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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLASSICAL AND BEYOND QUICK PICKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

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

Gustav Mahler

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

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

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

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

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

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

Juanjo Mena. Photo by Mark LyonsMahler’s Massive Cohort

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

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

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

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

Students Rule

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

CLASSICAL AND BEYOND QUICK PICKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Christian Blackshaw. Photo by Si BarberOn March 17, Christian Blackshaw, now 70, brings a selection of works from his acclaimed Complete Mozart Sonata Series, performed and recorded at London’s Wigmore Hall, to Walter Hall. Hailed as “magical,” “captivating,” and “masterful,” the fourth volume of the series was named as one of the Best Classical Recordings of 2015 by The New York Times. Blackshaw’s all-Mozart program for Mooredale Concerts will include Sonata No.11 in A Major, K331 and Sonata No.14 in C Minor, K457.

In a 2013 interview with Gramophone after his year-long Wigmore Hall series, Blackshaw spoke of Mozart as a particular passion. “It was a sort of penny-dropping moment discovering Mozart,” he said. ‘”I think I’m a frustrated singer and to me the sonatas can be construed as being mini-operas. I find his whole being informed by the voice and the vocal line.” In the interview he rejected a characterization of Mozart’s music as being “restrained.” “There have got to be elements of joie de vivre,” he responded. His own ultimate goal in performance is a state of “slow, calm release” where he can reach “a sense of communion.” And does he find music more conducive to communion than words? “Yes,” he said instantly. “There’s no small talk [in music].”

Nuné MelikCOC Noon-hour Concerts

Born in Siberia to a family of medical PhDs, Nuné Melik started playing the violin at the age of six; her first solo performance with orchestra took place a year later at the Kazan Symphony Hall. A prizewinner of numerous competitions and audience awards, she has performed across the globe, including the Stern Auditorium and Weill Recital Hall in Carnegie Hall and our own Glenn Gould Studio. In 2010, as an umbrella for her exploration of new repertoire, Melik founded the Hidden Treasure International Project, comprising research, performance and lectures of rarely heard music. By way of performances and lectures she also advocates for and promotes the music of the Caucasus, her heritage. Together with her longtime collaborator, pianist Michel-Alexandre Broekaert, in October 2017 she launched Hidden Treasure, a CD featuring unknown works by Armenian composers with Melik’s own original program notes; CBC radio called it a “love letter to Armenia.”

A multi-talented artist who speaks five languages, Melik produced and directed a documentary last year about Armenian composer Arno Babadjanian. She has published books of poetry in Russian, which were translated into Armenian by the Writer’s Union of Armenia in 2016. Together with her CD, a book of French and English poetry was simultaneously released in October 2017.

COC presents Nuné Melik’s “Hidden Treasures – Armenian music unearthed” on March 12, with collaborative pianist Michel-Alexandre Broekaert, a free concert in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre of the Four Seasons Centre.

Castalian String Quartet. Photo by Kappa KikkasThe Castalian String Quartet, founded in 2011 and based in London, England, was a finalist in the 2016 Banff Competition won by the Rolston String Quartet. Last year they were named the winner of the first Merito String Quartet Award/Valentin Erben Prize which includes €20,000 for professional development, along with a further €25,000 towards sound recordings and a commission. The award came as a complete surprise to the quartet since there was no application process or competition for it; instead a secret jury assembled a shortlist of five quartets which were then observed in at least two concerts during the course of a year, always without the musicians’ knowledge.

According to the award announcement, “The aspects that were evaluated included their professional approach, repertoire, programming, the artistic quality of the concerts, their musical profile, and also the imagination and innovation displayed by the musicians. Their artistic career to date and recordings, where applicable, were also evaluated.”

The award is an initiative of Wolfgang Habermayer, owner of Merito Financial Solutions, and Valentin Erben, founding cellist of the Alban Berg Quartet. “The critical factor for us is how the young musicians behave in ‘everyday life’ on the concert stage,” said award co-founder Erben. “The human warmth and aura radiated by these four young people played a key role. They are never just putting on a show – the music is always close to their heart. You can feel their intense passion for playing in a quartet.”

The Castalian String Quartet performs in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre of the Four Seasons Centre in a COC free noon-hour concert on April 4. The program includes Haydn’s String Quartet Op.76, No.2 “Fifths” (a reflection of the Castalians’ passion for the inventor of the string quartet), and Britten’s String Quartet No.2, written just after WWII to mark the 250th anniversary of Henry Purcell’s death.

Mariam BatsashviliWomen’s Musical Club of Toronto

Now in her mid-20s, Georgian pianist Mariam Batsashvili is another promising young artist. She began studying the piano at four; by seven, “completely in love with the instrument,” she knew she wanted to be a pianist for the rest of her life. She gained international recognition at the tenth Franz Liszt Piano Competition in Utrecht in 2014, where she won First Prize as well as the Junior Jury Award and the Press Prize. This success led to performances with leading symphony orchestras, and to an extensive program of recitals in more than 30 countries. She was nominated by the European Concert Hall Organisation (ECHO) as Rising Star for the 2016/17 season. A BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, she is performing at major festivals and concert venues across the UK as part of that award.

Her comprehensive April 4 recital in the Music in the Afternoon series of the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto begins with Busoni’s soaring arrangement of Bach’s iconic Chaconne from Partita No. 2 for violin, BWV 1004, taps into  Schubert’s fountain of lyricism, the Impromptu Op.142, No.1 D935, moves on to Mozart’s haunting Rondo in A Minor, K511 and Liszt’s virtuosic Hungarian Rhapsody No.12; then concludes with Beethoven’s notoriously difficult Sonata No.29 in B-flat Major, Op.106 “Hammerklavier.” In Walter Hall; just a few weeks after a performance in London’s Wigmore Hall.

Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society

Janina Fialkowska’s March 11 recital for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society, marking her 37th year of performing for KWCMS, features an ambitious, well-packed program that begins with Mozart’s beloved Sonata in A Major, K310. An impromptu by Germaine Tailleferre; a nocturne by Fauré; an intermezzo by Poulenc; two pieces by Debussy; and Ravel’s Sonatine – a selection of music by French composers, reminiscent of a French program by Fialkowska’s teacher, Arthur Rubinstein – lead into three mazurkas, a nocturne (Op.55, No.2), scherzo (No.3) and ballade (No.4) by Chopin (the composer with whom she is most identified) performed in Fialkowska’s inimitable style.

Later in the month, clarinetist James Campbell joins the Penderecki String Quartet for Brahms’ splendid Clarinet Quintet. Dvořák’s Quartet No.10 in E-flat Major, Op.51, “Slavonic” is the other major work on the March 20 program.

Timothy Steeves steps away from his usual role as pianist with Duo Concertante for a recital of four adventurous Haydn sonatas on April 1, his second all-Haydn recital for the KWCMS.

Music Toronto

Danny Driver’s March 5 recital was the subject of my conversation in our February issue with the Hyperion Records artist, who “may be the best pianist you’ve never heard.” Works by CPE Bach, Schumann, Saariaho, Ravel and Madtner will be performed by this uncompromising artist who demands a lot of himself: “When I feel I have come close [to achieving what I set out to achieve artistically], it’s an intensely rewarding experience.”

The following week on March 14, the Lafayette String Quartet – artists-in-residence  at the University of Victoria since 1991 – who have spent more than 30 years together with no changes in personnel – partners with the Saguenay (formed in 1989 as the Alcan) String Quartet to perform three string octets. Join them in this rare opportunity to hear Niels Gade’s String Octet in F Major, Op.17, Russian-Canadian Airat Ichmouratov’s String Octet in G Minor, Op.56, “The Letter” and Mendelssohn’s deservedly famous Octet in E-flat Major, Op.20.

The Saguenay String Quartet) and the Lafayette have played together many times, a reflection of their special musical bond and creative friendship.

CLASSICAL AND BEYOND QUICK PICKS

MAR 8, 8PM AND 9, 2:30 & 8PM: Critically acclaimed violinist Nikki Chooi is the soloist in Vivaldi’s indispensable The Four Seasons with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. Nicolas Ellis, who was recently named artistic partner to Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Orchestre Métropolitain for the 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons, leads the KWS in Beethoven’s essential Symphony No.6 “Pastoral.”

Gemma New. Photo by Fred StuckerMAR 9, 7:30 AND 10, 3PM: Gemma New leads the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in Shostakovich’s kinetic Symphony No.5; Kelly Zimba, flute, and Heidi Van Hoesen Gorton, harp, take charge of Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp K299/297c, the first work Mozart ever wrote for that combination of soloists.

MAR 10, 2:30PM: Bradley Thachuk leads the Niagara Symphony Orchestra and TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow in Sibelius’ richly Romantic Violin Concerto Op.47. Sibelius’ satisfying Symphony No.3 completes the nod to the great Finnish composer.

MAR 16, 7:30PM: Gemma New conducts the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra in a heavenly program featuring Debussy’s hypnotic Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and his impressionistic Nocturnes. Holst’s riveting The Planets completes the exciting evening.

MAR 20, 2:30PM: Georgian Music brings the Lafayette and Saguenay String Quartets to Barrie for a repeat of their Music Toronto program of March 14 headed by Mendelssohn’s youthful masterwork, his Octet in E-flat Major, Op.20.

MAR 23, 7:30PM: Barrie Concerts presents the Penderecki String Quartet in an evening of Dvořák’s chamber music. Included are the composer’s String Quartet No.10 “Slavonic” and, aided by pianist Benjamin Smith, both of his piano quintets, the second of which (Op.81) is one of the masterpieces of the form.

MAR 23, 7:30PM: The Oakville Chamber Orchestra celebrates their 35th anniversary with a performance of Bach’s Six Brandenburg Concertos, an invigorating choice of music for such an auspicious occasion.

MAR 27 AND 28, 8PM: Gunther Herbig, TSO music director from 1989 to 1994, conducts two pillars of the 19th-century repertoire: Schubert’s moving  Symphony No. 8 “Unfinished” and Bruckner’s Symphony No.9, the fourth movement of which the composer left unfinished on the day he died, leaving only the first three movements complete.

MAR 30, 7PM: Mandle Cheung continues to realize his conducting dream, leading his orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 (Kevin Ahfat is the soloist) and Mahler’s titanic Symphony No.1.

MAR 30, 8PM: The Canadian Sinfonietta, with guest violist Rivka Golani, mark the onset of spring with the world premiere of David Jaeger’s Raven Concerto for viola and chamber orchestra, Copland’s lovely Appalachian Spring, Britten’s Lachrymae Op.48a for viola and strings and Elgar’s Serenade for Strings. Tak Ng Lai conducts.

MAR 30, 8PM AND 31, 2PM: The Oakville Symphony celebrates the musical friendship between Brahms (Symphony No.2) and Dvořák (Violin Concerto). Leslie Ashworth is the violin soloist; Robert De Clara, music director since 1997, conducts.

APR 7, 1PM: Gramophone magazine called American-born Marina Piccinini “the Heifetz of the flute.” Find out why at the RCM free (ticket required) concert at Mazzoleni Hall; with Benjamin Smith, piano.

APR 7, 3PM: RCM presents the justly celebrated American pianist Richard Goode in an all-Beethoven recital that includes the “Pastoral,” “Moonlight” and “Les adieux” sonatas, and selections from the Op.119 Bagatelles, all topped off by the master’s final sonata, the celestial Op.111.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Escape the February doldrums and get a taste of spring! The National Arts Centre Orchestra is planting musical seeds with its February 23 concert at Roy Thomson Hall by making Schumann’s Symphony No.1 “Spring” the program’s centrepiece. Two years after he composed it, Schumann sent a letter to the conductor Wilhelm Taubert, in Berlin: “If only you could breathe into your orchestra, when it plays, that longing for spring! It was my main source of inspiration when I wrote the work in February 1841. I should like the very first trumpet call to sound as though proceeding from on high and like a summons to awaken. In the following section of the introduction, let me say, it might be possible to feel the world turning green; perhaps . . . a butterfly fluttering; and in the Allegro the gradual assemblage of everything that belongs to spring. However, it was only after I had completed the composition that these ideas came to my mind.” Before intermission, Jocelyn Morlock’s Cobalt, a concerto for two violins and orchestra, sets the table for French pianist David Fray who joins conductor Alexander Shelley and the NACO for Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.2 with its lyrical Larghetto. Chopin was 19 when he wrote this elegant work.

February is a busy month for the TSO. Brahms’ final work for orchestra (1887), his Double Concerto for Violin and Cello showcases the considerable talents of concertmaster Jonathan Crow and principal cellist Joseph Johnson on February 6, 7 and 9. Conductor Sir Andrew Davis has recorded all nine of Dvořák’s symphonies so we can look forward to an insightful performance of the Czech master’s Sixth Symphony (1880). It may not have the cachet of the Eighth or Ninth, but Dvořák’s inimitable tunefulness is delightful in its own right. And its Brahmsian nature makes a good pairing with the concerto.

Barbara Hannigan. Photo credit Musacchio Ianniello Accademia Nazionale di Santa CeciliaThe force of nature that is Barbara Hannigan brings her immersive soprano voice and burgeoning conducting chops to a program that places Haydn’s Symphony No.86 squarely in the middle of a 20th-century mindset (Debussy’s sinewy Syrinx for solo flute and Sibelius’ ominous and icy tone poem for soprano and orchestra, Luonnotar, open the program). From Haydn to Berg brings Hannigan into her comfort zone with the Suite from Lulu. Bill Elliot and Hannigan’s arrangement of Gershwin tunes, Suite from Girl Crazy, brings the February 13 and 14 evening’s entertainment to a rousing finish. The orchestra even joins in to sing the chorus of Embraceable You.

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca.When Casablanca was released in 1942 it marked the beginning a beautiful friendship between moviegoers and this Hollywood classic. Currently No.2 on the American Film Institute’s Greatest Films List, this romantic tale of a cynical American expat/nightclub owner whose idealism triumphs over his broken heart has never lost its lustre – Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman head the indelible cast. Max Steiner’s score subtly supports the movie’s mood without intruding on the action or the dialogue; but when called upon, as in the Paris flashback, its lush nostalgia rises to the occasion. The Austrian-born composer (his godfather was Richard Strauss) scored more than 300 films, from King Kong and Gone with the Wind to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Strategically programmed post-Valentine’s Day on February 15 and 16, the TSO’s live accompaniment to the film will make for a memorable cinematic experience.

February 20 and 21, Seattle Symphony principal guest conductor and music director-designate, Thomas Dausgaard, leads the TSO in Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, one of the touchstones of the 20th century. Before intermission, American cellist Alisa Weilerstein brings her intensity and sensitivity to Shostakovich’s profound Cello Concerto No.2.

Reminders

Now to several February concerts that I wrote about more extensively in our December/January issue. The renowned klezmer violinist/vocalist/composer, Alicia Svigals, performs her original score to the 1918 silent film, The Yellow Ticket, along with virtuoso pianist Marilyn Lerner, at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines on February 7, the Burlington Centre for the Performing Arts on February 8 and the Oakville Centre for the Arts on February 16.

The Heath Quartet returns to Mooredale Concerts on February 3 following their memorable Toronto debut two years ago. Their program includes Mozart’s Dissonance Quartet (one of his most famous string quartets), Britten’s First String Quartet and Beethoven’s iconic String Quartet No.3, Op.59 No.3 “Razumovsky.”

Celebrated Finnish pianist, 37-year-old Juho Pohjonen – praised by The New York Times for “his effortless brilliance” – appears on the Jane Mallett stage February 5 playing Rameau, Mozart and Beethoven. Even more celebrated are the musicians in Music Toronto’s February 14 recital. After an early Beethoven quartet and a newly commissioned work by Lembit Beecher, the latest incarnation of the legendary Juilliard String Quartet is joined by the illustrious pianist, Marc-André Hamelin, for a performance of Dvořák’s sublime Piano Quintet in A Major, Op.81, one of the greatest piano quintets ever written. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to hear Hamelin play chamber music!

The Royal Conservatory presents rising star, violinist Blake Pouliot, in a free (ticket required) concert in Mazzoleni Hall, February 3. The appealing program includes music by Mozart, Janáček, Kreisler and Saraste. Later in the afternoon of February 3, but in Koerner Hall, RCM presents Charles Richard-Hamelin in a recital of Schumann and Chopin (all four of the sumptuous Ballades). Jan Lisiecki, now almost 24, continues nurturing his international career. His March 3 Koerner Hall concert is sold out but a few rush seats will become available on the day of the performance. Works by Chopin, Schumann, Ravel and Rachmaninoff comprise the challenging program. 

CLASSICAL AND BEYOND QUICK PICKS

FEB 3, 2PM: Chamber Music Hamilton presents the Grammy Award-winning Parker Quartet playing Shostakovich’s Two Pieces for String Quartet and Janáček’s “Kreutzer Sonata” Quartet before being joined by Chamber Music Hamilton’s co-artistic director, violinist Michael Schulte and veteran cellist David Hetherington for Brahms’ beloved String Sextet No.2.

FEB 3, 7:30PM: The LARK Ensemble takes its name from the first names of its members: National Ballet Orchestra principal flute Leslie Allt; COC Orchestra concertmaster and National Ballet Orchestra associate concertmaster Aaron Schwebel; TSO cellist Roberta Janzen; and COC Orchestra principal viola Keith Hamm. They write that their program features various combinations of keyboard, flute and strings: “We’ve put together an evening filled with unexpected gems, beautifully capped off by J.S. Bach’s joyous Musical Offering in its entirety, with illuminating commentary by [guest harpsichordist] Christopher Bagan. Also on offer (pardon the pun) are Bach’s D-Major viola da gamba sonata, along with Bohuslav Martinů’s cheery Promenades (flute, violin and harpsichord), and the quietly haunting Revenant, by Jocelyn Morlock (Baroque flute, harpsichord and strings).”

FEB 9, 8PM: Kristian Alexander conducts the Kindred Spirits Orchestra in a rousing program of Respighi’s crowd-pleasing Fountains of Rome, Prokofiev’s virtuosic Sinfonia Concertante Op.125 (with cello soloist Andrew Ascenzo) and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances Op.45.

FEB 10, 3PM: Amici chamber ensemble, augmented by TSO winds and Glenn Gould School students, presents Mozart’s marvellous Serenade No.10 in B-flat Major K361/370a “Gran Partita” and Mozart’s Piano Trio in C Major K548; in Mazzoleni Hall.

Joshua BellFEB 12, 8PM: Roy Thomson Hall presents acclaimed violinist (and music director of the renowned Academy of St Martin in the Fields) Joshua Bell in recital with pianist Sam Haywood. The program includes sonatas by Beethoven (No.4), Prokofiev (No.2) and Grieg (No.2). The rest of the program (à la Itzhak Perlman) will be announced from the stage.

FEB 17, 2PM: The always entertaining Eybler Quartet presents the aptly named “Esterházy to Vienna, A Road Well Travelled,” comprising string quartets by Asplmayr (Op.2), Haydn (Op.54, No.2) and Beethoven (the resplendent Op.59, No.2 “Razumovsky”).

FEB 22, 7:30PM: Since its formation in 2010 by four graduate students at U of T, the Ton Beau String Quartet “aims to highlight voices of young composers, particularly women composers and composers from under-represented communities.” Their upcoming recital, presented by 3 in the 6ix, features Joaquín Turina’s La Oracion del Torero, Toronto-based Laura Sgroi’s String Quartet No.1 and Debussy’s brilliant String Quartet in G.

FEB 27, 7:30PM: Getting to know Toronto even more since their Mooredale Concerts recital last September, the Calidore String Quartet, currently in residence at U of T’s Faculty of Music, performs Haydn’s String Quartet in F major, Op.77, No.2; Caroline Shaw’s new commission, Entr’acte and First Essay: Nimrod; and Beethoven’s monumental String Quartet in C-sharp Minor, Op.131. Anyone who heard Shaw’s delightful “ballad” Taxidermy, one of several highlights of Sõ Percussion’s 21C Music Festival concert on January 19, needs no urging to hear her piece for string quartet.

Joel QuarringtonFEB 28, 1:30PM: The Women’s Musical Club of Toronto presents “Bass Masters through the Ages” with double bass virtuoso Joel Quarrington and friends Yehonatan Berick and Blythe Allers, violins; David Jalbert, piano; Alisa Klebanov, viola; Carole Sirois, cello; and Gabriel Sakamoto, double bass. Music by Schumann, Korngold, Schubert and Tovey.

MAR 3, 8PM: Gallery 345 presents “Music from Marlboro”: Haydn’s Piano Trio in C; Kodály’s Serenade Op.12; K. Ueno’s Duo (Marlboro commission/premiere); and Ravel’s Piano Trio in A Minor. With Robin Scott and Tessa Lark, violins; the inspirational Kim Kashkashian, viola; Christoph Richter, cello; and Zoltán Fejérvári, piano.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Justyna Gabzdyl PHOTO BY Beata NawrockiJustyna Gabzdyl: After graduating from the Fryderyk Chopin Academy (now University) of Music in Warsaw in 2005, Polish-born pianist, Justyna Gabzdyl, continued her studies at the École Normale de Musique Alfred Cortot in Paris before earning a doctorate at Université de Montréal in 2012. Now 36 and based in Canada, Gabzdyl will be performing in Walter Hall in a U of T Faculty of Music recital on January 24; works by Syzmanowski and Gershwin will be featured. She spoke to La Scena Musicale for their February/March 2018 issue and detailed her fondness for Syzmanowski.

“I find his music incredibly stimulating to the imagination,” she said. “His style is unique, characterized by a beautiful, sensual tone. His huge sensibility to colour and sound is impressionistic. At the same time, the ecstatic climaxes make his style closer to expressionism.”

Szymanowski often travelled to Italy, Sicily, North Africa and France – destinations with which Gabzdyl is familiar, having lived in France, and visited the Maghreb numerous times.

“Countries that are culturally different from our own arouse our curiosity,” she said. “They open us to new smells, tastes, landscapes, lifestyles…I think all these factors affect our emotions and inspire us. In this case, travelling in the composer’s footsteps helped me to understand his intentions and galvanized my enthusiasm.”

Studying in Canada influenced her in several ways. She was introduced to a musical perspective that stressed the architecture of a piece. “In Poland, there is generally more interest in the progress of the music’s ‘character.’ This focus is quite typical of Slavic schools,” she said. Gabzdyl was also influenced by the French technique of jeu perlé (passages played quickly, lightly and clearly) which she uses in Chopin and Szymanowski. And she thinks that music interpretation is somehow influenced by the spirit of the nation. “Moving to Canada improved my positive thinking. I became more relaxed. I find Canadians more jovial. Polish people have a tendency to be melancholic.”

Hugo Kitano, 22, is a double major at Stanford (music and computer science) and an international prizewinner. His COC free noon-hour recital January 31 is comprised of Beethoven’s penultimate piano Sonata No.30, Op.110 and Chopin’s resplendent Polonaise-Fantaisie Op.61. Kitano has worked extensively with John Perry who also finds time to visit the Glenn Gould School on a regular basis as a faculty member.

Charles Richard-Hamelin’s star is still rising; the honeymoon from his Warsaw Chopin Competition honours in 2015 has evolved into a major concert schedule that brings him to Koerner Hall on February 3. Two C-Major works by Schumann, the Arabesque Op.17 and the Fantasy Op.16 precede a performance of Chopin’s Four Ballades. The 29-year-old pianist gave an insightful interview to Bachtrack on September 30, 2016 that showed the same maturity beyond his years that his piano playing already reflected.

In answer to a question about his relationship to the score: “The more we play a work, the less we leave the score. But it is not because we play by heart that we must not have it in mind anymore. For Chopin, it’s complicated because the editions are very contradictory, there is not really a reference edition. Finally, the most important thing is to read between the lines: if we just scrupulously execute what is written on the score, we fall into academism. There is a lot of unspoken music, such as rubato. In Chopin, for example, we sometimes find ornaments formed by several quick notes: obviously, he did not expect that we play them identically. You have to know how to distance yourself from the score; for it to be alive.”

On how his repertoire has changed since the Warsaw win: “Before the contest, I could choose to play what I wanted. But the audience did not want to hear me: I had a few concerts in Canada and Quebec but I never played abroad. Now, this is largely the case because the Chopin Competition is a showcase for the international scene. Playing what you want is good, yet you have to be engaged to play on a stage. That said, I was already very happy: I made a humble living, but I made a living.”

And on Chopin becoming a label that’s hard to get rid of: “Indeed, I have many commitments in Japan, but for Chopin! There are worse labels to have. If I were only to play Saint-Saëns for the rest of my life, I think I’ll stop playing the piano. Fortunately, we do not get tired of Chopin so quickly. I had to play three or four hours of music, while he wrote 12 or 13. And then, some programmers show more openness and let me build recital programs around Chopin, with other composers who accompany him well, by contrast or similarity.”

Juho Pohjonen CREDIT Henry FairJuho Pohjonen: The celebrated Finnish pianist, 37-year-old Juho Pohjonen, is another “fast-rising star” (The Guardian). His impressive NYC recital debut in 2004, while he was still a student at the Sibelius Academy, was praised by The New York Times as “formidable” and “breathtaking.” Lately his association with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center has brought him more attention for “his effortless brilliance.” All of which only adds to my anticipation for his Music Toronto recital on February 5. His program pairs two suites by Rameau from his Nouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin with late works by Mozart (Rondo in A Minor K511) and Beethoven (Sonata No.28 in A Major, Op.101).

Younggun Kim: Fifth in this handful of talented young pianists, South Korean-born, Toronto-based, U of T Faculty member Younggun Kim will show off his dazzling technical prowess in a recital in Walter Hall on February 7. The demanding program moves from the Bach-Busoni Chaconne to Godowsky’s fiendishly difficult Studies on Chopin’s Etudes and Ravel’s jaw-dropping La Valse.

Heath Quartet CREDIT Simon WayTwo String Quartets

Heath: When the Heath Quartet made their memorable Toronto debut in January 2017, their second violinist had just left the ensemble to spend more time with her family. Nonetheless, their dynamism and exuberance were evident even with a last-minute replacement. Now, with a new violinist in place, they make a welcome return to Walter Hall early next February.

When I spoke to first violinist Ollie Heath two years ago I asked how he constructs a program. “Nearly always we begin a concert with a piece from earlier in the repertoire,” Heath said. “The simpler, cleaner textures and conversational aspects of these pieces is a good way of bringing everyone ‘into the room,’ and introducing the possibilities of what a string quartet can do. The second work is often more complex – more demanding on both listener and player. We then fill the second half with a more generously sized work – from one of the Romantic, nationalist composers or one of the big Beethoven quartets.”

Sure enough, the paradigm still stands. For their Mooredale Concerts recital on February 3, they begin with Mozart’s Quartet K465 “Dissonance,” its nickname owing to the harmonic boldness of the slow introduction to its first movement. The most famous and last of the six quartets Mozart dedicated to “my dear friend Haydn,” will undoubtedly introduce the possibilities of what a string quartet can do.

The quartet is devoting this concert season to all three of Benjamin Britten’s quartets. We get to hear his first, commissioned in 1941 by the famous American patroness, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, who had previously commissioned Bartók’s Fifth Quartet (1934) and Schoenberg’s Fourth (1936). The emotional centre of the work, the long Andante Calmo third movement, is filled with melancholy beauty. The afternoon concert concludes with Beethoven’s iconic String Quartet No.9, Op.59 No.3, one of the biggest of Beethoven’s quartets.

Van Kuick: Despite its Dutch-sounding name, the Van Kuijk Quartet, founded by Nicolas Van Kuijk in 2012, is French. Its growing international reputation was kindled by winning First Prize in the 2015 Wigmore Hall Competition and First Prize and Audience Award at the Trondheim International Chamber Competition; and its members have been named BBC New Generation Artists until 2017. Their Music Toronto concert on January 31, curiously enough, follows a similar programming concept as that of the Heath, beginning with Haydn’s celebrated late Quartet in D Major, Op.76, No.5, written at the height of his fame. Ligeti’s Quartet No.1 “Metamorphoses nocturnes” with its beguiling angularity, chromaticism and dissonance, is followed by Schubert’s monumental Quartet No.14 in D Minor “Death and the Maiden.”

Two violinists

Benedetti: The enthralling Scottish violinist, Nicola Benedetti, makes her second visit to Toronto this season with her Koerner Hall recital on January 25. Her TSO engagement last September, playing Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No.2, broadened into a visit to Sistema Toronto that was chronicled by David Perlman on thewholenote.com in October. In Koerner Hall, she’ll be performing with Kiev-born pianist Alexei Grynyuk, a regular chamber music partner with Benedetti in the Benedetti, Elschenbroich, Grynyuk Trio. In 1942, Prokofiev found himself in far-off Central Asia working on the score for Eisenstein’s classic film Ivan the Terrible. For a change of pace he began to compose a sonata for flute and piano which was premiered in Moscow the following year to a lukewarm response. David Oistrakh suggested that Prokofiev turn it into a violin sonata, which he did, saying that he wanted to write it in a “gentle, flowing classical style.” That Violin Sonata No.2, with all its wit, lyricism, expressiveness and mood changes, is a centrepiece of a recital that begins with Bach’s unalloyed solo masterwork, the Chaconne from Partita No.2, and includes a Wynton Marsalis premiere and Richard Strauss’ surprisingly seductive Violin Sonata Op.18.

Blake Pouliot CREDIT Jeff Fasano PhotographyPouliot: Twentysomething Canadian violinist Blake Pouliot won the 2018 Women’s Musical Club of Toronto Career Development Award, an honour that followed his Grand Prize win at the 2016 Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (OSM) Manulife Competition. His recent Debussy-Ravel Analekta CD was praised by WholeNote Strings Attached columnist Terry Robbins as “an outstanding recording debut.” Robbins noted that “Pouliot plays with strength, clarity, warmth, faultless intonation and a fine sense of phrase… [drawing] a gorgeous tone from the 1729 Guarneri del Gesù violin on loan from the Canada Council for the Arts.” With Hsin-I Huang at the piano, Pouliot gives a free (ticket required) concert in RCM’s Mazzoleni Hall Sunday afternoon, February 3. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience this star on the rise in an appealing program of Mozart (K379), Janáček, Sarasate and Chausson (the divine Poème). 

CLASSICAL & BEYOND QUICK PICKS

DEC 8, 8PM: Violinist Alexandre Da Costa, who divides his time between Montreal and Australia, brings his Stradivarius 1701 to the Glenn Gould Studio stage when he joins Nurhan Arman and Sinfonia Toronto in “The Eight Seasons,” featuring Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.

DEC 16, 8PM: The Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society celebrates Beethoven’s 248th birthday with a compelling program that includes the Kreutzer Sonata, Eyeglass Duo and Archduke Trio. Angela Park, piano, Yehonatan Berick, violin, and Rachel Mercer, cello, make it happen as the AYR Trio.

JAN 10 AND 12, 8PM; JAN 13, 3PM: Intrepid Mississauga-born violinist, Leila Josefowicz, joins the TSO for a performance of Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto, the composer’s particular take on the Baroque era. David Robertson, American-born conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, leads the orchestra in Sibelius’ grandly romantic Symphony No.2 and Kurt Weill’s evergreen Suite from the Threepenny Opera.

JAN 13, 3PM: Musical inheritance is the theme of the Windermere String Quartet’s upcoming concert, “Keeping It in the Family.” The period-instrument ensemble’s program opens with a J.S. Bach fugue arranged by W.A. Mozart, followed by a divertimento by Leopold Mozart, Wolfgang’s father. Guest artist, traverso player Alison Melville, is featured in J.S. Bach’s son, Johann Christian’s Quartet No.1 for flute and strings; W.A. Mozart’s final string quartet, the masterful String Quartet No.23 in F Major, K590, concludes the Sunday afternoon recital.

JAN 15, 12PM: Osvaldo Golijov’s haunting Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind heads a program of chamber music (that also includes works by Villa-Lobos and Piazzolla) performed by artists of the COC and National Ballet Orchestras, in this free noon-hour concert in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre of the Four Seasons Centre.

JAN 27, 3PM: Pittsburgh-based guest violist, David Harding, and talented pianist, Todd Yaniw, join Trio Arkel members, Marie Bérard and Winona Zelenka for “the melodies just surged upon me.” The Trio chose this quote by Dvořák because it directly refers to his Piano Quartet No.2 in E-flat Major Op.87, the centrepiece of their Sunday afternoon concert, which also features music by Schubert and Röntgen.

JAN 28, 7:30PM: TSO principal cellist, Joseph Johnson, and chamber musician supreme, Philip Chiu, join forces for a U of T Faculty of Music recital featuring music by Beethoven, Britten and Chopin.

JAN 31 AND FEB 2, 8PM: After hors d’oeuvres of Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyries and Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis and the TSO settle in for the main course: Act I of Wagner’s Die Walküre, with Lise Davidsen, soprano; Simon O’ Neill, tenor; and Brindley Sherratt, bass.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote

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