Here’s what’s really neat about the classical music scene in June: it seems to me that performers and presenters, alike — having thrown off the heavy mantle of winter and survived their various spring concerts and season finales — are now ready to have some real, summer fun! Given what’s on offer — Green Pages and all — perhaps an apt motto for the month might be, “Go Big or Go Late Night!”

classical_stewart_goodyear_photo_by_gary_beecheyA good day for Goodyear: And when I say “big” I mean BIG, as in having pianist Stewart Goodyear perform all 32 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas in the order in which they were composed — in one day! Let’s see, now. That translates into approximately ten and a half hours of some of the most complex, difficult and profound music ever written, played by one remarkable, strong-minded (and strong-bodied) pianist in a single day over three “concert sittings” starting at 10am and, with two breaks, ending at 11:30pm. Phew! —not for the faint of heart (and I’m talking about both performer and audience, here). Co-presenters Luminato and the Royal Conservatory haven’t billed this “The Beethoven Marathon” for nothing!

Goodyear — a Toronto native now living in New York — stopped by The WholeNote for a “Conversations” video interview session, May 10, with the magazine’s David Perlman.

Read more: Going for the Gusto

In past columns you’ve read about many of the “big guns” come to town — major, professional orchestras, world-renowned soloists and quartets — and you’ve read about an array of gifted artists presented to us by local groups and organizations who don’t have the big bucks but have great taste and know a talented “up and comer” when they see one.

This month, I want to focus on two other categories: first, ensembles which don’t easily fall under neat labels such as “quartet,” “quintet” or “chamber orchestra,” because they are constantly morphing in size, depending on what’s on the program; and second, the community orchestras which provide the backbone of the musical life of their communities. Both attract dedicated bunches of musicians who play for the love of it in a variety of settings including seniors’ residences, hospitals, churches, intimate venues and large concert halls. Here’s what some of them are up to this month.

“Extra cello” with magic on the side, please: The ensemble called Alchemy offers the following irresistible blurb on its website: “Alchemy was a medieval chemical science and speculative philosophy which aimed to transform base metals into gold, and to discover a universal cure for disease and a means of indefinitely prolonging life. Notwithstanding its failure to succeed, some of its lofty aims have been inherited by a group of Toronto musicians who feels that if music cannot prolong life and cure disease — though who can tell — it is certainly known to transform an ordinary hour into something magical.”

Alchemy began “making magic” in 2003 and has since performed chamber music from the 17th to 21st centuries with about 50 musicians, selected from a pool of accomplished friends and colleagues. Meri Gec, pianist, founding “alchemist” and the group’s program coordinator, explains: “The mix continually changes, depending on which instruments are needed for a program idea and which musicians are available. Program and repertoire ideas come from anywhere — the musicians, the internet, radio, summer music camp, live concerts.”

Gec’s role is to organize the one-hour programs using those ideas. And while, more often than not, she’s the one “initiating the ideas and recruiting the right musicians” (most with busy lives and day jobs), she adds that “the musicians participate actively with researching ideas, finding extra musicians when needed, introducing pieces at concerts, suggesting venues, and so on.” As she says, “Alchemy has become an engaged and collaborative ensemble.” For Gec, Alchemy represents “all that is great about music, friendship, and community service.”

It’s a winning combination that has seen the ensemble perform for almost ten years and at over 20 venues — all of which have been predominantly retirement residences and hospitals, in keeping with the ensemble’s original — and unwavering — philosophy. Fittingly, Alchemy will perform at Baycrest Centre on May 23 at 7pm. On the program is Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes, String Quartet Op.44 No.1 by Mendelssohn and Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet. Gec (on piano), will be joined by Kaye Royer on clarinet, violinists Catherine Sulem and John Bailey, violist Dorothy Pellerin and Susan Naccache on cello. Heal on, musical alchemists!

18-19_2_alt_wychwood_clarinet_choirDid someone order an extra clarinet? Make that 18. That’s the number of members currently playing in the Wychwood Clarinet Choir. This lively group is now in its third season and they’re going strong, under the leadership of Michele Jacot, WCC’s artistic director and conductor. Founding member Roy Greaves, who plays bass clarinet with the group (as well as the “usual soprano in b-flat” that everyone in the ensemble plays), shared a few words with me, by e-mail, about the WCC, starting with its inception in 2009:

“Some adult clarinet students of Michele Jacot were looking for an alternative to playing in a community band at the same time as Michele was considering adding conducting to her teaching and performing schedule. I was about to retire from teaching music at Oakwood Collegiate (Michele is a former student of mine) and was also looking for a different musical challenge. (The teacher becomes the student; the student the teacher.) Thus began the start of the Wychwood Clarinet Choir.”

By fall of that year, a rehearsal space was found, as were several like-minded clarinetists, and in its first season the WCC gave two major concerts along with smaller performances, including one at the (then) new Wychwood Barns. They’ve since added school performances to the mix, along with opportunities for high school and university students to perform with them, in varying capacities, including that of conductor. While Greaves assists with artistic choices and occasionally conducts, and several members of the group arrange and compose for the choir, he credits Jacot with having the “vision that really makes the group work.” Jacot gets the last word (which I lifted from the WCC’s website): “The goal of the WCC is to both learn together as well as to play the best music possible to reflect the unique sound of our ensemble and it’s my job to ensure that we have fun doing it.”

Well, actually, I get the last word: the WCC’s “Spring Concert 2012” is on May 27, 3:30pm, at St. Michael and All Angels Church. On the wonderfully eclectic program will be works by Julius Fucik, Clare Grundman, Glenn Miller, Mozart and Mancini.

Putting the “commune” in community orchestra: There are well over a dozen concerts being performed by community orchestras (COs) this month. So, rather than scant words about each, I thought I’d ask one dedicated CO player to give you an idea of the many rewards of participating in this often unsung sector of the musical scene. (You will also find a number of CO concerts in the Quick Picks list at the end of this column.)

Adam Weinmann, a busy oboe player, accompanist, cabaret performer and teacher (and our Canary Pages editor) suggested I contact Laura Rosenfield, principal oboe with the NYCO Symphony Orchestra, someone he met when he sat in with NYCO a few times, about two years ago. Good call, Adam.

“Belonging to a community orchestra means playing the world’s most beautiful music with like-minded people who share a love of classical music,” Rosenfield wrote. “Community orchestras allow amateurs of all ages and from all walks of life to experience the joy of making music, as well as the opportunity to grow and improve as musicians. They also offer high school students and university music majors invaluable real-world experience with conductors, ensemble playing, and classical repertoire. While I frequently attend concerts by professional orchestras, I love the unique and thrilling challenge of playing the same repertoire in ‘my’ community orchestra.

“Perhaps the greatest reward of performing is bringing music to audiences that might not otherwise be able to hear live music, via outreach concerts in seniors’ homes and hospitals. School concerts, which help children to appreciate classical music and learn about the instruments of the orchestra, are heartwarming experiences, as well. I think that my own children learned early to appreciate classical music by hearing my daily practice, as well as recordings of pieces I was working on. Also, they were curious to attend mom’s concerts!

“Amateur orchestras foster a feeling of community that is truly enriching and transformative. I have learned about the volunteer and non-profit sector, have benefited from taking on various volunteer administrative tasks in community music over the years, and have made lasting friends. I suspect that most of my fellow musicians would agree that the stresses of everyday life melt away when the baton drops and the orchestra begins to play … ”

18_laura_rosenfield__principal_oboe__nyco_symphony_orchestraThe NYCO Symphony Orchestra, by the way, began as a reading orchestra under the auspices of the North York Symphony in 1975 and evolved into an independent, community-based orchestra around 1988. Rather than hold formal auditions, it invites new players to sit in for a couple of rehearsals to test the “compatibility factor.” Then, if you are offered a permanent position you are expected to pay a membership fee. (A wonderful twist to the typical professional musician’s fate of often not getting paid enough for their efforts.) In addition, NYCO members are obliged to purchase a subscription. Clearly, both these fees are critical in allowing this CO to provide its exceptional, community-enhancing, music-making opportunities, and you will find variations on the same theme among many other community orchestras.

You will find Rosenfield in her first oboist’s chair when NYCO performs Smetana’s The Moldau, Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations (with principal cellist, Sybil Herceg-Shanahan) and Dvořák’s Symphony No.8, under the baton of its music director and conductor, David Bowser, June 2, 8pm, at Centre for the Arts, St. Michael’s College School. There’s a pre-concert chat at 7:30pm.

Community Orchestra Quick Picks

May 6, 2:30: Orchestra Kingston. Works by Suppé, J. Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Copland and others.

May 6, 3:00: Symphony on the Bay. Works by Bach, Liszt and Rachmaninoff.

May 10, 8:00: Corktown Chamber Orchestra. Works by Beethoven, Bach and Dvořák.

May 12 and 13, 7:30: Huronia Symphony Orchestra. Works by Dvořák, Raum, Beethoven and Verdi. (Beyond the GTA).

May 12, 8:00: Counterpoint Community Orchestra. Works by Widor, Saint-Saëns, Bach-Stokowski, Bizet and others.

May 12 and 13, 8:00: Oakville Symphony Orchestra. Guest: Polovois Issariotis, guitar.

May 12, 8:00: Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra. Works by Vivaldi, Mozart and Magowan and Denomme-Welch. 7:15: Pre-concert chat.

May 26, 8:00: Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra. Works by R. and J. Strauss and Bizet.

May 26 and 27, 8:00: York Symphony Orchestra. Works by R. Strauss, Amram and Prokofiev.

May 27, 3:00: Orchestra Toronto. Beethoven’s Symphony No.9. 2:15: Pre-concert talk.

June 1, 8:00: Etobicoke Philharmonic Orchestra. Works by Debussy, Rodrigo and Berlioz. 7:30: Pre-concert chat.

Now go out and get yourself some of that community spirit!

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

Before I launch into April’s offerings, a few bits of follow-up from last month’s column are in order: Nathan Brock, the conductor who made his “homecoming” debut with the TSO on March 24 — and what a splendid evening it was! — was presented from the stage that same evening with the Heinz Unger Award, an $8,000 prize established to encourage and highlight the career of a “young to mid-career Canadian conductor.” It was a big night for Brock as it was also announced that he has been promoted from assistant conductor to resident conductor of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, and will begin that post in September 2012. Bravo Maestro Brock!

Also last month, my online search failed to come up with the Juilliard String Quartet’s last Toronto performance. Music Toronto’s Jennifer Taylor has since informed me that the JSQ played for Music Toronto 11 times between 1973 and 2000, and that 2000 may well have been the JSQ’s last year here. Thank you, Jennifer, for filling in the blanks.

Connect the Dots: And now to the month at hand. In preparing the column, I found myself connecting some “musical dots” among those performers on whom I was focussing. One is a violin prodigy, Mercedes Cheung, making her orchestral debut — she played for (and was praised by) Itzhak Perlman who was on her Juilliard School entry jury. Perlman, of course, is in town this month for an extended visit with the TSO — he’ll be performing with his former Juilliard student, the TSO’s Peter Oundjian.

And then there’s pianist Ishay Shaer, making his Toronto debut in early April. Shaer, like Perlman, was born in Israel and studied music at Tel Aviv University. In 2009, Shaer performed with acclaimed cellist Mischa Maisky. Guess what? Maisky (who also happens to hold Israeli citizenship) makes his first appearance in Toronto in 34 years, in early May.

And now, from the dots to the details.

classical_and_beyond_mercedes_cheung-juilliard_portrait-4The Prodigy: Something rather special is happening in Richmond Hill on April 8. That’s the night violinist Mercedes Cheung performs “Winter” from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, in her debut with the Markham Symphony Orchestra under the baton of her father, Ephraim Cheung, MSO’s music director. Father and daughter will share the stage at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts. Did I mention that Mercedes is ten years old?

I asked the young guest soloist (and Markham resident) to share some of her thoughts on the upcoming debut with her father. Was she excited? Nervous? Here’s what she wrote:

“It’s so exciting to perform with my Daddy. Nervous? Never! Excited? Ye….s! It will be another kind of feeling … Fresh!!!! He has been teaching me violin since I was a baby, and he continues to teach me together with Mr. Weilerstein at the Juilliard School. I’m so happy that I will have a chance to watch him rehearse with me & the orchestra … I have been waiting & looking forward to this chance … He is my violin teacher, father and best friend and … my conductor!”

Cheung is no stranger to the stage, having given her recital debut at age six and performed numerous times since. The dizzying list of her achievements, awards, performances and media spots takes up almost two letter-sized pieces of paper (single-spaced and small print). Mercedes’ mother, Nancy Tye, (herself a pianist, pedagogue and Royal Conservatory examiner) informed me that Mercedes is currently enrolled in Juilliard’s Pre-College Division – Young Talented Program and travels to New York every weekend to take classes. She sees her teacher, noted violinist Donald Weilerstein every other weekend in Boston, en route to Juilliard. (Weilerstein is on faculty at both Juilliard, where he holds the Dorothy Richard Starling Chair, previously held by Perlman — yet more dots — and the New England Conservatory of Music.)

From that aforementioned mind-boggling list, I gleaned that Mercedes was seven years old when she passed the Royal Conservatory’s Grade 10 violin exam, eight when she passed the Grade 9 piano exam — uh huh, piano, too — and nine when she completed her ARCT in violin performance — all with distinction. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Grade 5 Sir Wilfrid Laurier Public School student (French immersion, of course) will make her Carnegie Hall debut at Weill Hall on November 3, 2012, in a performance of Paganini’s 24 Caprices for Solo Violin. (Phew!)

Clearly, this is a little girl with big plans who appears to have the necessary drive, discipline and diligence to succeed; that, and an extraordinary musical gift.

classical_and_beyond_ishay_shaer_ishay_171The Pianist: Tel Aviv-based Ishay Shaer is considered one of the leading young Israeli pianists, “young” being a relative term at this point: after all, he’s almost three times Cheung’s age! When he arrives in Toronto to perform two sets of Beethoven bagatelles (Op.126 and Op.119), Chopin’s Twelve Études Op. 25 and Harry Somers’ Piano Sonata No.1, it will be, he tells me, his “first performance in Canada, and moreover my first visit to the country.” Syrinx Sunday Salons is presenting Shaer at the Heliconian Hall on April 8 at 3pm (giving you time to head over to Richmond Hill that evening to catch the Cheungs).

One of Syrinx’ main objectives is to promote the music of Canadian classical composers, hence the Somers on the program. Shaer provides these comments about his choice to perform the esteemed, late Canadian composer’s sonata:

“I was given a number of suggestions for a Canadian work by Ms. Dorothy Sandler-Glick from the Syrinx Sunday Salons. It was an opportunity for me to do some research, as I had never played any Canadian music before. As soon as I heard Somers’ first piano sonata it became quite clear to me that I wanted to study and perform it. I usually find it fascinating to examine different approaches to composition of 20th century music, and especially of those innovators embedded in more conservative environments. To me Somers’ particular case seems a very interesting one.”

Shaer has won numerous prizes and has performed in the UK, Poland, Puerto Rico, the USA, all over South America and, of course, Israel, to name but a few countries. And he keeps some serious musical company. As alluded to earlier, Shaer, for his prize-winning efforts at the 2009 International Beethoven Competition in Bonn, also won the privilege of playing Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No.1 in F Major with Maisky; he consults, when the opportunity arises, with Daniel Barenboim; he attended a masterclass with Murray Perahia; and was recently invited by Shlomo Mintz to perform at the prestigious Sion Festival in Switzerland this coming September. I was very curious about (and envious of) the masterclass with Perahia (a favourite pianist I have long-admired). So I asked Shaer about it:

“That master class with Murray Perahia took place in 2007 in the Jerusalem Music Centre … I recall having performed Chopin’s third piano sonata there for the first time … He shed light on [its] structure … and his demonstrations on the piano were a true revelation for me …”

I wonder if we’ll detect traces of Perahia’s “revelations” when Shaer tackles the Chopin études. He strikes me as a sensitive, intelligent artist who deeply absorbs the wisdom of his musical elders.

classical_and_beyond_oundjian_and_perlmanThe Masters: So much has been written about Mischa Maisky that his story is storied. Many of you probably know that he has the distinction of being the only cellist in the world to have studied with both Rostropovich and Piatigorsky; that despite being a prizewinner at the Tchaikovsky Competition (1966) he was later imprisoned in a labour camp near Gorky for 18 months (1970); and that throughout his celebrated career he has collaborated often with the likes of pianists Martha Argerich and Radu Lupu. But did you know that he started to play the cello the same year that he quit smoking … at age eight? In 2007, Maisky gave a wonderfully candid and colourful interview to the Internet Cello Society’s Tim Janof. It’s a fascinating read, during which you’ll learn, among other things, about his short-lived smoking habit. www.cello.org/Newsletter/Articles/maisky/maisky.htm.

As for his long-overdue return to Toronto, Maisky will be guest soloist with the Moscow Soloists Chamber Orchestra, which, with founder, conductor and violist Yuri Bashmet, performs at Roy Thomson Hall on May 3, as part of its 20th anniversary tour. Schubert’s Quartet in D Minor “Death and the Maiden” (arranged by Mahler) and Brahms’ Quintet in B Minor for Viola and Strings (arranged for small orchestra) are on the program. Maisky performs the Cello Concerto No.1 in C Major by Haydn and Tchaikovsky’s Nocturne in D Minor for Cello and Orchestra.

Once Itzhak Perlman arrives for his April 25 to 28 residency with the TSO, you’ll have several opportunities to catch this master violinist.

“In April, my dear friend and former teacher Itzhak Perlman joins the TSO for two very special programmes, which highlight his versatility as both conductor and soloist,” wrote Peter Oundjian to me. “He will perform Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and, in a very special concert which he also conducts, he and I will join forces to perform J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins and String Orchestra. I’m sure it will be a deeply meaningful experience [for me]. Itzhak will also be working with the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra and other young Toronto musicians during his residency.”

Perlman plays the Beethoven on April 25 and 26 at Roy Thomson Hall in a program that also includes two Khachaturian suites and Tchaikovsky’s symphonic poem Francesca da Rimini. Following their performance of the sublime Bach double violin concerto (April 28), Oundjian and Perlman will engage in a conversation from the stage. That same night, Perlman will also conduct Mozart’s Overture to Don Giovanni and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.5.

In addition to his visit with the TSO, Perlman will be joined by students of the Perlman Music Program for an afternoon concert of chamber music at Koerner Hall on April 29. On the program are works by Mozart, Shostakovich and Mendelssohn’s remarkable Octet in E-Flat Major Op.20.

Lucky are they who get to partake of (and take part in) any aspect of Perlman’s extended visit to Toronto.

And lucky are we to have such an abundance of auspicious musical fare in April. There’s much more to be found in this month’s listings. Peruse, pick a few, step out into spring and enjoy!

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

“Orchestra Month” in Southern Ontario?

If April is “opera month” in Southern Ontario, perhaps March should be proclaimed “orchestra month” given the wealth, diversity and richness of orchestral music being offered this month. From no less than four predominantly Russian programmes, three mostly-French programmes and two mostly-Italian programmes, to several concerts featuring a significant choral component, what we have this month is a veritable orchestral feast, bordering on an (enviable) embarrassment of riches.

Local boy makes good

15_Nathan-Brock-1-HRStarting with a much anticipated homecoming, on March 24 conductor Nathan Brock will “return home” for his debut with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Toronto-born Brock (also a U of T Faculty of Music grad), who has held the post of assistant conductor of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal since July 2009, will conduct the TSO in an all-Russian programme, with guest cellist Joshua Roman; the programme will be repeated on the 25th. I had an opportunity to ask Brock a few questions regarding his upcoming “homecoming.” This is what he says goes through his head (and heart) when he thinks about his imminent TSO debut:

“Conducting at home is a particular thrill and also a particular challenge. I haven’t been part of the Toronto music scene for almost ten years (I left in 2002) and obviously a lot has changed in my life … When I left I was still really just a kid. Since then I’ve put several degrees, many countries, contact with many of the world’s greatest conductors, a marriage and two kids under my proverbial belt. A number of the players in the symphony are old friends, an even greater number are old teachers, mentors and frankly, idols from my musical upbringing in Toronto. I’m thrilled to be given the chance to show them what I can do!”… it’s a strange mix of nerves and excitement being in front of the home crowd. These emotions are also tempered by a great sadness at the thought of experiencing this moment without some of the people who have influenced my musical life the most.”

I wondered about his thoughts on Russian music, too, given that he’ll be conducting an all-Russian programme. “Russian music is wonderful. It’s visceral. The spirit of this people is incomparable and leaps from every page of the great Russian classics whether it’s Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, Tchaikovsky or Shostakovich. You simply can’t escape its potent affect. It is music that grabs you and changes you — no questions asked (Russians aren’t ones to stand on ceremony!).”

When I asked Brock, himself a cellist, about the dynamic of conducting a fellow cellist he said that “there is definitely a simpatico,” adding, with a wink, “We’re such easy people.” He also figured, given their relative closeness in age and the music being performed, that he and Roman will “get along just great!”

Brock also appears to “get along just great” with the younger set, the 6 to 16 year olds. In his role as assistant conductor with the OSM, he was recently awarded a Prix Opus for the youth concert project he led, ingeniously titled, “You Can Never Be Too Classical.” Brock thinks that “kids, especially as they get older, can appreciate when they are being fed ‘for kids’ material as opposed to getting the real thing.” The programme for the concert that won him the Opus? “We started with some Vivaldi, progressed through Debussy, Adams, even some Gougeon, to Stravinsky. We finished the last 20 minutes by playing the Firebird Suite!”

Brock will conduct (some more of) that powerful Russian repertoire including Glinka’s Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila, Borodin’s Polovetsian Dances from Prince Igor, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol and Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, (with cellist Roman), March 24 (7:30pm) and 25 (3pm), at Roy Thomson Hall.

Kuerti at Kitchener

Coincidentally, another Toronto-born conductor, Julian Kuerti, will be performing with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony over the same weekend that Brock conducts the TSO; actually, Kuerti and the KWS perform on March 23 and 24, so, in theory, you can catch both Kuerti and Brock at the podium with a bit of advance planning. Kuerti, who completed a two-year post a few years ago as assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, made his TSO debut in 2007. He is now a freelance conductor with a full concert schedule in North America and Europe. In fact, during the same weekend I was hoping to reach him for this column, it turned out he was busy guest conducting the Colorado Springs Philharmonic. When he comes to Kitchener, Kuerti will lead the KWS and the young pianist, Nareh Arghamanyan, in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.5, the “Emperor,” a piece he is intimately familiar with, not surprisingly, given that he is the son of renowned Beethoven expert, pianist Anton Kuerti. (He also conducted his father in the “Emperor” in a “legendary, last minute” event, in March, 2008, in Boston. Worth googling!)

Ms. Arghamanyan and Kuerti will no doubt provide two grand evenings of music making with the KWS, at the Centre in The Square, at 8pm. Also on the programme is Gary Kulesha’s Torque and Schumann’s Symphony No.2.

And much more

In what is shaping up to be a very busy weekend in March, the 23rd and 24th will also see Masterworks of Oakville Chorus and Orchestra mount Mahler’s Symphony No.2, “Resurrection,” one of its “most ambitious concerts yet,” according to a backgrounder we received from conductor Charles Demuynck. Soprano Marian Sjolander and alto Kyle Engler will join an orchestra of 90 and a chorus of 80 for the 8pm event at St. Matthews Roman Catholic Church in Oakville. And as is often — no, make that always — the case with this column, the month’s offerings present yet another “so many concerts, so little room” quandary. For more on the month’s orchestral riches, please refer to what is fast becoming a regular “Quick Picks” feature, at the end.

“String Quartet Month” in Southern Ontario?

16_Juilliard_String_Quartet_Windows_Close-Up_Credit_C_2010_Steve_J_ShermanI started by saying March might well be dubbed Orchestra Month, but there is an equally strong case for calling it String Quartet Month. Why? Because this month there are — count them — ten quartets performing throughout Toronto, the GTA and beyond. The Juilliard String Quartet (more about them later), for example, is performing both in Markham and at Brock University; the Vogler is first at the Hamilton Conservatory and then, about two weeks later, at the Royal Conservatory. And here are the other eight: Bozzini, Cecilia, Penderecki, Silver Birch, Simon Bolivar, Takács, Ton Beau and Tokyo (more of them later, too).

So, from the splendour of a 90-piece orchestra, let’s turn, now, to the intimacy, and dare I say it, relative complexity, of the string quartet. Of the ten performing in around the GTA this month, I thought I might attempt a “compare and contrast” with two of them: the Juilliard String Quartet (JSQ) and the Tokyo String Quartet (TSQ).

Both are quartets of long standing, the JSQ having been established in 1949, the TSQ, in 1969. Each is “quartet in-residence” at a prestigious music school: the JSQ at … yes, the eponymous Juilliard School; the TSQ — whose founding members (all former music students of Tokyo’s famed string teacher Hideo Saito) met while studying at Juilliard and who were trained by members of the JSQ — at Yale. Robert Mann, founding member of the Juilliard, spent 52 years as first violin, leaving in 1997, and their newest member, first violin Joseph Lin, started in 2011; the Tokyo’s violist, Kazuhide Isomura, a member of the group since its inception, will be retiring in 2013 (along with second violin Kikuei Ikeda, a member since 1974), after 44 years. (“Our very own” Peter Oundjian played first violin with the Tokyo for 14 years (1981 to 1995) before taking up the post of music director with the TSO in 2004; incidentally, he also studied at Juilliard.) And finally, try as I may, I could not find out when the JSQ last performed in Toronto; I gather it’s been a while. I did learn, however, that their Canadian debut took place in 1965, in a concert presented by the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto; they performed twice more for the WMCT, in 1967 and 1972. The TSQ, on the other hand, has had a “regular gig” with Music Toronto, returning almost every season (twice sometimes, like in this one) since its first visit in 1975.

Regarding the 2013 departures of Isomura and Ikeda from the TSQ, members of the quartet referred to the two leaving “their indelible stamp on the Tokyo’s DNA.” A moving statement and an engaging concept, one definitely worth pursuing, at another time …

In the meantime, however, the TSQ performs Haydn’s Quartet in G Op.64 No.4 and Bartók quartets nos. 1 and 2 in its 44th concert for Music Toronto on March 15, 8pm, at the Jane Mallett Theatre. And the JSQ performs Haydn’s Quartet in G Major Op. 54 No.1, Donald Martino’s Quartet No.5 and Beethoven’s Quartet in B-flat Major Op.130 with Grosse Fuge, on March 28, 8pm, at the Markham Theatre. They repeat the programme, replacing the Martino with Elliott Carter’s Quartet No.5, March 30, at Brock University’s Sean O’Sullivan Theatre, 7:30pm.

QUICK PICKS (see details in our concert listings):

Orchestral, Mostly Russian

• March 10, 7:30: Barrie Concerts. Russian Masters. Works by Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky. Hi-Way Pentecostal Church, 50 Anne St. N., Barrie.

• April 3, 8:00: National Ballet of Canada. 60th Anniversary Concert of the National Ballet of Canada Orchestra. Music by Borodin, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Talbot and others. Koerner Hall.

Orchestral, Mostly French

• March 24, 24 8:00: Mississauga Symphony. French Connection. Works by Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky and others. Elaine Hou, piano. Hammerson Hall, Living Arts Centre, Mississauga.

• April 1, 3:00: Guelph Symphony Orchestra. Tour the World: French Masters. Works by Berlioz, Ravel and Franck. Sarah Whynot, piano; Judith Yan, conductor. River Run Centre, Guelph.

Orchestral, Mostly Italian

• March 3, 8:00: Greater Toronto Philharmonic Orchestra. Spring Pops: all’Italiana. Works by Rossini, Vivaldi, Haydn and others. Aria Tesolin, mezzo; Entela Galanxhi. Columbus Centre.

• March 9, 7:30: Toronto Symphony Orchestra. What Makes it Great? Vivaldi Four Seasons. Jennifer Koh, violin; Rob Kapilow, conductor and host. Roy Thomson Hall.

Orchestral, Mostly Choral

• March 25, 2:30: Kingston Symphony. The Creation. Haydn. Kingston Choral Society and soloists; Glen Fast, music director. Kingston Gospel Temple, Kingston.

• March 31, 8:00: NYCO Symphony Orchestra. Music by Mozart. Includes Mozart’s “Coronation” Mass. NYCO Symphony Chorus; Oakville Choral Society; and soloists. St. Michael’s College School.

Some Other String Quartets

• March 11, 3:00: Royal Conservatory. Chamber Music Series: Takács Quartet with Joyce Yang, piano. Beethoven: String Quartet No.14 in c-sharp; Dvořák: Piano Quintet in A. Koerner Hall.

• March 26, 7:30: University of Toronto Faculty of Music. Chamber Music Series: Simón Bolívar String Quartet. Works by Haydn, Ginastera and Schubert. Walter Hall.

• March 28, 8:00: Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society. Silver Birch String Quartet. Works by Mozart, Beethoven and Boccherini. KWCMS Music Room, Waterloo.

• March 29, 1:30: Women’s Musical Club of Toronto. Music in the Afternoon: Cecilia String Quartet. Works by Mozart, Shostakovich, Sokolović, Puccini and Beethoven. Walter Hall.

• April 5, 8:00: Music Toronto. Quartet Series: Quatour Bozzini. Works by Stravinsky, Osterle and Britten. Jane Mallett Theatre.

It’s a full-up month! Enjoy!

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

When writing a monthly column that involves regularly working your way through over 500 detailed listings, you look for ways to inject a little bit of silliness into a task that, at times can be, shall we say, a tad dryish. So, I keep my eyes open for quirks and curiosities. This month, for example, I noticed that several of Canada’s finest pianists performing “classical and beyond” repertoire have first names starting with the letter “A.” Granted, there are also many (close to 30) whose names do not. Nonetheless, the “A list” struck me as, well, quirky; as good a place as any to start.

Another quirky thing: the proliferation of concerts (22 to be exact) featuring works by Brahms: orchestral, chamber, piano solo, piano and orchestra, violin and orchestra, piano and violin duo, solo singers, full choirs (with and without orchestra). Was there a special Brahms birthday or anniversary? Let’s see. Born May 1833, died April 1897. Nope, that’s not it. Must simply be a case of wanting to “Beat the February Blahs with Brahms.” So let’s begin.

A is for André, Arthur (x2), Anton, Angela and Aaron

André Laplante, Arthur Ozolins, Arthur Rowe, Anton Kuerti (performing three concerts), Angela Park and Aaron Chow (performing in the same concert) will all be gracing stages, both in and beyond the GTA, in February. (So will Adam Sherkin, Feb 19, and Angus Sinclair, March 6, but their repertoire falls outside my beat.)

Anton Kuerti is synonymous with great Beethoven playing, so it comes as no surprise that he will be performing works by Beethoven in all three of his concerts. First up is the majestic Piano Concerto No.5, the “Emperor,” with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, on February 2 and 4 at 8pm. Also on the programme is Symphony No.10 by Shostakovich. The great Günther Herbig conducts. Next, Kuerti entertains the young ones in Mooredale Concerts’ Music and Truffles series with “Beethoven – Immortal Musical Genius” at 1:15pm, Walter Hall, February 12. Last, Kuerti will perform an all-Beethoven recital for Barrie’s Georgian Music on February 19.

Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra conducted by Norman Reintamm features the acclaimed Arthur Ozolins February 4, in a performance of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2, along with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony at the P.C. Ho Theatre.

The New Orford String Quartet will perform Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F Minor, with Arthur Rowe, for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society on Feb 10, at the KWCMS Music Room in Waterloo, and again the next day in London’s Wolf Performance Hall, as part of the Jeffrey Concerts; Rowe is the artistic director for that series.

Back in the GTA, the Aurora Cultural Centre has landed the always electrifying André Laplante for its Great Artist Piano Series! Laplante will perform works by Liszt (his specialty) and Schubert at the Centre on February 17, 8pm. And speaking of Liszt, all you die-hard romantics looking for a post-Valentine’s Day fix can hear Angela Park and Aaron Chow, along with soprano Eve Rachel McLeod and Rachel Mercer, cello, in “A Romantic Music Tryst with Liszt,” presented by the Neapolitan Connection, in a matinee on February 19, at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

B is for Brahms

Space limitations won’t permit me to delve into detail on all 22 Brahms concerts I mentioned in the introduction. I’ll focus on a few (and you can check out others in Part C at the end of the column).

“Warhol Dervish” is a pretty intriguing concert title. February 3 at 8pm, at Gallery 345, the concert should prove equally intriguing, featuring, among other more twisty repertoire, Brahms’ Horn Trio and Mozart’s Clarinet Trio — both in E-flat major, both arranged for violin, viola and piano — played by John Corban, Pemi Paull and Katelyn Clark, respectively. And another winner in the concert title category, given that they’re performing sextets by Brahms and Dvořák, is Via Salzburg’s “Six Degrees of Separation.” Catch all degrees of fun at Rosedale United Church, February 10, 8pm.

16_kern2_-_by_christian_steiner16_spivakovShow One Productions is presenting a very special event on February 23 at Koerner Hall. Legendary violinist Vladimir Spivakov and outstanding pianist Olga Kern will perform as a duo — a first for Toronto! And their programme is absolutely sumptuous: Brahms’ Sonata No.3 in D Minor Op.108; Franck’s Sonata in A; Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne (based on his ballet music for Pulcinella); and Spiegel im Spiegel by Pärt. As an added attraction, in this case “B” is also for Bösendorfer. At her request, Kern will perform on a nine-and-a-half foot, 97-key Imperial Bösendorfer grand (courtesy Robert Lowrey Piano Experts), apparently the only piano that could withstand Liszt’s powerful touch. Not only is it Kern’s preference, it was also the choice of jazz great Oscar Peterson. The magic begins at 8pm.

And last, Ontario Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Marco Parisotto, has programmed a magnificent all-Brahms concert, which it will perform twice. “A Journey Into Brahms” plays on February 25, at the Regent Theatre in Oshawa, and then “journeys into Toronto” on February 28, for a concert jointly presented with Mooredale Concerts, at Koerner Hall. The exciting soloist featured in the compelling Violin Concerto in D Major is young Korean violinist, Ye-Eun Choi, in her Toronto debut. A protégée of Anna-Sophie Mutter, Choi debuted with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Alan Gilbert in 2009. Also on the programme is Brahms’ Symphony No.2. It promises to be a fine evening.

C is for Classical Column Concluding with Concise Quick Picks (details are in our concert listings):

February 9, 7:30: Royal Conservatory. Discovery Series: Hiroko Kudo, piano and Tobias Bäz, cello. Works by De Falla, Brahms and Martinů. Mazzoleni Concert Hall.

February 19, 2:00: Royal Conservatory. Mazzoleni Masters Series. All-Brahms programme. Members of the Arc Ensemble.

February 21, 12:00 noon: Canadian Opera Company. Passion and Poetry. Works by Schubert, Brahms and Chopin. Mehdi Ghazi, piano. Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

February 22 and 23, 8:00: Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Brahms Symphony 4. Also works by Fauré and Britten. Karina Gauvin, soprano; Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor. Roy Thomson Hall.

February 23, 1:30: Women’s Musical Club of Toronto. Music in the Afternoon: Roger Chase, viola and Michiko Otaki, piano. Works by Ireland, Bowen, Delius, Bach and Brahms. Walter Hall.

February 25, 8:00: Canadian Sinfonietta. Wine and Cheese. Works by Brahms, Schnittke and Ravel. Michael Esch, piano; Joyce Lai, violin; Olivia Brayley Quackenbush, horn. Heliconian Hall.

February 28, 4:30: Guelph Connection Concerts. Doug Miller and Friends. Works by Bach and Brahms. Doug Miller, flute; Darius Bagli, piano. St. George’s Anglican Church, Guelph.

March 6, 8:00: Music Toronto. Piano Series: Richard Goode. Brahms: Eight Pieces Op.76; Chopin: short works tba; Sonata No.3 in b Op.58. Jane Mallett Theatre.

This month’s column was brought to you by the letters A, B and C. Avail yourself of all the listings, beat those blahs, catch a concert or two and enjoy!

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

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