A quick glance at the Union Jack-based brochure of Toronto Summer Music’s 11th season, “London Calling: Music in Great Britain,” might lead you to expect a bounty of English music, but the more you delve into TSM’s 25 concerts it’s apparent that what the festival is offering is a cornucopia of music that would have been heard in London over the course of three centuries. As artistic director Douglas McNabney told The WholeNote publisher David Perlman in a recent podcast (video at TheWholeNote.com), “We’re celebrating musical life in London…[which] has always been the centre – a Mecca for musicians.” No wonder, since the city was the centre of the immense British Empire.

And this year’s festival, more so than ever, is also a celebration of chamber music; 14 programs fall into that category. But TSM, with its mentors and fellows program, is more than a showcase for top-notch instrumentalists and ensembles like the Parker or Dover Quartets. It offers full scholarships to musicians on the brink of a musical career the opportunity to be mentored by established professionals, and equally important, to participate in concerts with them (the so-called “Chamber Music reGENERATION” series of eight Saturday afternoon recitals and the two Art of Song reGENERATION Friday afternoon concerts).

Classical_2.pngMcNabney has very cleverly taken a handful of 19th-century London concert series and used the conceit to create diverse and satisfying chamber music programs. The Beethoven Quartet Society of 1845, for example, marked the first instance of a complete Beethoven string quartet performance cycle. The acclaimed young American ensemble, the Dover Quartet, who will be launching their own traversal of the Beethoven cycle this fall, will follow the lead of those 19th-century Londoners by including an early, a middle and a late quartet in their program. On July 29 in Walter Hall, they will play Op.18 No.6Op.59 No.3 and Op. 132, making for an unusually rich and sure-to-be illuminating musical evening. Another American quartet, the Parker, whose Naxos recording of the complete Ligeti quartets won them a Grammy, pay tribute to the Musical Union of 1865, a famous concert series of its day, with a program of late Haydn, early Beethoven and late Schubert quartets, July 15.

Of course, there will be English music, beginning with the opening concert July 14, featuring two 20th-century masterpieces, Britten’s sublime Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings and Elgar’s exhilarating Introduction and Allegro for string quartet and orchestra. A second, centred on TSM’s artistic-director-designate, TSO concertmaster and New Orford String Quartet violinist, Jonathan Crow, includes Elgar’s mournfully beautiful Violin Sonata, Bax’s Piano Quartet and Bridge’s Piano Quintet. A third, a homage to the People’s Concert Society (another 19th-century London concert series), showcases TSO principal oboist Sarah Jeffrey, one of TSM’s mentors, in a lively program comprised of Britten’s Phantasy Quartet for Oboe and Strings, Op.2, Bliss’ Oboe Quartet and Vaughan Williams’ Piano Quintet, August 3.

Classical_1.pngTwo compelling pianists, Pedja Muzijevic and Jeremy Denk, will each give what are certain to be fascinating recitals. Muzijevic is back as a mentor this year after a fulfilling session in 2015. As well as being a pianist of impeccable flair, he proved to be an engaging man with a mic in last year’s American Avant-Garde concert, introducing the music and reading from John Cage’s 32 Questions. Both qualities will no doubt be evident in July 19’s Haydn Dialogues, the Walter Hall event in which Muzijevic will discuss Haydn’s London experience (where he wrote two of the three sonatas on the program) and relate Haydn’s work to Cage’s seminal In a Landscape, Knussen’s Sonya’s Lullaby and Berger’s Intermezzo.

Winner of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, Denk brings his keen intellect to everything he does. A gifted writer in addition to being a supreme musician, his New Yorker account of his years as a music student, "Every Good Boy Does Fine," is revealing, moving and a must-read.

The program for his July 21 recital has just been announced; it promises to be imaginative, insightful and engaging, one I won’t miss.

Festival of the Sound

Festival of the Sound’s 37th summer offers an abundance of musical treats to snack on. Each week features several chamber music combinations; the Gryphon Trio, playing Dvořák’s popular Dumky Trio and Schubert’s delightful Trio No.1 D898, shares the stage with the New Zealand String Quartet at 7:30 on July 19 and Moshe Hammer and Peter Longworth at 3:30 the same day; Hammer appears in “Our Favourite Sonatas I” the next day while Longworth accompanies cellist Rolf Gjelsten in a late Beethoven sonata in “Our Favourite Sonatas II” later that day.

Stewart Goodyear brings his penchant for Beethoven to the “Pathétique,” “Moonlight,” “Tempest,” and “Appassionata” sonatas in “My Favourite Beethoven” on July 22. On July 21, he puts on his chamber music hat teaming up with the Penderecki String Quartet and New Zealand String Quartet for Schumann’s Piano Quintet Op.44 and Brahms’ Piano Quintet Op.34.

Classical_3.pngRecent Chopin International Competition second-prize-winner, the gifted Charles Richard-Hamelin, highlights week two, July 28, with two concerts that show off his sensitivity as soloist and collaborator. After playing a Chopin nocturne, ballade and polonaise before intermission, he returns as pianist with the Hochelaga Trio to perform Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A Minor Op.50. Earlier that day, Trio Hochelaga plays Ravel’s gem, Piano Trio in A Minor, in a program that also features the festival’s artistic director, clarinetist James Campbell, oboist James Mason, violinist Martin Beaver, violist Graham Oppenheimer and bassist Joel Quarrington in Prokofiev’s radical nugget, Quintet Op.39. My favourite jazz pianist, Robi Botos, is joined by drummer Terry Clarke and legendary bassist, Dave Young, for “My Favourite Jazz” on July 29.

Week three is dominated by the piano, culminating August 6 in a “Piano Spectacular” celebrating ten years of the ensemble Orford Six Pianos, and concluding with Janina Fialkowska, Bergmann Duo, Anagnoson & Kinton and Glen Montgomery joining the Orford six in Bizet/Wilbert’s Carmen Fantasy for 12 pianists. Duo pianists Anagnoson & Kinton, celebrating 40 years of concertizing together, perform Bartók’s incisive Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion as well as other works, August 2. The notes continue flowing with Fialkowska’s “My Favourite Chopin” on August 5. The festival concludes with Fialkowska joining the National Academy Orchestra for Beethoven’s rhapsodic Piano Concerto No.4 and Anagnoson & Kinton playing Mozart’s Concerto No.10 for Two Pianos. Earlier in the week, August 3, the Lafayette String Quartet, the only all-female quartet still comprised of its original members, celebrates 30 years of togetherness by performing Ravel and Dvořák.

Stratford Summer Music

The piano is consistently a major focus of Stratford Summer Music, and 2016 is no exception. Simone Dinnerstein, who famously self-produced her refreshing take on Bach’s Goldberg Variations and then saw it become immensely popular, will perform the piece July 23 at 11am. The prior afternoon she will give a Bach master class to three promising young pianists in what could turn out to be an unforgettable experience for student and audience alike. Each student is well-known in the piano competition world: Anastasia Rizikov, now 16, is a veteran of the concert stage; Toronto-based, Russian-born Vladimir Soloviev is the most-decorated student in the history of the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario; Charissa Vandikas, 18, is a top student at the Glenn Gould School. Dinnerstein begins her visit to Stratford, July 21, with a program devoted to a selection of Glass’ Metamorphoses and Etudes paired with Schubert Impromptus Op.90 and his immortal Sonata in B-Flat D960.

Two other young veterans of international piano competitions, Tony Yike Yang and Luca Buratto, make their Stratford debuts. Yang, at 16 the youngest prizewinner in the history of the Chopin International Piano Competition, will bring his immense technique and precocious interpretative sensibility to a demanding program of Mozart, Chopin, the formidable Liszt Sonata in B Minor and Prokofiev’s dramatic Sonata No.7, August 3. Two weeks later, Buratto, the most recent Honens Prize-winner, brings his “fiery imagination and finesse” to works by Schumann and Beethoven.

Now 21, the redoubtable Jan Lisiecki continues on his path to the upper reaches of the pianistic universe. His recital on August 26 includes works by Bach, Rachmaninov and Chopin. The following afternoon, he will play Schubert’s final Four Impromptus, Schumann’s Klavierstücke Op.32 and Chopin’s Nocturnes Op. 48 and Scherzo No.1 in B Minor Op. 20. These will be Lisiecki’s only local recital appearances this season. Don’t miss this chance.

Festival de Lanaudière

The 39th season of the Festival de Lanaudière is a tribute to its founder, Father Fernand Lindsay who was especially fond of Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Berlioz and Tchaikovsky, so the festival has taken special care to invite music lovers to discover the many works of those composers to be featured this summer. About an hour’s drive northeast of Montreal, the festival is well-suited for a holiday excursion. Since many of the festival’s artists don’t normally make the trip to Toronto, it’s all the more reason to travel to Joliette, Quebec.

JUNO Award-winner, pianist  Alain Lefèvre opens the festival with Tchaikovsky’s uber-romantic Piano Concerto No.1 on July 9. The Jupiter String Quartet, quartet-in-residence at the University of Illinois and a tightly knit family unit (the cellist is married to the second violinist who is the sister of the violist), are undertaking a cycle of the complete Beethoven string quartets at the festival, beginning this summer with concerts July 11 (Nos.6, 11, 15), 12 (Nos.4, 5, 13) and 14 (3, 16, 8). Angèle Dubeau leads her all-female string ensemble, La Pietà, in “The Mark of Minimalism,” a July 10 concert comprised of music by Glass, Einaudi, Mozetich, Nyman, Goulet and Pärt.

The eminent English violinist, Anthony Marwood, is the soloist in Beethoven’s ageless Violin Concerto Op.61, with Les Violons du Roy conducted by Bernard Labadie, July 15. “Child Prodigy” Tony Yike Yang gets a chance to perfect the program he will be playing in Stratford, August 3, when he performs it in Lanaudière on July 19. Silver medal winner in the 2015 Tchaikovsky International Competition, American George Li’s recital includes sonatas by Haydn and Chopin (No.2), Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme by Corelli and two crowdpleasers by Liszt. Armenian-born pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, the winner of the 2008 Montreal International Musical Competition, performs an unusual program on July 26 – Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre, Liszt’s Totentanz and three of his transcriptions of songs by Schubert and Mozart. The innovative ensemble, collectif9, plays Golijov, Brahms, Piazzolla and others on July 29.

The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal led by Kent Nagano begin the festival’s final weekend August 5 accompanying Charles Richard-Hamelin in Brahms’ fiery Piano Concerto No.1 and unlocking the many strains of Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 “Rhenish.” August 6, the orchestra performs two of the most famous unfinished works in the musical canon, Schubert’s Symphony No.8 “Unfinished” and Mozart’s Requiem, an ideal pairing for an outdoor concert. The 39th season concludes with local hero Yannick Nézet-Séguin and his Orchestre Métropolitain in a program that pays homage to the conductor’s Philadelphia Orchestra post. All four pieces were commissioned by that orchestra: Bach/Stokowski’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor BWV582; Rachmaninoff’s magical Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Op. 43 and Symphonic Dances Op. 45; and Nico Muhly’s Mixed Messages. There are no mixed messages in the Festival de Lanaudière, simply a love of music that exists to be shared in the warmth of a summer day or evening.

Clear Lake Chamber Music Festival

Under the direction of pianist Alexander Tselyakov, the 11th annual Clear Lake Chamber Music Festival makes for a lovely Manitoba weekend July 21 to 24. The concerts are filled with quality (Tselyakov playing Ravel’s devilish Gaspard de la Nuit and participating in Dvořák’s great Piano Quintet in A No.2 Op.81 in the opener) and diversity (Tselyakov collaborating with Kerry DuWors and Joyce Lai,  violins and Simon Fryer, cello, in sonatas by Handel, Saint-Saëns and Prokofiev and Three Madrigals by Martinů). An appealing Saturday morning concert July 23 precedes the finale July 24 in which Schubert, Dvořák and Schumann are the featured composers.

Music and Beyond

There’s an unmistakable European flavour to this year’s Music and Beyond festival (which runs from July 4 to 17 in Ottawa) with the dynamic Utrecht String Quartet performing Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Piazzolla on July 7 and the joyous Vienna Piano Trio in for three concerts July 7, 8 and 9. It’s worth a drive to the nation’s capital to hear these remarkably adept musicians perform all three of Brahms’ piano trios as well as works by Shostakovich, Haydn, Ravel and Cerha.


TSO: June 4, 5. Emanuel Ax-protege Orion Weiss performs Gershwin’s immortal Rhapsody in Blue. Andrew Grams conducts. June 9, 10, 11: James Ehnes performs Elgar’s beloved Violin Concerto; Peter Oundjian offers orchestral support and leads the TSO in Stravinsky’s revolutionary The Rite of SpringJune 11: The TSO Chamber Soloists led by Jonathan Crow give a pre-concert performance of Stravinsky’s bedevilling suite from L’Histoire du soldat. A full version of the piece takes place at the Hearn Generating Station as part of Luminato, June 18.

A significant serving of Beethoven is on order June 15 and 16 with Oundjian leading the orchestra in the composer’s Eroica Symphony and accompanying the thoughtful Yefim Bronfman in Piano Concerto No.3. June 18 Oundjian takes his forces to the Hearn for Beethoven’s rousing Symphony No.5 and Gershwin’s danceable An American in Paris.

June 21: Nine Sparrows presents a free concert with flutist (and WholeNote chairman of the board) Allan Pulker.

June 30: Summer Music in the Garden presents the Cecilia String Quartet playing Mozart’s String Quartet K.590 and Kati Agócs’ Tantric Variations.

July 16: Alexander Tselyakov and friends warm up for Clear Lake with a concert presented by Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society.

Aug 15: Music Mondays presents “Surrealism at Midday” with pianist Anastasia Rizikov performing works by Liszt, Ravel and Scriabin.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.


“Maisky’s supercharged style of playing grabs you by the collar. He can be strong, passionate and powerful – but he can also make love to you with a pianissimo…like Rostropovich, Maisky’s playing is all about the heart and the soul.” 

Julian Lloyd Webber, The Guardian, January 2012.

Classical_1.jpgFacts you may not know about Mischa Maisky. Born in Latvia, educated in the Soviet Union, he now considers himself a citizen of the world. (He lives in Belgium, his four children were each born in different countries; his cello is Italian, its strings German, its bow French) He found it odd that people once referred to him as a “Russian cellist,” since in the Soviet Union he wasn’t considered to be Russian at all. “I was a Jew, which was made clear in my Soviet passport: ‘Nationality: Jewish.’ Very few people in the West realize that this is how Jews were treated in the Soviet Union.”

He is the only cellist to have studied with both Gregor Piatigorsky and Mstislav Rostropovich. Two months before Pablo Casals died, Maisky, then 25, played the Bach Suite No.2 in D Minor for him in August of 1973, in an Israeli hotel suite in front of Casals, his wife Martita, Isaac Stern, Leonard Rose, Eugene Istomin and Alexander Schneider.  Maisky has recorded the Bach solo cello suites three times, most recently for Deutsche Grammophon in 1999.

In an International Cello Society interview with Tim Janof in 2007, Maisky expanded on that historic meeting with Casals:

“Perhaps the most frightening thing was to play Bach for him. [In addition to the second suite, Maisky played the Sonata No.3 in G Minor BWV1029 with his brother on piano.] Frankly, I was a bit depressed by his reaction. ‘Young man, I personally don’t think that what you do has anything to do with Bach. However, you are so convinced by what you do, that it actually sounds very convincing.’ Isaac Stern calmed  me down afterwards during lunch, saying that he thought I had received the highest compliment a young cellist could receive from Casals. I now prefer to take what he said as a compliment. I certainly didn’t play Bach like him, as if anybody could, and I was never one to imitate anybody, so I’m not surprised by his reaction. Lately, however, I’ve come to realize just how much I have been influenced by his recording of the Bach Suites, which I have listened to repeatedly since I was a teenager.”

Later in the conversation with Janof, Maisky talked about his view of Bach as a romantic:

“Some people think my Bach is too romantic, which I take as a compliment. I believe that Bach was one of the greatest romantics of all times. One shouldn’t forget that in addition to his wonderful music, he had 20 children. Otto Klemperer was once told that it was discovered one shouldn’t play Bach with vibrato, to which he replied, ‘Huh? Twenty children and no vibrato?’

“I realize this may seem odd, but I don’t consider Bach’s music to be baroque. I believe calling Bach a ‘baroque composer’ is an insult to his genius because he was much, much larger than this. People such as Bach cannot be categorized so easily and those who try to do so are diminishing him and his accomplishments, not to mention that such a label doesn’t begin to capture his essence. In addition to being one of the great intellects of all time, he was a passionate human being who I’m sure loved great food and drink. I agree with Pablo Casals when he said that there is no emotion known to human beings that is not in Bach’s music. It’s all in there and we just have to dig deep enough to find and express it.”

Maisky falls clearly into the romantic camp as his Horowitz reference shows:

“Vladimir Horowitz once said that ‘all music is romantic,’ and I couldn’t agree more. Playing romantically means playing with feeling and emotion, and of course people in the 18th century felt things just as deeply as we do today. I don’t mean to imply that one should play Bach like Shostakovich, I’m just saying that Bach was so far ahead of his time that he’s probably spinning in his grave as he watches us trying to go back 300 years. To regress in our approach is to go against his own mentality and his own progressiveness. He was such an innovative and experimental person by nature that he would be appalled if he were to see how we argue amongst ourselves about how to play his music ‘correctly.’”

Later Maisky defends his idea of Bach:

“His music is full of invention and experimentation. Just look at the last cello suite, which he wrote for a five-string instrument, or look at the variety in the Well-Tempered Clavier. I have no doubt that if somebody were to give him a modern bow, he would be thrilled to explore its possibilities. I strongly disagree with those who insist that Bach must be played a certain way. There is plenty of room for different approaches and it’s the variety of ideas about all sorts of things, not just in music, that makes life so interesting.”

Before Maisky performed at Roy Thomson Hall with the Moscow Soloists and Yuri Bashmet on May 3, 2012, he appeared on Classical 96.3 FM, where he likened Bach’s Cello Suites to a great diamond which can shine differently depending on which way you look at it; he called the study of the suites a neverending process.

Maisky makes no secret of the fact that he listens to other cellists. At the time of the Janof interview he had more than 45 recordings of the Bach Suites, all of which he listened to, some of them several times. Listening to recordings in general is something he likes to do; listening to his own recordings gives him a sense of where he’s gone developmentally. And he likes to hear live music when he can. “I believe very strongly that one can find something valuable in any performance, even if I don’t agree with the interpretation or if mistakes are made.”

After studying with Rostropovich for four years (from 18 to 22), Maisky spent 18 months in a labour camp, “shovelling cement, building Communism, obviously unsuccessfully,” as he says sarcastically in an interview from the Verbier Festival in 2012. Then, to avoid military service, he had a friendly Jewish psychiatrist place him in a mental hospital for two months, after which he followed his sister to Israel and “repatriation.” Maisky attributes the curtailment of his concertizing and other musical activities, as well as the trumped-up charge that landed him in the labour camp, to his older sister’s move to Israel in 1969, a move the Soviet authorities were convinced (rightly as it turned out) Maisky would also make.

When Maisky asked Rostropovich for advice (before he left the Soviet Union) as to what future musical path to follow, Rostropovich told him that there are two major cello schools, one Russian and one French, and since he had already tried Russian, he should try French.  “I prodded him for a more specific recommendation and he said, ‘This is really difficult. Maréchal is dead. Fournier doesn’t teach. Navarra teaches much too much. Tortelier is a genius but a bit too crazy for you. Gendron, hmmm, it’s not that good anymore. You know what? The best French I can recommend is Piatigorsky.’ This was funny because Piatigorsky was a Jew from Russia living in California. His only French connection was his wife, who was the daughter of Baron de Rothschild. ‘Piatigorsky is the only one I could wholeheartedly recommend. He’s a great cellist, a great musician, a great personality, and so on.’”

Maisky’s career revived in Israel where he played seven concerts with the Israel Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta, Andrew Davis and Daniel Barenboim. “Mehta was very friendly with Piatigorsky and he recommended that I go to him as well. He said, ‘You have the time and he’s not young and he’s not healthy. You never know how long he will be around, so go. You will never regret it.’ And so I went to Piatigorsky [in 1974, for four months] and I’ve never regretted it, though I must confess that my career could have gone in a completely different direction had I listened to Isaac Stern’s advice, who told me to go to New York instead of Los Angeles.

“I went to Piatigorsky’s USC masterclass twice a week and I played for him at his house almost every day, each time playing a different piece. I must have played at least a hundred different works for him in four months. After our private lessons we would play chess, since we were both passionate about the game. Then we went for long walks and talked about all sorts of things, and not just music. It has been over 30 years since Piatigorsky died, and I still feel his presence in the sense that I am still digesting his ideas and feeding on the positive energy he directed my way.”

Mischa Maisky will perform Bach’s Solo Cello Suites Nos.1, 4 and 5 at 4pm and Bach’s Solo Cello Suites 2, 3 and 6 at 8pm, May 7 in Koerner Hall.

Classical_2.jpgThe TSO: The TSO’s season shows no sign of letting up, even as it enters its penultimate month. May 4 and 5 violinist Leila Josefowicz continues her championing of contemporary music in Scheherazade.2, John Adams’ riff on Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Peter Oundjian also leads the orchestra in Brahms’ seminal Symphony No.4. May 13 and 15 Julian Rachlin is the soloist in Mozart’s irresistible Violin Concerto No.5 K219 “Turkish,” written when the composer was 19. But the evening’s major attraction will be Shostakovich’s Symphony No.13 “Babi Yar,” the composer’s setting of five poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, including the searing indictment of anti-Semitism, Babi Yar. Conductor Andrey Boreyko is joined by bass soloist Petr Migunov and the basses of the Amadeus Choir and Elmer Iseler Singers. TSO Conductor Laureate, Andrew Davis, returns to the podium May 25 to conduct Richard Strauss’ vivid musical travelogue, An Alpine Symphony. May 26 and 28 the program expands to include Janácek’s Taras Bulba, Elgar’s Sospiri and Ives’ “Decoration Day,” the first installment of the Decades Project 1910-1919.  June 1 and 2 Basque conductor Juanjo Mena takes up the baton as the Decades Project 1910-1919 continues with Granados’ famous Intermezzo from Goyescas, Nielsen’s imposing Violin Concerto (featuring Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto) and Ravel’s impassioned Daphnis et Chloé.


May 5: When Honens laureate Pavel Kolesnikov appeared in Toronto last year as part of the Piano Extravaganza, he revealed that he had Chopin specialist Maria João Pires as a mentor. Now he returns to conclude the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto season with a pleasingly packed program that includes two sonatas by C.P.E. Bach, Beethoven’s Sonata No.30 Op.109 and a Chopin selection of Nocturnes, Mazurkas and Scherzo No.4.

May 6: The always interesting group of 27 downsizes for their final concert of 2015/16: Jocelyn Morlock’s duet for violin and viola, Blue Sun; Nielsen’s ingratiating Wind Quintet; and Schubert’s String Trio D.471.

May 7: Wunderkind Leonid Nediak (b. 2003) is the soloist in Rachmaninov’s romantic masterpiece, his Piano Concerto No.2 Op.18 with the Kindred Spirits Orchestra, conducted by Kristian Alexander. Alexander told me last month that “Leonid is a great communicator, able to unlock the emotional content of the piece and unfold the storyline of the composition. He also has a reach and versatile palette of colours, natural sense of phrasing and flawless energy flow.” Interestingly, Nediak’s teacher, Michael Berkovsky, is the collaborative pianist May 16, when Music Mondays present the Flautas del Fuego flute duo. May 22 Berkovsky then joins violinist Conrad Chow at the George Weston in Piazzolla’s intoxicating Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. And Music Mondays continues May 23 with Schubert’s marvellous “Trout” Piano Quintet in A Major D667.

May 8: Best title of the month,Sweetwater Music Festival presents Few & Fewer, featuring artistic director Mark Fewer on violin and Guy Few on trumpet, along with pianist Stephanie Mara in a crowd-pleasing Mother’s Day program: Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen, Puccini’s Morire, Saint-Saëns’ Sonata in D Minor, Op. 75, Three Preludes by Gershwin and ’Round Midnight by Thelonius Monk.

May 12: The Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents Boston-based Irina Muresanu in a solo violin recital, “Four Strings Around the World,” featuring music by Prokofiev, Enescu, Paganini, Kreisler, O’Connor, Piazzolla and more. May 20, the K-WCMS brings the Xia Quartet (Edmonton Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Robert Uchida, TSO violinist Shane Kim, TSO assistant principal viola, Theresa Rudolph, and TSO principal cello, Joseph Johnson) to their music room in program of Schubert, Bartók, Debussy and John McPherson.

May 15: The Windermere Quartet’s latest recital includes Schubert’s greatest quartet, Quartet in D Minor D. 810 “Death and the Maiden.”

May 16: Xia Quartet members cellist Joseph Johnson, violinist Shane Kim and violist Theresa Rudolph put on their TSO hats when they join concertmaster Jonathan Crow and pianist Angela Park for an Associates of the TSO concert that includes music by Dohnányi, Schumann and Prokofiev.

May 18: Toronto Summer Music artistic director Douglas McNabney previews TSM’s upcoming “London Calling: Music in Great Britain” program with a COC free noontime concert at the Richard Bradshaw Ampitheatre.

May 21 Shannon Mercer, soprano, Andrew Burashko, piano. Yehonatan Berick, violin, and Rachel Mercer, cello, perform Shostakovich’s Trio No.2 and Seven Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok Op.127 in Hamilton’s 5 at the First Chamber Music series’ final concert of the season.

May 26: James Ehnes brings his 40th Birthday Tour to London under the auspices of Jeffery Concerts. Four days later, May 26, he and his collaborative pianist, Andrew Armstrong,  continue the tour for Bravo Niagara!

May 29 and 30: The Canzona Chamber Players present two pillars of the chamber music repertoire, Beethoven’s Septet in E-Flat Major Op.20 and Schubert’s Octet in F Major D803.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

BBB-Classical1.jpgBorn at the height of the Cold War in 1958, the International Tchaikovsky competition (held every four years, most recently in 2015) has a checkered history, beginning with its first winner, the American Van Cliburn. Conceived by the Soviet regime to celebrate the pre-eminence of its own musicians in a contest that welcomed contenders from around the world, Cliburn’s first-place finish (the jury included Shostakovich, Richter and Gilels) was acclaimed by music lovers in Moscow and the West. Last year’s competition likely produced the biggest surprise since 1958, although it wasn’t the winner, Dmitry Masleev, a by-the-book Russian.

Lucas Debargue: The surprise was an unheralded Frenchman, Lucas Debargue, who swept through the first two rounds captivating audiences and critics with his playing. Seymour Bernstein (Seymour: An Introduction) was so moved, he sent an email to his list of followers celebrating Debargue’s artistry: “First, the Medtner is unbelievable! But I doubt that anyone will ever hear Ravel’s Gaspard performed like this. The French pianist Lucas Debargue must be in another world. Simply the most miraculous playing. Perhaps because of this alone he may win the competition.”

 Reportedly, though, Debargue faltered in the final round concerto performances (he had limited experience in playing with an orchestra) and was awarded Fourth Prize. More importantly, the Moscow Music Critics Association bestowed their top honours on him, and SONY signed the 25-year-old pianist to a record contract.

And now Show One impresario, Svetlana Dvoretsky, has had the acumen to bring him to Toronto! In what promises to be one of the most exciting events of the season, Debargue and fellow Tchaikovsky winner, Lukas Geniušas, will give a unique, joint recital at Koerner Hall, April 30.

(Debargue’s first CD – which he chose to record live in Paris’ Salle Cortot to preserve a sense of risk and spontaneity – with works by Scarlatti, Chopin, Liszt, Ravel (Gaspard de la nuit), Grieg, Schubert and his own variation on a Scarlatti sonata has just been released. In a brief sampling, I was struck by the ethereal quality in his playing of Scarlatti’s K208/L238 Sonata and the breathtaking articulation of K24/L495. He made K132/L457 his own, ruminative, other-worldly. K141/L422 was Horowitz-like but with fresh emphases. He also found the melancholic quality of Grieg’s Melody from Lyric Pieces Book III and brought an exquisite elegance to Schubert’s familiar Moment Musical Op.94.)

If Debargue’s backstory weren’t true, few would believe it as fiction. He heard the slow movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21 K467 when he was ten, fell under its spell and into the world of music. He played a friend’s upright piano by ear before beginning lessons at 11 with his first teacher, Madame Meunier, in the northern French town of Compiègne. He credits her with helping him to find his way as an artist, but when he moved to Paris to study literature at Diderot University – yes, he learned English by reading Joyce’s Ulysses – he stopped playing piano (“I had no great guide, no one to share great music with,” he told the BBC), using the bass guitar as a musical outlet. After being away from the piano for years, he accepted an invitation to a competition in his home province. He won and began an intense pupil-teacher relationship with Rena Sherevskaya in Paris at 21.

In a recent interview Debargue gave the German magazine Crescendo right after he recorded his second solo album in Berlin, he was asked if he is living differently now, after the competition: “Externally everything’s changed but internally not. I’m looking for the clarity in my interpretation and I always feel that I need to progress. I’ve always had it that way. It is far more difficult for me to put up with many people around me than to concentrate on the music. Music gives me a new strength.”

Just a few days before his March 24 Paris recital, Debargue graciously took the time to answer a few of my questions via email. His answers were brief, to the point and illuminating:

What is your goal as an interpreter of music?

To find out and then keep as much as possible the spirit of the music I play. Let it live and reach the listener by being clear and expressive.

Which pianists from the past or the present do you especially admire? And why?

Horowitz: for his boldness and freedom. Sofronitsky: for his boldness and freedom. Gould: for his boldness and freedom. I strongly think that no other pianist reached the dimension of Rachmaninov’s playing though. Sokolov and Pletnev are my favorite living pianists. But how can one forget Art Tatum, Monk, Powell and Erroll Garner? Speaking strictly about piano playing they’re the best so far. [Debargue is also a jazzer who’s played clubs in Paris; his Ravinia Festival appearance in August will see him give one classical and one jazz recital on the same day.]

(I asked about two pieces on his Toronto program.) What is your approach to playing Gaspard de la nuit?  

Live it from the inside after having found the right tempo and sound for each note.

And Scriabin’s Sonata No.4?

It’s music of fantasy and terror but one has to be very precise in choosing the right pictures and dynamics for each episode.

Lukas Geniušas: Coming from a musical family, headed by his grandmother, Vera Gornostaeva, a well-known Russian pedagogue, Lukas Geniušas took a more conventional path to his second-place Tchaikovsky finish, which followed second place in the 2010 Chopin Competition. Geniušas, like Debargue, is just 25 years old and also took time to answer my email questions. He told me that his grandmother’s importance in his musical life “both early and current is impossible to overrate.” It went beyond the bounds of music in building a foundation for the overall comprehension of art.

Geniušas told me that he has three goals as an interpreter of music: to create his own personal interpretations without harming the composer’s intentions; to seek moments of spiritual presence in a concert; and to pass on traditions that were passed on to him by his teachers.

He told me that he grew up admiring Richter and Michelangeli. “Somehow, intuitively, I have chosen them to be my favourites among many others whom I listened to on CD and DVD (yes, before YouTube!),” he said. “Their playing still appears to me the most complex, multi-layered and profound. Out of contemporary pianists, I would point to Radu Lupu, Zoltan Kocsis and Boris Berezovsky, who mostly capture my attention.”

When I asked him about his approach to Prokofiev’s Sonata No.7 and the seven Chopin mazurkas he will play in Toronto he told me that he first played Chopin mazurkas under his grandmother’s supervision when he was 11 or 12. He spoke of them as “little jewels” that were like a diary, about how a traditional Polish dance reveals “some of the most intimate shades of feelings” as embodied by Chopin, and how this music was a “particular side” of the teaching experience of his grandmother’s teacher, Henry [Heinrich] Neuhaus, who taught Richter, Gilels and Lupu, among many others from 1922 to 1964.

He called the Prokofiev Sonata No.7 one of the central pieces of 20th-century piano music: flawless in form, matchless in its violent brutality inspired by the outrage of WWII. Instead of taking a stormy virtuosic approach that may mislead the listener with flashy tricks, Geniušas prefers an articulated rendering that conveys its depth of meaning.

With eight CDs to his credit already, Geniušas’ path to an international career is well on its way. The Guardian wrote of his recent Southbank recital that he “plays with a prizewinner’s brilliance, yet with a mature ability to recreate a work’s architecture, and an expressiveness that doesn’t overtly draw attention to itself.” I can’t wait to hear him play the two-piano version of Ravel’s La valse with Debargue, the final piece of their Koerner Hall concert.

Geniušas has been in Toronto before: he came last December (and will return in April) to play for Dmitry Kanovich’s Looking at the Stars project that brings professional musicians to unusual venues. “This experience sweeps beyond words,” he said. “I never expected that performing in hospitals, shelters and jails could be so emotional and inspiring.”

Leonid Nediak: A student of Michael Berkovsky, Leonid Nediak (b. 2003) already has extensive concert experience. (He made his debut with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra under Kent Nagano in February 2014.)  The grand prize winner of the 2013 and 2014 Canadian Music Competition, both times receiving the highest marks ever awarded in this event, Nediak makes his TSO debut next January playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.27 K595 under the baton of Peter Oundjian. At the recent announcement of the TSO’s 2016/17 season, Nediak played Rachmaninov’s Prelude in G Minor, a performance that touched all who were there. If you want to get a sense of this wunderkind before next January, there are two contrasting opportunities in the next few weeks. On Apr 16, Nediak joins with Norman Reintamm and the Cathedral Bluffs Symphony in Beethoven’s kinetic Piano Concerto No.3 Op.37. On May 7, he is the soloist in Rachmaninov’s romantic masterpiece, his Piano Concerto No.2 Op.18, with the Kindred Spirits Orchestra, conducted by Kristian Alexander, the second time Nediak has appeared with this Markham-based ensemble. (In 2014, they performed Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.1 Op.11 together.) In an email exchange, Alexander told me that Nediak played the first movement of the Rachmaninov concerto at a Kindred Spirits audition in 2014. “Leonid played very well, with the right balance of musicality, expression and technique. His performance was convincing and offered qualities that resonated with my interpretational concept about the piece,” he said, explaining the origin of the May 7 concert. Their Chopin collaboration came about just after that audition – Nediak already had it in his repertoire -- and “Leonid’s approach to Chopin’s melodic line was free-spirited and fresh and required a much higher level of elasticity and flexibility from the orchestra than usual.”

Describing Nediak’s qualities as a pianist, Alexander said: “Leonid is a great communicator, able to unlock the emotional content of the piece and unfold the storyline of the composition. He also has a reach and versatile palette of colours, natural sense of phrasing and flawless energy flow.”


Royal Conservatory: Young organ virtuoso Cameron Carpenter brings his contemporary sensibility to Koerner Hall Apr 1. (Two days later, Apr 3, he moves his new custom-designed organ to the Isabel in Kingston, where, four days later, on  ABBB-Classical2.jpgpr 7, the Korean-born Minsoo Sohn, will give a live version of his acclaimed recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations). Continuing with the Royal Conservatory, legendary pianist/conductor/teacher/mentor, Leon Fleisher, conducts the Royal Conservatory Orchestra, Apr 8. On Apr 12, the current crop of Rebanks Family Fellows performs a free concert (tickets required) in Mazzoleni Hall; on Apr 19, another free concert there is an opportunity to gauge the future as the Glenn Gould School presents its Chamber Music Competition Finals.   

Syrinx presents Ensemble Made in Canada Apr 3 playing piano quartets by Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Omar Daniel at the Heliconian Club. The following week Ensemble Made in Canada travels to Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society for a double dose, Apr 8 and 9, including more Beethoven, Schumann and John Burge as well as the three pieces the group are doing in Toronto. The group’s cellist Rachel Mercer returns to KWCMS Apr 24 as part of Ménage á six, in a program of string trios by Dohnányi and Schubert along with Brahms’ Sextet No.1. And May 3 Till Fellner (whom I profiled in the March 2015 issue of The WholeNote) also returns to the Narvesons’ house in Waterloo – that “amazing place” – for a recital of works by Schumann, Berio and Beethoven.  

The Cecilia String Quartet is joined by James Campbell at U of T’s Walter Hall for a performance of Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet, a cornerstone of the clarinet repertoire, Apr 4. Sunday, May 1 at 11am, the Cecilia invites children on the autism spectrum and their families to the next in its series of free Xenia Concerts. The one-hour performance, “Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms by the Numbers,” takes place in the Sony Centre’s lower lobby performance space.

The COC orchestra’s top two violinists, Marie Bérard and Aaron Schwebel, give a free noontime concert featuring music by Ysaÿe and Leclair, in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Apr 5.

Music Toronto: Apr 5, Duo Turgeon, husband-and-wife duo pianists, perform a heavyweight program that includes a new arrangement of Ravel’s Second Suite from Daphnis and Chloe by Vyacheslav Gryaznov, Lutoslawski’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini and Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn. Music Toronto is well-known as the hub of string quartet concerts in this city, for bringing the world’s finest ensembles to the intimacy and congeniality of the Jane Mallett Theatre. On Apr 14, Music Toronto’s current season closes with the Berlin-based Artemis Quartet’s highly anticipated Toronto debut.

The TSO: Danish conductor Thomas Søndergård and Swiss pianist Francesco Piemontesi make their TSO debuts, Apr 6 and 8, with Sibelius’ cyclic, texturally rich Symphony No.1 Op.39 and Beethoven’s poetic Piano Concerto No.4 Op.58. Associates of the TSO present the Halcyon String Quartet (TSO principal and associate principal second violins, Paul Meyer and Wendy Rose, and TSO violist Kent Teeple and cellist Marie Gélinas) playing Schoenberg and Mendelssohn, Apr 11. Angela Hewitt remounts her Bach hobbyhorse to perform two keyboard concertos, BMV1052 and 1056 on Apr 13 and 14. (On Apr 16, only BMV1052 will be played.) Peter Oundjian accompanies Ms. Hewitt on all three days and leads the orchestra in Shostakovich’s Symphony No.8 Op.65, written in the shadow of  the horror of  WWII. The exciting composer/conductor Matthias Pintscher follows a performance of his own work, towards Osiris, with Mahler’s perpetually positive Symphony No.1 “The Titan” on Apr 28 and 30. Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan is the soloist in Mozart’s dark-hued Piano Concerto No.24 K491.

WMCT:  The Women’s Musical Club of Toronto showcases the eminent violist Steven Dann, his family and friends, Joel Quarrington and Jamie Parker, in an eclectic recital dubbed  “Dannthology,” on Apr 7. Their 118th season concludes on May 5 with a crowd-pleasing program by Honens Laureate, Pavel Kolesnikov.

The Blythwood Winds’ program on Apr 7 “explores the musical geography of continental Europe, contrasting old-school German romanticism with the French school of the early 20th century.”

In an intriguing concert at Alliance Française Toronto on Apr 8, Belgian pianist Olivier de Spiegeleir, plays works by Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and Schubert that the movies made even more famous.

In the third concert of a Beethoven String Quartet Cycle that concludes next season, Jeffery Concerts presents the Pacifica Quartet, quartet-in-residence at Indiana University, performing the master’s youthful Op.18 Nos.4 and 6 and the incomparable Op.59 No.1 (“Razumovsky”) on Apr 8.

Apr 9, one day after the Conservatory Orchestra’s concert, the U of T Symphony Orchestra (led by Uri Mayer) performs two masterpieces of the orchestral canon, Brahms’ Symphony No.3 and Shostakovich’s Symphony No.5.

Gallery 345 presents the indefatigable cellist, Rachel Mercer, in a solo concert, Apr 13. On Apr 15, the versatile violinist, Andréa Tyniec, joins forces with the sensitive collaborative pianist, Todd Yaniw, in a wide-ranging program of works by Sokolović, Ysaÿe, Piazzolla, Franck and Brahms.    

The dynamic Eric Paetkau leads the Hamilton Philharmonic in Elgar’s ineffable Serenade for Strings and Tchaikovsky’s eternal Symphony No.4 on Apr 16.

Mooredale Concerts presents the infectious Afiara String Quartet in works by Haydn, Mendelssohn and Dvořák (where they will be joined by the redoubtable bassist Joel Quarrington) on Apr 17.

Finally, don’t let this under-the-radar concert presented by Music at St. Andrew’s/Austrian Embassy/Austrian Cultural Forum slip by. Austrian cellist, Friedrich Kleinhapl, and German pianist, Andreas Woyke, bring their romantic European sensibility to Mendelssohn, Franck, Beethoven, Piazzolla and Gade, Apr 22. Steve Smith wrote this about their September 2009 NYC recital: “Mr. Kleinhapl and Mr. Woyke supported their idiosyncratic vision of Beethoven with unimpeachable virtuosity and a thrilling unanimity of spirit. The intensity with which they listened and responded to each other’s impetuous gestures was its own reward, but they also shed new light on these familiar pieces.”

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Classical_Banner.jpg2106-Classical_1.pngThe youthful and adventurous Danish Ensemble Midtvest (EMV) makes its Canadian debut, March 13, as part of Mooredale Concerts’ current season. Mooredale’s artistic director, cellist Adrian Fung told me via email how he first met the group: “My Afiara Quartet tours Denmark every two years, each time playing over 20 cities. It was on one of these trips that I met the EMV, which is managed by the same energetic gentleman (Oliver Quast) who builds our successful Danish tours.”

Based in Herning, which is in the centre of west Jutland (hence the “midwest” reference), in the Herning Museum of Contemporary Art (HEART), EMV consists of five string players, a pianist and a wind quintet. As Fung pointed out, “They bring an incredible flexibility to their playing, as the size of their ensemble shrinks and expands to the benefit of the repertoire and their programming. Think of a team of chefs that each have their specialty, but only called to the fore when the menu calls for it.”

Their Walter Hall concert will see six members of EMV joined by American clarinet virtuoso, Charles Neidich, “a celebrated luminary of the clarinet” as Fung dubbed him, in a program that focuses on the ensemble’s piano-wind nexus. Danish composer Carl Nielsen’s  Fantasy: Pieces for Oboe and Piano Op.2 opens the recital and I was able to get a sense of it by sampling EMV’s cpo CD, Neilsen: Complete Chamber Works for Winds. I was struck by the richness of Peter Kristein’s singing tone on the oboe in the Romance and look forward to hearing him and pianist Martin Qvist Hansen live. Mozart’s Quintet for Piano and Winds in E-Flat Major K452 stands at the pinnacle of writing for piano, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn. I have been in love with it since childhood when my father introduced me to the Angel LP with pianist Walter Gieseking and the Philharmonia Wind Quartet that included the legendary hornist Dennis Brain.

Two months after Schubert finished writing Die schöne Müllerin, he took the 18th song in the cycle (Faded Flowers) and used it as the basis of a set of variations, Introduction and Variations on “Trockne Blumen” for Flute and Piano D802 Op posth.160. A solemn introduction leads into the gentle bucolic theme and as the variations progress the flutist is called on to convey beauty, tempestuousness, vulnerability and propriety. Flutist Charlotte Norholt, who will perform the work here in March, said before EMV’s first appearance at Carnegie Hall in 2012 (in a Danish video available on YouTube) that “the quest for musical excellence is the driving force of this ensemble.”

For Brahms’ Clarinet Trio in A Minor Op.114, cellist Jonathan Slaatto joins pianist Hansen to welcome back special guest Neidich for this enduring late-in-life masterpiece that was inspired by the same clarinetist (Richard Mühlfeld) who led Brahms to write his equally memorable clarinet quintet and sonatas. Slaatto, in that same YouTube video from 2012, expressed part of what makes EMV (and any good ensemble) tick when he said, referring to finding a suitable tempo, that your own view of any piece is subordinate to the view of the group as a whole.

Fung told me that he “was lucky to nab EMV on the same trip they are playing New York’s Carnegie Hall (their third appearance with them).” I suspect the Mooredale audience will agree after hearing their March 13 concert.

2106-Classical_3.pngMaxim Vengerov. On March 11, the universally acclaimed violinist, the extraordinary Maxim Vengerov, makes his first recital appearance in Toronto since a right shoulder injury and recovery from surgery forced him to suspend playing for four years in 2007. His Roy Thomson Hall concert with pianist Patrice Laré, presented by the Montreal Chamber Music Society, will include Franck’s emotionally rich classic, Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major, Ysaÿe’s devilishly difficult, unaccompanied Sonata for Violin No.6 as well as music by Brahms and Paganini.

I got a sense of Vengerov’s journey back, which involved an assiduous rehab and reinvention of his violin technique from much reportage on the Internet, particularly Laurie Niles’ revelatory violinist.com interview published on January 9, 2013. In that interview, Vengerov also spoke of his close relationship to cellist/conductor Mstislav Rostropovich and pianist/conductor Daniel Barenboim, both of whom he got to know as a teenager.

Of Rostropovich, Vengerov says he was “like a musical father, he was so close to my heart; I think it was his great musicianship and also understanding of the violin repertoire, of the stringed instruments, that helped us to build an incredible chemistry that I had with no one else.”

Barenboim, Vengerov says, would “view a piece of music as an instrumentalist, as a pianist, from the harmonic point of view, from the orchestration, colouring,” whereas Rostropovich had an “instant connection with the composer, with the soul of the composer,” imagining he was the composer himself performing the music.

Of course Vengerov himself has conducted successfully (as anyone in the audience in October of 2012 at Roy Thomson Hall was only too aware, for his historic double role as soloist/conductor with the TSO in an exceptional performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade), but the violin remains his “first source of communication with the audience – no doubt my first love.”

Vengerov looked at the time when he couldn’t play as beneficial to deepening his musical knowledge. “I think I have more colours to my violin playing than before, for the fact that I hear it somehow differently.” He also discovered, after surgery, that he had to change his technique so that he moves much less; he had been putting too much physical effort into his playing. Working with quite a lot of pain forced him to relax his playing. “If I had pain, that meant I was doing something wrong,” he said.

All in the service of the music, of “the great heritage Beethoven, Brahms, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky left for us. We have to deliver these great works in the best possible way that we can. We have to find a very personal approach to them. Every soloist nowadays has to try to say something unique, something personal. Otherwise, if you’re playing just another performance of Brahms’ concerto, why do we need to hear that? That is the great lesson that Barenboim taught me…Just study the score…I want to really hear your Sibelius, your discovery, based on your new, detailed knowledge of the musical score.”

Takemitsu in Kyoto. An unexpected delivery of a DVD recently rekindled memories of Toru Takemitsu, who won the Glenn Gould Prize six years before Pierre Boulez. The DVD, Kyoto, is a quasi-documentary, part travelogue, atmospheric portrait of a place and a lifestyle, made in 1968 by the Japanese master filmmaker Kon Ichikawa (The Makioka Sisters) with a soundtrack by Takemitsu, then in his late 30s. Its 37 minutes are densely packed with artfully composed images that treat a rock garden, a Buddhist temple and a royal villa with the same aesthetic respect as that given to the people who walk the city’s streets. Takemitsu’s music, mysterious and quietly surprising but always filled with a deep humanity, acts as the foundation that illuminates these images. With a modernist sensibility always conscious of a cultural past, his score is an essential component of this fascinating piece of cinematic art. The handsomely packaged DVD is available from martygrossfilms.com. Many years ago, I was fortunate to be invited to watch Takemitsu at work one afternoon supervising the marriage of music, sound design and image in Marty Gross’ exquisite Bunraku film, The Lovers’ Exile. Takemitsu’s attention to detail, personal warmth and humility made a lasting impression.


2106-Classical_2.pngMusic Toronto: If you’re quick off the mark you may be fortunate enough to hear the eminent British pianist Steven Osborne Mar 1. On Mar 10 the exuberant Montreal string ensemble, collectif9, performs a diverse program including Geof Holbrook’s Volksmobiles, from collectif9’s CD of the same name which Strings Attached DISCoveries’ columnist Terry Robbins praises elsewhere in these pages. Mar 17 the ebullient Quatuor Ébène’s strong program begins with Mozart’s delightful Divertimento K136, moves to Debussy’s Quartet in G Minor (a piece they own) before concluding with Beethoven’s immortal String Quartet No.14 Op.131. Apr 5 Duo Turgeon, husband-and-wife duo pianists, perform a heavyweight program that includes a new arrangement of Ravel’s Second Suite from Daphnis and Chloe by Vyacheslav Gryaznov, Lutoslawski’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini and Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn as well as pieces by the Russian Valery Gavrilin and the Canadian Derek Charke.

Royal Conservatory: I wrote in my last column about the talented young Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang and her Koerner Hall debut Mar 2. She’s followed Mar 4 by Canadian violinist Karen Gomyo, Swiss cellist Christian Poltéra and Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen in an appealing program of Mittel-European fare. On Mar 20 Paul Lewis performs his first solo recital in this city since his remarkable Toronto debut with the Women’s Musical Club in the fall of 2013. In this upcoming Koerner Hall concert, he focuses on Brahms (Four Ballades Op.10; Three Intermezzi Op.117), Liszt (the transformative Après une lecture du Dante, fantasia quasi una sonata, “‘Dante Sonata” from Années de pèlerinage, Italie) and Schubert (the enchanting Sonata D575). On  Mar 29 the current crop of Rebanks fellows are on display in a recital in Mazzoleni Hall, which is also the venue Apr 7  for chamber music by Haydn, Berg (the uber-Romantic Lyric Suite) and Dvořák (the charming Piano Quintet No.2 Op.81) performed by the Musicians from Marlboro. In Koerner Hall on Mar 30 violinist Augustin Dumay and pianist Louis Lortie bring their powerful musical gifts to sonatas by Beethoven (“Spring”), Franck and Richard Strauss.

Perimeter: Best known as artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, husband-and-wife cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han bring their considerable performing talents to the Perimeter Institute Mar 10, in a program of music by Richard Strauss, Chopin, Messiaen, Glazunov and Albéniz.

Nocturnes in the City: Pianist Adam Zukiewicz plays Beethoven and Liszt Mar 13. (One evening earlier, Mar 12, Zukiewicz plays a similar program at St. Basil’s Church.) The Czech-based Epoque Quartet plays Vivaldi, Jezek and others at the Praha restaurant Mar 27. Notable Czech pianist and Smetana specialist, Jan Novotný, makes a welcome visit to Toronto for a recital that includes music by Smetana, Schubert and Mozart.

Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society: The final weekend of the Attacca Quartet’s Haydn 68 series takes place Mar 18, 19 and 20; since their last appearance in the KWCMS Music Room, the quartet has a new violist, Nathan Schram. (My Q & A with the KWCMS’ Jean and Jan Narveson and interview with former Attaca violist Andrew Fleming appeared in The WholeNote’s November 2013 issue as the complete Haydn string quartet cycle began.) Mar 24 cellist Rachel Mercer and pianist Angela Park perform the complete Mendelssohn works for cello; on Apr 3 they join violinist Elissa Lee and violist Sharon Wei, their partners in Ensemble Made in Canada, for a Syrinx concert of music by Beethoven, Schumann and Omar Daniel.

Academy Concert Series presents Mozart’s masterful Sinfonia Concertante K364 for violin, viola and orchestra, and Beethoven’s first sonata for cello and piano, Op.5 No.1, transcribed by nineteenth-century arrangers for string sextet and cello quintet, respectively, Mar 19. Also Mar 19, Jeffery Concerts presents the TSO Chamber Soloists – Nora Shulman, flute, Teng Li, viola, Jonathan Crow, violin, Heidi Van Hoesen Gorton, harp, and Joseph Johson, cello, in a program of music by Françaix, Saint-Saëns, Debussy, Ravel and Jongen.

The TSO: Stéphane Denève, principal conductor of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, leads the TSO in a crowd-pleasing program Mar 23 and 24 that features the charismatic Jean-Yves Thibaudet as soloist in Saint-Saëns’ exotic Piano Concerto No.5 “Egyptian.” On Mar 31 the TSO presents the Victoria Symphony conducted by Tania Miller with Stewart Goodyear as soloist in Grieg’s lyrical Piano Concerto. Soprano Carla Huhtanen, poet Dennis Lee and narrator Kevin Frank join conductor Earl Lee in two afternoon Young People’s Concert performances Apr 2 of Abigail Richardson-Schulte’s musical treatment of Lee’s iconic children’s classic, Alligator Pie. It would be a surprise if Gabriela Montero didn’t improvise her own cadenza in Mozart’s sublime Piano Concerto No.20 K466 when she appears as soloist with the National Arts Centre Orchestra under its new conductor Alexander Shelley Apr 2; two of Richard Strauss’ most exciting tone poems, Don Juan and Death and Transfiguration open and close the concert.

Massey Hall/Roy Thomson Hall presents Chopin champion Yundi in his first Toronto recital in a decade Mar 19; the famously conductorless Orpheus Chamber Orchestra features Pinchas Zukerman as soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.3 K216, a masterpiece of gallantry and lightness, and in Beethoven’s tender First Romance, Mar 20.

Canzona presents the XIA Quartet – Edmonton Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Robert Uchida and Toronto Symphony Orchestra members, violinist Shane Kim, assistant principal violist, Theresa Rudolph, and principal cellist, Joseph Johnson, playing music by Bartók, Debussy and Schubert, Mar 20 at St. Andrew by-the-Lake, on Toronto Island, repeated Mar 21 on the mainland.

Three years ago, Rashaan Allwood was the very rare recipient of a perfect 100 in his ARCT Royal Conservatory exam. Now he’s a U of T student with an upcoming free recital Mar 26 at Walter Hall of piano music inspired by birdsong and nature – Messiaen, Ravel, Liszt, Granados and others.

Last month I wrote about Andrew Burashko, Art of Time Ensemble’s founder and artistic director; the group’s unmissable next concert, “Erwin Schulhoff: Dada, Jazz and the String Sextet: Portrait of a Forgotten Master,” takes place Apr 1 and 2 at Harbourfront Centre Theatre.

Following their playing of Mendelssohn’s engaging String Quartet No.2, U of T Faculty of Music ensemble-in-residence, the Cecilia String Quartet is joined by James Campbell for a performance of Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet, a cornerstone of the clarinet repertoire, Apr 4.

The COC orchestra’s top two violinists, Marie Bérard and Aaron Schwebel, give a free noontime concert featuring music by Ysaÿe and Leclair, in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Apr 5

Paul Ennis the managing editor of The WholeNote.

2105-Classical.jpgTwo brilliant young European violinists make their local debuts in February. In winning the 2001 Queen Elizabeth Competition, Latvian violinist Baiba Skride joined such luminaries as Oistrakh, Kogan, Laredo and Repin in the fiddling firmament. The Guardian recently called Skride “a passionate heart-on-sleeve player.” Now 34, she will appear with the TSO in Brahms’ richly sonorous Violin ConcertoFebruary 17 and 18.

According to BBC Music Magazine, the 29-year-old Norwegian, Vilde Frang, “has the knack of breathing life into every note.” Frang will give a recital at Koerner Hall, March 2, with Michail Lifits on piano. Her program begins with Schubert’s Fantasy in C Major for Violin and Piano D934, another masterpiece from the last year of the composer’s life, and moves through Lutoslawski’s Partita, commissioned by Pinchas Zukerman in 1985, before concluding with Fauré’s ever-popular Violin Sonata No.1. Frang began her musical education at four, played Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Mariss Jansons, when she was barely 13, and was thrust into the limelight when she was named Credit Suisse Young Artist of the Year in 2012. A recording contract and worldwide touring were the result.

It’s illuminating to hear both violinists talking about inspiration and interpretation in interviews readily available in cyberspace. Skride told Tobias Fischer (on Tokafi.com April 20, 2006) that interpretation “means giving my opinion to the audience, while at the same time respecting what the composer might have wanted. It’s a combination of my personal beliefs and the composer’s probable intent.” Her interpretive process, she continued, is “almost always emotional. Of course, there are certain things you have to know about and naturally you do get your facts straight while preparing. But 99 percent is intuition, absolutely.” Her approach to performing live is “simply giving everything you have in that very moment.”

In a YouTube video biography made shortly after her Credit Suisse honour, while soaring on her violin in rehearsal for Bruch’s Violin Concerto No.1 with Jakub Hrůša and the Philharmonia Orchestra, Frang spoke of the importance she places on trusting her instincts,  how it’s crucial to take in things and let yourself be inspired. “Inspiration is really the most important thing,” she said. “I use my instrument as a tool [to transform inspiration]. Whether you hear Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, a wonderful horn solo or the sound of the sea, it’s something you can actually work with.”

Later that year, on August 1, 2012, Frang spoke with Laurie Niles of violinist.com about what brought her to the violin. “My father is a double bass player, and my sister is also a double bass player – my mother isn’t a musician, actually. But I watched my sister play in youth orchestras, when I was small, and obviously I thought I was the next one in line, in the double basses family! To me it was a natural thing, but then my father made this argument: our family had a Volkswagen, which was a very tiny car. He said, ‘Can you imagine, when we go on holiday, with three double basses? There is no chance the whole family will get space in the car!’

“So he made me a smaller instrument. It was made of cardboard – there were no strings on it. So I could put my Little Twin Star stickers on it, and Hello Kitty stickers – but the fact that it didn’t make any sound – I found this to be very frustrating! I had to ‘play’ on it for almost a year until I finally got a violin which was alive, which made sound.

“I remember the moment I got the violin that was real, that was really living and alive – I’ve never practised so inspired in all my life, as I did the first couple of days with that violin! I was in seventh heaven, I was so happy.”

Niles asked Frang, who began with the Suzuki method, how she  connected with Anne-Sophie Mutter (See my November 2014 column in The WholeNote for more on Mutter and her foundation): “I first played for Anne-Sophie Mutter when I was 11-years-old,” she said. “After that, she asked me to keep her updated, and she followed my development. I kept sending her recordings and tapes of my playing, and letters about how I was doing. It was obviously a very inspirational thing for me, because I knew that she was always there watching, somewhere. When I was 15, she invited me to Munich to audition for her again, and then I was taken into her foundation, her Freundeskreis Stiftung, or Circle of Friends Foundation, and I was also given this Vuillaume instrument.

“Ms. Mutter has also been a great, great mentor to me over all these years. I did a tour with her in 2008, and we played in Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center in Washington. I played the Bach Double with her. Of course, I learned a lot from this experience, not only playing for her, but playing with her. I think the most important was that she encouraged me to always trust my own instincts and follow my own voice. That is her top priority, and that’s the message she wanted to give, which I think is a wonderful thing.

“But more than any other musician I know, she is extremely focused on exploring the musical score, in order to get as close as possible to the composer. Many people might consider her to be very free, but actually she has the most authentic and strictest approach that I know of. I think that is why she allows herself to have that amount of freedom. The more you know the piece and the better you know the score, the more freedom you actually have yourself.”

Hamelin past and future. Marc-André Hamelin’s Music Toronto recital on January 5 had a blissful component running through it from Liszt’s Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude to the Schubert Sonata in B-flat D960 and the well-chosen encore, Messiaen’s Prelude “The Dove.” For me, this emotional line reached its apex with the sublime second movement of the Schubert which had a profundity that reminded me of the last three Beethoven sonatas. There was a serenity to Hamelin’s playing that was more pronounced than when he played at Koerner Hall the previous March. At times he seemed to slow the music just enough that you could feel it palpably.

During the conversation I had with him in November (see my article in the December 2015-January 2016 issue of The WholeNote), Hamelin described his  relationship with Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No.1, which he will perform with the TSO on February 25 and 27. “I learned it very early,” he told me. “I remember the first time I played it was with Skrowaczewski and the Montreal Symphony. I believe it was somewhere like 1990 or ’91. It’s certainly not the deepest piece ever written but it shows consummate craftsmanship. And it’s also very entertaining for audiences. And in some ways quite touching.” Louis Langrée, famous for his stewardship of the Mostly Mozart Festival, his career blossoming as music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, will conduct.

Quick Picks

2105-Classical2.jpgFeb 4 The last time I heard the Annex Quartet, they showed their sensitive musicianship supporting Jan Lisiecki in the chamber versions of Beethoven’s Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 4. Their solid Music Toronto recital includes string quartets by Janáček, R. Murray Schafer and Mendelssohn. Feb 18 The irrepressible St. Lawrence String Quartet makes its annual visit to Music Toronto with works by Haydn, Samuel Adams and Schumann. Mar 1 The distinguished British pianist Steven Osborne performs two Schubert Impromptus D935 (fresh from his sparkling new Schubert CD) and a selection of Debussy and Rachmaninoff, in his Music Toronto return.

Feb 5 Conductor Eric Paetkau’s contagious energy and musicianship guide the eclectic group of 27 in Finzi’s bucolic A Severn Rhapsody and a trio of French works including Dubois’ Cavatine for Horn featuring the TSO’s Gabe Radford. The dynamic Nadina Mackie Jackson is the bassoon soloist in the world premiere of Paul Frehner’s Apollo X.

Feb 11 An ingenious piece of animation, The Triplets of Belleville is filled with cultural references that fly by with terrific panache, Sylvain Chomet’s 2003 film has rightly become a classic. Composer Benoît Charest leads Le Terrible Orchestre de Belleville and special guest Nellie McKay in the live performance of his infectious, original score for the film (rooted in 1930s vaudeville/jazz) accompanying this special screening at Roy Thomson Hall.

Feb 12 Cellist Rachel Mercer follows up her well-received CD of Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites with an exciting concert of music for solo cello at Gallery 345, beginning with one of those Bach suites. Mercer then moves from Cassadó’s early 20th century suite to contemporary pieces by Andrew Downing and the world premiere of Darren Sigesmund’s Solo Suite.

Feb 13 Celebrate the Year of the Monkey with the TSO as the great violinist Maxim Vengerov is the soloist in the Butterfly Lovers Concerto. Long Yu, artistic director of the China Philharmonic Orchestra and music director of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, conducts. Feb 22 The Associates of the TSO present works by Françaix, Janáček and Brahms for various combinations of flute, oboe, horn, bassoon and two clarinets. Mar 2 Seven soloists from the TSO’s ranks (including the ubiquitous Teng Li) showcase their talents when the TSO presents music by Paganini, Vivaldi and Haydn (his elegant and tuneful Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat Major for the unusual combination of soloists, violin, cello, oboe and bassoon).

Feb 17 The hip, Brooklyn-based orchestral collective, The Knights, make their Koerner Hall debut, joined by violinist Gil Shaham, whose warm playing should illuminate Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No.2, in all its angularity and dark beauty. Feb 26 Koerner Hall gives us the rare gift of hearing violinist Christian Tetzlaff, his sister, cellist Tanja Tetzlaff and pianist Lars Vogt performing piano trios by Schumann, Dvořák and Brahms. Richard Haskell praised them in these pages last September for their “conducive music-making in the three Brahms piano trios.” Andras Schiff’s monumental Feb 28 recital in Koerner Hall is sold out. Those lucky enough to have tickets (myself included) can look forward to a program memorable for its inclusion of the final piano sonatas by Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert. Mar 4 Much-in-demand (especially since she received the Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2008) Canadian violinist, Karen Gomyo, teams up with well-regarded cellist, Christian Poltéra, and talented young Finnish pianist, Juho Pohjonen, to perform trios and sonatas by Haydn, Janáček and Dvořák. All four of these events are presented by the Royal Conservatory.

Feb 19 The charming Trio Arkel (TSO members violist Teng Li and cellist Winona Zelenka, COC concertmaster Marie Bérard) move into their new venue, Jeanne Lamon Hall at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, with a program including Gubaidulina’s exhilarating String Trio, Kodály’s Serenade for Two Violins and Viola and Beethoven’s glorious Quintet for Strings, Op.29 “The Storm.” Joining them for this and a repeat concert in London, Feb 29, presented by the UWO Don Wright Faculty of Music, will be violinist Scott St. John and violist Sharon Wei.

Feb 20 Also in London, Jeffery Concerts presents the award-winning cellist Yegor Dyachkov and longtime chamber music partner, pianist Jean Saulnier, in works by Brahms, Schumann and Janáček.

Feb 23 Charles Richard-Hamelin, who finished second in last year’s prestigious Chopin competition in Warsaw, will give a COC free noon-hour concert of a selection of Chopin’s last piano works at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Based on his thrilling performance of Chopin’s Sonata No.3 at Mazzoleni Hall on January 15, I urge you not to miss it.

Mar 3 The Women’s Musical Club of Toronto’s talent-laden season continues with the widely acclaimed Daedalus String Quartet performing Sibelius’ String Quartet in D Minor “Voces Intimae” Op.56. Montreal native, clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois, joins them in James MacMillan’s powerful lament, Tuireadh, and Brahms’ sublime Clarinet Quintet in B Minor Op.115

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

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