark adds: “That sense of life regained has transformed her music-making: her playing now has a spirit-of-the-moment freshness and spontaneity that many musicians strive for but few attain.”

That freshness and spontaneity will be on display when Fialkowska graces the stage at two concerts in February: one on Chopin’s birthday, February 22 (yes, March 1 is also often cited), at London’s Aeolian Hall, and the second a day later, on the 23rd, in Waterloo, for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society. Both concerts offer works by Chopin, Grieg and Schubert; the Aeolian concert, however, is another “works by” situation; the “fleshed-out” repertoire provided by the KWCMS suggests what Fialkowska might also play in London (but no guarantees): Schubert’s Four Impromptus D935, Op.posth.142, four Lyric Pieces by Grieg, and the following works by Chopin: Polonaise in E-Flat Minor, Op.26 No.2, Scherzo No.4 in E Major Op.54, Scherzo No.1 in B Minor Op.20, Waltz in A-Flat Major, Op.64 No.3, Mazurka in C Major, Op.56 No.2 and Mazurka in C Minor, Op.56 No.3. If I had my druthers, I’d go to both concerts!

Chopin at noon: While Chopin’s sublime, sensuous music may be tailor-made for late-night listening, who says you can’t enjoy it during daylight hours? This month, as part of its popular free, noon hour Piano Virtuoso Series, the Canadian Opera Company offers two concerts featuring piano works by Chopin. For the first one, “Reflections,” on February 26, pianist Connie Kim-Sheng, a 2010/11 Glenn Gould School Concerto Competition winner, performs Ballade No.3 in A-Flat Major, Op.47; the program also includes the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata No.31 in A-Flat Major, Op.110, Miroirs by Ravel and Rachmaninoff’s Études-Tableaux Op.39 No.5. “Shades of Chopin,” the second concert on February 28, features a young Saskatoon-born pianist, Justin Min, in an all-Chopin program, including the Sonata No.3 in B Minor, Op.58, his final piano sonata. Perfect lunchtime fare!

Études vs. Préludes: One might call it an embarrassment of riches, when two extraordinary pianists are scheduled to perform in recital, on the same day, at basically the same time, with Chopin on both programs, no less. Here’s what’s happening on March 3: at 3pm, Jan Lisiecki, the prodigiously gifted, 17-year-old pianist is performing Chopin’s two sets of 12 Études, Op. 10 and Op. 25, at the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall. And over at Walter Hall, at 3:15pm, the brilliant (and clearly more seasoned) Hung-Kuan Chen is making his Toronto debut in a performance of the 24 Préludes Op.28, for Mooredale Concerts; Chen’s program also includes Mozart’s A Little Gigue in G Major KV574, a fragment from his Suite in C Major KV399, and Schubert’s Sonata in C Minor D958.

Jan Lisiecki is known to, and has dazzled, Toronto audiences; he’s also been featured in the pages of The WholeNote and in video interview at Conversations@TheWholeNote. Hung-Kuan Chen, on the other hand, is new to The WholeNote, so a few more words are warranted.

Taipei-born and raised in Germany, Chen shares more than one thing in common with Janina Fialkowska: both were prize winners of the Rubinstein Piano Master Competition (he in 1983) and both, curiously, experienced serious damage to the tools of their trade and a remarkable recovery from the damage. Chen suffered an injury to his right hand in 1992, that caused neurological damage, resulting, eventually, in focal dystonia, a disorder consisting of confused motor commands. In an article Chen penned, he describes the disorder: “When the brain is sending overly complex and conflicting messages, the commands are conflicting and the fingers become stiff in the process. A fitting visual analogy would be the old style telephone switchboard with tangled-up wires.” Read more about Chen’s journey at focaldystonia.co.uk/#/piano/4563030880.

Like Fialkowska’s, Chen’s return to the stage, in 1998, was met with rave reviews and he has gone on to a celebrated career. A reviewer for the Boston Globe had this to say in 2006: “Hung-Kuan Chen is back in prime technical form ... This man plays music with uncommon understanding and the instrument with uncommon imagination.”

And it is our uncommon good fortune to have the choice between Lisiecki and Chen. Perhaps it will all come down toétudes vs. préludes.

A Little More Love and Romance:
Some Heart-Warming Quick Picks

Feb 01 8:00: Aurora Culture Centre. Great Artist Piano Series:
Chu-Fang Huang, piano
. Haydn, Chopin, Wanghua Chu and others.

Feb 07 8:00: Toronto Masque Theatre. Les Roses de la Vie: A Parisian Soirée. Music by Marais, Couperin, Chopin, Fauré, Debussy, Poulenc, Aznavour and others. Also Feb 8 and 9.

Feb 12 8:00: Music Toronto. Piano Series: Gabriela Montero, piano. Brahms: Three Intermezzos Op.117; Schumann: Fantasie in C Op.17; Montero: improvisations.

Feb 14 8:00: Hart House Orchestra. Violins and Valentine’s Day: A Perfect Match. Schumann: Second Symphony; Beethoven: King Stephen Overture; Copland: Clarinet Concerto.

Feb 14 8:00: LUSH Cello Quartet. An Evening with LUSH Cello Quartet. Love-themed songs and classical works.

Feb 14 8:00: Toronto Concert Orchestra. Love Notes. Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto; Saint Saëns: Suite in D; Gray: Introduction and Autumn Prelude. Christoph Seybold, violin; Kerry Stratton, conductor.

Feb 16 8:00: Kindred Spirits Orchestra. Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn. Beethoven: Overture to Fidelio Op.72c; Schumann: Piano Concerto Op.54; Mendelssohn: Symphony No.3 Op.56 “Scottish.”

Feb 16 8:00: York Symphony Orchestra. Romantic Legends. Tchaikovsky: Polonaise from Eugene Onegin; Romeo and Juliet Overture; Capriccio Italien; Chopin: Piano Concerto No.1; also Feb 17.

Feb 19 8:00: Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Love Will Keep Us Together. Songs by Porter, Berlin, Mancini and others. Betsy Wolfe, soprano; Mike Eldred, tenor; Steven Reineke, conductor. Also Feb 20 (mat and eve).

Feb 24 5:00: Nocturnes in the City. Anna Betka, Piano. Works by Beethoven, Bach, Schumann, Prokofiev and Smetana.

May your hearts be warmed and your senses seduced. Enjoy! 

Sharna Searle trained as a musician and lawyer, practised a lot more piano than law and is listings editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at classicalbeyond@thewholenote.com.

In December, if inclined, one has the option of attending a concert of seasonal music just about every day; and twice on some days. What’s more, each concert offers its own twist on a title (there are no repeats among them), from “Home for the Holidays” and “Joy to the World” to “Yuletide Spectacular” and “Glissandi Christmas,” with several variations on the theme in between. While I’ve chosen to focus on a few, you’ll find a longer list of them in this month’s Quick Picks at the end of the column (not including Messiah; that’s for my Early Music and Choral Scene compadres).

And once we’ve covered December’s festive fare, we’ll have a look at some wonderful concerts with which to begin 2013 in style!

beyondclassical glissandi  left to right  douglas miller  flute  deborah braun  harp  david braun  violin.Home for the Holidays: Its motto, “Music for Life!” says it all. For 14 years, La Jeunesse Youth Orchestra (LJYO) has provided an enriching and stimulating environment for young musicians to be exposed to and perform symphonic repertoire, instilling in these young people an enduring appreciation for music. This careful nurturing — through regular full and sectional rehearsals, a three-concert season, workshops, benefit concerts and educational field trips — will be readily apparent when LJYO presents its 14th annual “Home for the Holidays” concert on Sunday December 2 at 3pm in Port Hope. And, judging by the program, the group has given any number of reasons to “come home” for the holidays: one in particular is special guest, Canadian mezzo extraordinaire, Jean Stilwell, who, in a first for the orchestra, will perform “Ging heut Morgen übers Feld,” from Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer). Stilwell will also sing Carol of the Drum and narrate ’Twas the Night Before Christmas.

Working with world-class musicians like Stilwell is another aspect of the LJYO experience. And having just seen Stilwell’s dazzling performance at this year’s Global Cabaret Festival (with pianist Patti Loach), I’ve no doubt these young orchestra members will remember Stilwell’s Mahler long after the last of the Christmas pudding’s been eaten.

They will also, no doubt, enjoy performing the rest of their holiday program for you, which will include, among several carols, “Carol of the Bells,” Warlock’s Capriol Suite, “Nocturne” from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and “two musical evocations of sleigh rides, by Mozart and Leroy Anderson,” as it was so nicely put in LJYO’s press release. LJYO music director, Michael Lyons, will conduct the orchestra for the evening as it brings it all home.

Joy and a Yuletide Spectacular: Aside from being a favourite Christmas carol, “Joy to the World” is also the title of the Greater Toronto Philharmonic Orchestra’s December 8 concert at Calvin Presbyterian Church. The evening’s program is an interesting one: curiously, the eponymous carol is not listed (though it might turn up in Canadian composer Andrew Ager’s Merry-making: an English Carol-medley —which is). Also featured are Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy Op.80, for piano, chorus and orchestra, with pianist Brett Kingsbury, Harlan’s Christmas Canticles and “Winter” from Glazunov’s music for the ballet The Seasons Op.67. Into its sixth year of innovative programming, the GTPO has invited two guest choirs to join in the joy: Ensemble TrypTych Chamber Choir and the UTSC Concert Choir, both conducted by Lenard Whiting. This eclectic evening of piano, choral and orchestral music gets underway at 8pm.

The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony is presenting its “Yuletide Spectacular” for the fourth year in a row, becoming a newish tradition — a variation on the holiday concerts the KWS featured for many years on its Pops series. And speaking of the Pops, leading the evening is multi-talented Pops conductor Matt Catingub. Saxophonist, pianist, vocalist, arranger, conductor and composer, Catingub has also arranged all the music that will be performed at the three KWS Yuletide concerts. There’s one on December 14 at 8pm and a matinee and an evening show on the 15th; all three concerts are held at Kitchener’s Centre in the Square.

And it looks like things will indeed “pop” given the line-up of guests the KWS has assembled: drummer Steve Moretti (who toured with Catingub and the legendary Rosemary Clooney for six years and recorded two Grammy-nominated CDs with them); the Grand Philharmonic Choir and its Children’s Choir; the Classical Dance Conservatory, dancing to two Christmas medleys; the KWS Youth Orchestra, playing three piecesalongside its parent KWS; and — this just in — A.J. Bridel, the talented Kitchener-born singer who placed third in CBC TV’s recent Over the Rainbow “Dorothy” search. Here’s a mere sampling of what is on the program: selections from A Charlie Brown Christmas, All I Want for Christmas is You, Angelicus and Jingle Bell Rock. And there’s also a sing-along component which will include Joy to the World!

Snowmen: The animated film, The Snowman,which turns 30 on December 26, is a holiday classic beloved by families around the world. Howard Blake’s score, including the film’s one and only song, Walking in the Air, will be performed in two very different settings in December.

On December 9, 3pm, at Roy Thomson Hall, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra will accompany the film (which runs about 25 minutes) live, with Stuart Chafetz conducting. In addition to The Snowman, there’s a full program of seasonal music planned: Herman’s “We Need a Little Christmas,” (from Mame), Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Dance of the Tumblers” from Snegurochka (The Snow Maiden), A Charleston Christmas and Santa’s Smashing Medley are only some of the selections. The guests for the evening bringing it all to life, along with the TSO, are Joseph Pongonthara, treble, Gabriel Gilhula, treble, Michele Ragusa, soprano, Cawthra Park Chamber Choir and the Holiday Dancers. For even more family fun, there will be free art activities with the Avenue Road Arts School at intermission.

I did want to mention, briefly, that two days later, the TSO continues its seasonal celebrations with “A Merry TSO Christmas" (December 11 and 12) and “Barenaked Ladies: Hits & Holiday Songs” (December 14). Both programs include a nod to that other seasonal holiday, Chanukah. Will the “Ladies” sing If I Had A Million Latkes? Oy. See the Quick Picks for dates and times.

Moving from orchestra and concert hall to the intimacy of a chamber trio and a church, The Snowman will reappear on December 21 and 22 (details below), when the Gallery Players of Niagara presents “Glissandi Christmas,” with the trio of Douglas Miller, flute, Deborah Braun, harp, and David Braun, violin, otherwise known as Glissandi! Miller told me that the Niagara-based trio has been performing together for over 18 years and that its “popular Christmas concerts on the Gallery Players series have become an annual event.” Indeed, the Gallery Players and Glissandi have been collaborating at Christmastime since 2007.

Employing the theme “angels and snowmen,” “Glissandi Christmas” 2012 offers a “delightful evening of poems and short stories intertwined with seasonal music for flute, violin and harp.” Regular Glissandi/Gallery Players guest, actor Guy Bannerman, will, once again, be participating. Harpist Braun sketches out how the evening will unfold: “We will be performing traditional carols — Angels We Have Heard On High, Angelus ad Virginem ... Hark the Herald Angels Sing, with a reading or two by Guy Bannerman, then The Snowman score, narrated by Guy, and a few more traditional carols, including a final Frosty the Snowman sing-a-long!” Braun adds that St. Catharines’ Ian Middleton, a member of Chorus Niagara Children’s Choir, will sing Walking in the Air.

Both concerts begin at 7:30pm; on December 21, at Grace United Church, Niagara-on-the-Lake; on the 22nd, at the Fonthill United Church, Fonthill.

A peek at 2013: Some common threads run through a few of the late January and early February listings. So I’ve paired them up as an interesting (and economical) way to introduce them. But first, a quick mention of the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society. The sheer number of concerts this indefatigable group produces each month is astonishing, and January is no exception, with five concerts. On January 12th it’s trios by Mozart, Brahms and Tchaikovsky, and on the 14th, sextets by the latter two, in a concert titled “Ménage à 6”; on the 16th it’s solo piano musicfeaturing four Haydn sonatas and three of the Etudes-Tableaux by Rachmaninoff. The Madawaska String Quartet performs works by Dvořák, Harley and Britten on the 27th, and the Bergmann Piano Duo celebrates Schubert’s birthday on the 31st. Phew! You’ll find the details in the Beyond the GTA concert listings.

Common threads: Brilliant Canadian pianist, Louis Lortie, and a work by Liszt, are what the concerts being presented by the Perimeter Institute and the Royal Conservatory have in common. On January 29, 7:30pm, at the Institute’s Mike Lazaridis Theatre of Ideas in Waterloo, Lortie appears in solo recital. Five days later, on February 3, the Royal Conservatory (in association with Alliance Française de Toronto and Bureau du Québec) presents Lortie with fellow French Canadian pianist, Hélène Mercier, in a program of music for one piano/four hands, and for two pianos. Here’s where it gets interesting: Lortie performs works by Wagner, and Liszt’s Réminiscences de Don Juan in Waterloo; for the RCM et al, (in addition to works by Mozart, Schubert — the sublime Fantasy in F Minor — Ravel and Rachmaninoff), Lortie and Mercier perform Liszt’s later, two-piano version of Réminiscences. Neat, eh? The duo pianists are at Koerner Hall, 8pm.

beyondclassical dali quartet  left to right  carlos rubio  second violin  adriana linares  viola  jesus morales  cello  simon gollo  first violin. photocredit vanessa briceno-scherzerMooredale Concerts and the aforementioned Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society (KWCMS) have a very special common thread running through their consecutive early February concerts: the Dali String Quartet. The members of this captivating quartet – violinists Simón Gollo and Carlos Rubio, violist Adriana Linares and cellist Jesús Morales — are all graduates of Venezuela’s renowned and highly respected El Sistema (referred to in past WholeNote issues), a revolutionary music education program founded in 1975 by economist and musician José Antonio Abreu; Abreu recognized music’s transformative powers and its use as an effective agent of social change. From its humble inception, with 11 students, the volunteer program has since delivered (and continues to deliver) free musical training (instruments included) to hundreds of thousands of impoverished children throughout Venezuela, and now overseas 125 youth orchestras and 31 symphony orchestras. El Sistema has inspired myriad programs around the world, including Sistema-Toronto.

Shining proof of the program’s unparalleled success, members of the Dali Quartet have been trained by world-renowned artists, studied at such esteemed institutions as Indiana University Bloomington, recorded for the likes of Dorian and Naxos and appeared at Carnegie Hall. The Quartet combines the best of both El Sistema and American classical conservatory traditions, offering an enchanting range of traditional string quartet and Latin American repertoire. Like the press release says, its performances “embrace the imagination, excellence and panache of the Quartet’s namesake, the Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali.”

It’s the Dali Quartet’s first time performing in Canada. Both Mooredale and KWCMS are to be commended for delivering them to Toronto and Waterloo audiences. Not surprisingly, both programs will include works by Latin American composers — Amaya, Gardel, Almarán, Villa-Lobos, Valdes — and standard quartet repertoire by Mendelssohn (Mooredale), Mozart and Haydn (KWCMS). Mooredale’s February 3 concert (for the adults) begins at 3:15pm at Walter Hall; earlier at 1:15pm, same venue, the Dali will also perform in Mooredale’s one-hour interactive program for young people ages 6 to 15, “Music & Truffles” (adults welcome). Next day, 8pm, the Dali Quartet performs in the KWCMS Music Room in Waterloo.

That should get you off to a healthy musical start in 2013!

The holiday season is here. The Quick Picks are below. The riches of the listings await you. Raise a glass to good health, to the new year, and enjoy!

CHRISTMAS QUICK PICKS

December 01 3:00: University of Toronto Scarborough. Sounds of the Season. Meeting Place, 1265 Military Trail, Scarborough.

December 08 3:00: Onstage Productions. Sounds of Christmas. Flato Markham Theatre, 171 Town Centre Blvd., Markham. Also at 8:00; also Dec 9(2:30).

December 09 3:00: Guelph Symphony Orchestra. Holiday Classics. River Run Centre, 35 Woolwich St., Guelph.

December 11 8:00: Toronto Symphony Orchestra. A Merry TSO Christmas. Roy Thomson Hall, 60 Simcoe St. Also Dec 12
(mat and eve).

December 14 7:00: Passport Duo. ’Twas the Night Before Christmas. Array Music Studio, 155 Walnut Ave.

December 14 7:30: Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Barenaked Ladies: Hits & Holiday Songs. Roy Thomson Hall, 60 Simcoe St.

December 15 3:30: York Symphony Orchestra. YSO Holiday Spectacular. Trinity Anglican Church, 79 Victoria St., Aurora. Also at 8:00.

December 16 1:30: Oakville Symphony Orchestra. Family Christmas Concert. Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts,
130 Navy St. Oakville. Also at 4:00.

December 16 7:00: Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. Barenaked Ladies: Greatest Hits and Holiday Songs. Centre in the Square,
101 Queen St. N., Kitchener.

December 18 7:30: Kingston Symphony. Candlelight Christmas. St. George’s Cathedral, 270 King St. E., Kingston.
Also Dec 19.

December 23 3:00: Royal Conservatory. Canadian Brass Christmas. Koerner Hall,
273 Bloor St. W. 

Sharna Searle trained as a musician and lawyer, practised a lot more piano than law and is listings editor at The WholeNote. She can be contacted at classicalbeyond@thewholenote.com.

 

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