13_counterpoint_1_captmondo_may30-09_cocj-703006If you’re looking for something in the realm of classical music in December — and I mean “classical” as in not baroque or renaissance music — you’re in luck … sort of. I say “sort of” because while there are indeed December offerings that don’t involve one adaptation or another of Handel’s baroque masterpiece, Messiah, or lovely renaissance-themed Christmas concerts, the pickings are slimmer than usual. However, the “luck” part lies in the fact that, at least for December, you will not be completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of “Classical & Beyond” (C&B) concerts from which to have to choose. (Let’s face it, that is usually the case with this beat, covering as it must everything from Haydn to Bartók, from solo recitals to orchestras.) So, amid the hustle and bustle of the season, hop on and enjoy the “less is more” C&B sleigh ride for December while you rest up for January!

TAKING STOCK: Any readers inclined to contest my thesis of December’s “less is more” vs. January’s “abundance,” should work their way through the listings as I did, taking stock. They will find 27 concerts in December that fall within C&B’s purview, 42 in January, and 11 in the first seven days of February. They will also doubtless find other interesting patterns emerging. They may notice as I did that of the 27 December concerts, seven offer Mozart, as do 12 in January and one in February. That translates into over 25% of December/January/first-week-of February C&B concerts that have some Mozart in their programmes. Not an insignificant number.

I also noticed six concerts specifically geared to the “younger set”; while not a huge number, the concerts are, nonetheless, pleasing and varied. And I spotted four concerts featuring a Viennese theme, two each in the GTA and beyond the GTA, with one very interesting connection surfacing: two concerts — one GTA, one beyond — actually have “Vienna” in the concert title and both are holding matinees on New Year’s Day. So, armed with all of the above info and analysis, let’s dive into the details.

DECEMBER’S DELIGHTS: Toronto’s Counterpoint Community Orchestra, the “first lesbian/gay/gay-positive orchestra in the world,” celebrates the opening of its 28th season in grand fashion, with a performance of Mozart’s Symphony No.41, the “Jupiter,” on December 3. Directed by Terry Kowalczuk, the CCO’s programme also includes works by Khachaturian, Shostakovich, Schubert, Sousa and von Suppé’s Light Cavalry Overture. St. Luke’s United Church on Sherbourne is the venue. (And if you’re itching for a second dose of the “Jupiter,” you’ll have your chance when the Toronto Symphony Orchestra performs it (twice) in January — details below.)

14_classical_jan_lisieckiOn December 4, both the Kawartha Youth Orchestra and Orchestra Toronto have matinee performances that are “youth/family friendly.” An even more striking coincidence: each is performing Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto No.2, with 16-year old soloists! The KYO features Claire Motyer on violin; Clarisse Schneider does the honours with OT. (Schneider is the winner of OT’s first Concerto Competition: Marta Hidy prize). The KYO also performs works by Sibelius and — you guessed it — Mozart. You’ll find them at Market Hall Theatre in Peterborough at 3pm. Also starting at 3pm, OT’s concert, titled “The Musician Storyteller,” includes Berlioz’s March to the Scaffold and Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel overture, as well as works by Khachaturian and Villa-Lobos. All OT’s concerts are at the George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts.

Staying with youth-oriented fare for a moment, Mooredale Concerts, which operates a youth orchestras programme (in addition to its two other established series), presents three levels of orchestras comprising 100 players (ages 6 to 18) on December 11, 3pm, at Rosedale Heights School of the Arts. The Junior Orchestra, under William Rowson, performs Handel’s Gavotte in A, Pichl’s Pastorella and Menuett in G by (“Mr. 25%”) Mozart. Rowson also conducts the Senior Orchestra and it performs Elgar’s Serenade for Strings Op.20 and — yes, indeed — Mozart’s Divertimento in D Major K136. The Intermediate Orchestra will play Handel’s Concerto Grosso Op.6 No.4, Clare Carberry conducting.

Kudos to Mooredale Concerts for exposing so many youth to the riches of the orchestral repertoire. In its “Music and Truffles” series, an adjunct to its regular concert series, Mooredale shares the wealth of chamber music with young people, ages 5 to 15. At 1:15pm, on January 15, for example, you can take the munchkins in your life to hear music by Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky and Piazzolla; the “adult” concert starts at 3:15pm the same day, featuring the same repertoire played in full.

Returning to our “less is more” December theme, in a concert titled “Holiday Charms,” December 9 at Glenn Gould Studio, Sinfonia Toronto performs Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.1 under guest conductor Robert Bokor and violinist Sanghee Cheong. The programme also includes Wolf-Ferrari’s String Serenade, Corelli’s Concerto Grosso Op.6 No.8 “Christmas Concerto,” and Ricercare by Buhr. (ST offers more Mozart on January 20, in its concert titled “Black and White”: Clarinet Quintet K581, orchestral version, with James Campbell, clarinet; and Divertimento K137; this January concert also features the orchestral version of Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet, with Dmitriy Gordin, piano.)

Mozart is also on offer when the Junction Trio presents its “Celebrating the Season with Sound” concert on December 15, 7pm, at the North York Central Library auditorium. The trio also performs works by Bach and Handel. The concert is free, but we are asked to give them a call to register.

Continuing our fine-combing of the listings, it’s not often we get the chance to attend a “Doctoral Recital in Orchestral Conducting,” for free, no less. At 1:15pm at Walter Hall (University of Toronto Faculty of Music) Kerim S. Anwar will conduct Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and works by Stravinsky and Schoenberg. Good luck Mr. soon-to-be-Dr. Anwar! And since we’re at the U of T, the Faculty of Music’s free, three-day “PianoFest” happens December 12, 14 and 16, at 7:30pm each night, featuring the advanced students of the piano department.

Just two more December concerts and then I’ll move on to January. Amici Chamber Ensemble presents “Critics Choice: What do they really want to hear?” on December 16 at 8pm. Sounds like fun, especially since they’ve invited critics John Vandriel, Colin Eatock and John Terauds as their guests, along with Yehonatan Berick and Min-Jeong Koh, violin and Barry Shiffman, viola. Hopefully, everyone attending will enjoy hearing the programme of works by Beethoven, Poulenc and Elgar. (What? No Mozart?)

Syrinx Sunday Salons presents a splendid afternoon of works by Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Gershwin, Alexander Levkovich, Dmitri Levkovich and others. Pianist/composer Dmitri Levkovich and pianist Anzhelika Fuks will also perform a piece dear to my heart, Schubert’s Fantasie for Four Hands in F Minor Op.103 D940, a copy of which sits atop my piano, at the ready, should someone drop by who can handle the secondo part; I always play the primo. A young friend of mine in Vancouver and I have valiantly attempted to make our way through it many times, over many years; she is my primo secondo! I’m excited to hear these two young and dynamic players do it justice on December 11, 3pm, at Heliconian Hall!

JANUARY’S JEWELS: With over 40 concerts, there’s much from which to choose, making the decision of who and what to include (and exclude) that much more challenging, As a solution, I’m simply going to “rattle off” as many as I can, allowing for as many concerts — and presenters — as possible to get some print:

Let’s start with the New Year’s Day “double-header in Vienna,” I alluded to earlier. Attila Glatz Concert Productions’ “Salute to Vienna” features the Strauss Symphony of Canada, András Deák, conductor, with Renee Schüttengruber, soprano, Wolfgang Gratschmaier, tenor and dancers from the Kiev-Aniko Ballet of Ukraine, at Roy Thomson Hall, 2pm. An hour later, the Guelph Symphony Orchestra presents its “Tour the World Series: Dreams of Vienna” with arias, duets, waltzes, polkas and marches. Judith Yan conducts, with Mark Dubois, tenor and Corinne Lynch, soprano, at the River Run Centre in Guelph.

Music Toronto has two fine and wonderfully varied offerings: on January 12, 8pm, at the Jane Mallett Theatre, flutist Leslie Newman and harpist Erica Goodman perform traditional South American folk songs and music by Ravi Shankar, alongside works by Bach, Saint-Saëns, Doppler/Zamara and others, for MT’s “Discovery Series.” And a week later, on January 19, (same time/same place), we are treated to a concert by the divine Lafayette Quartet performing Wolf’s Italian Serenade, Shostakovich’s String Quartet No.2 in A Major Op.68 and the String Quartet in C Minor Op.51 No.1 by Brahms.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra prevails, hands down, however, in the “Much Mozart” department. Mozart@256 Festival, the TSO’s eighth annual celebration of the composer’s birthday, offers no fewer than eight concerts in which to immerse yourself, including two for kids; all but one is at Roy Thomson Hall. Mozart@256 runs January 11 to January 22. Some of the highlights include: the Concerto for Three Pianos and Orchestra K242 (with Stewart Goodyear, Katherine Jacobson Fleisher and Leon Fleisher doing the honours); the aforementioned Symphony No.41 K551 “Jupiter”; a “Young People’s Concerts: Mozart’s Magnificent Voyage,” featuring 23 excerpts from Mozart’s works; astonishing young Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki in the Piano Concerto No.20 K466; and the Requiem K626 with a luminous cast. Phew! For all the details, see the listings.

And if after all that you still crave more Mozart, you’re in luck. In my October column I referred to a certain all-Mozart programme, adding that you’d have to wait for it. Well, it’s here! On January 25, Toronto Philharmonia Orchestra, in its first concert with Uri Mayer as artistic director and principal conductor, presents “Celebrating Mozart” at its home in the George Weston Recital Hall. The programme? Mozart’s Serenade No.6 in D Major K239 “Serenata notturna,” Piano Concerto in C Major K467 “Elvira Madigan” and Symphony No.40 in G Minor K550. The pianist is André Laplante.

In winding up, I want to mention Trio Bravo’s February 5 recital at All Saints Kingsway Anglican Church at 2pm. The trio’s November 6 concert was cancelled due to the ill-health of one of its members. It’s nice to see that they’re back on track with a robust programme of works by Bach, Beethoven, Bruch and Schubert. Bravo, Bravo!

Wishing you all sustained good health, a festive, music-infused holiday season and a soul-nourishing New Year and beyond!

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

It is said that there’s no such thing as a “free lunch.” Well, for the most part, it’s probably true; and if lunch is free, there’s usually a catch. But there’s a whole lot of free music being served up at lunchtime, on this month’s classical and beyond menu. The only strings attached will be the ones being plucked and bowed as you discreetly munch on your tuna wrap (where permitted).

And where might one find these free, noonish, musical escapes from the daily grind? Mostly in universities (the music faculty or fine arts/music department), often in churches, sometimes in traditional concert halls and in libraries — in downtown Toronto, the GTA and beyond.

Here’s a look at several presenters offering regular, free series over the noon hour (or shortly thereafter):

Noon: Brock University Department of Music, in St. Catharines, presents “Music@Noon” on Tuesdays, featuring both faculty and student recitals. You can hear faculty flutist, Patricia Dydnansky, with Erika Reiman on piano, November 1. Piano, voice and instrumental students perform on November 8.

Wilfrid Laurier University’s less snazzy looking (without the “@”) “Music at Noon” — though, musically, just as inviting — offers four concerts this month, bookended by Trio Laurier on November 3 and the Ton Beau String Quartet on the 24th.

On most Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the odd Wednesday, in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, the Canadian Opera Company hosts several noontime series, including chamber music, world music, vocal, jazz, dance and piano virtuosos. They feature emerging artists as well as established ones such as soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, who performed last season. Concerts start right on the nose at noon and they’re almost always packed. The tickets are distributed on a first come, first-served basis, so get there early if you don’t want to stand. On November 22, pianist Ricker Choi will perform Chopin’s Ballade No.1 and works by Brahms and Scriabin in the “Piano Virtuoso Series” concert titled “Atmospheres.” And on the 29th, “Postcards from Paris,” part of the “Chamber Music Series,” features works by Debussy, Satie, Ravel and Raum, played by Carson Becke, piano and Nathaniel Anderson-Frank, violin.

14University of Waterloo Department of Music has Wednesday “Noon Hour Concerts,” and noon is, indeed, the start time. In what is likely an inadvertent nod to the two guys on our front cover, the November 9 concert is titled “One Piano – Two Players,” and features the Bergmann Piano Duo. “Honkyoku Duet” is the name of the November 16 concert and it features shakuhachi master Gerard Yun and bass clarinetist Kathryn Ladano performing traditional Japanese shakuhachi solos and contemporary duets.

15_rolston_shauna_c12:10pm: And just in case you were still of the mind that “free lunchtime music” meant “not world class lunchtime music” — though knowing that artists of the stature of Adrianne Pieczonka perform at these concerts should have disabused you of such thoughts — the University of Toronto Faculty of Music presents cellist Shauna Rolston and violinist Jacques Israelievitch on November 3, in its “Thursdays at Noon” series. Beginning at 12:10pm, the acclaimed Rolston and Israelievitch will perform Honneger’s Sonatina for Violin and Cello and duos for violin and cello by Schulhoff and Kodály. Not what I would call a light(weight) lunch!

Sticking with the 12:10pm start time, Nine Sparrows Arts Foundation, in collaboration with Christ Church Deer Park, provides a weekly series, “Lunchtime Chamber Music,” with recitals held on Thursdays. In a delightful show of further collaboration (and interconnection), on November 10, in the aptly titled “Rising Stars Recital,” students from the U of T’s Faculty of Music will perform.

12:15pm and 12:30pm: Starting five minutes later, also every Thursday, are Music at Metropolitan’s “Noon at Met” recitals, at 12:15pm, often showcasing the organ and at times other instrumentalists and vocalists, in downtown Toronto’s Metropolitan United Church. Organists Mark Toews and Sarah Svendsen are featured this month on November 17 and 24, respectively.

McMaster School of the Arts serves up a “Lunchtime Concert Series” at 12:30pm, Tuesdays. On November 8, pianist Antoine Joubert, who finishes his doctoral studies this year, performs works by Fauré, Scriabin, Janáček and Liszt. And on November 29, soprano Lita Classen, a voice teacher at both McMaster and Mohawk College, will perform a tribute to Gustav Mahler, to mark the 100th anniversary of his death.

Somewhat similar to the COC, York University Department of Music offers a multi-themed series of concerts, commencing at 12:30pm. From “Music at Midday,” to “Jazz at Noon,” “World at Noon” and “R&B Ensemble,” there’s much to drink in. You can catch the spirited Cuban Rhapsody Duo of saxophonist Jane Bunnett and pianist extraordinaire, Hilario Durán, on November 17. York U Chamber Strings, Jacques Israelievitch, director, performs on November 22. And there’s a generically titled “Classical Instrumental Recital” on November 14 and 28, featuring student soloists in the classical performance program. Emerging-stars-in-the-making, perhaps?

The start time for Yorkminster Park Baptist Church’s Wednesday organ series, “Noonhour Recitals,” is also 12:30pm. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the concerts are at noon, as the series’ title might suggest; we did, and we were. A few issues back, we mistakenly listed them at noon and then were very politely informed that we goofed. Now we’re back with the programme. Speaking of which, the organists for November are, in order, William Maddox, Simon Walker, Imre Olah, Stephen Boda and Maddox once again.

At the University of Western Ontario Don Wright Faculty of Music, in London, you can catch the UWO Chamber Orchestra, at 12:30pm, on November 10, performing Strauss’ Serenade for Winds Op.7, Mozart’s Adagio and Rondo for Violin and Orchestra, Barber’s Adagio for Strings and Siegfried Idyll by Wagner. Zachary Peterson is the violinist and Geoffrey Moull conducts. You can hear the orchestra, again, on December 7, this time with soprano Jackalyn Short, in works by Britten and Respighi.

Top of the next hour: “Music at Midday” organ recitals can be heard every Tuesday at 1pm, throughout the year, at Toronto’s Cathedral Church of St. James, on Church St. CCSJ organist and interim director of music, Andrew Adair, performs the ongoing “Bach Series” with “Bach Series X” on November 1 and “Bach Series XI” on December 6. In between, you can hear organists Thomas van der Luit, Simon Walker and William Maddox, on November 8, 15 and 22.

Late (but fashionable): Finally, for those of you who like to lunch fashionably late, here are three suggestions: Toronto Public Library (Northern District) offers “Orchardviewers: Classic Music Performance,” at 2pm on Thursdays. The University Settlement Music and Arts School offers a Saturday concert on November 12, at 2pm and a 2:30pm concert on Sunday November 27. And, lastly, for a very late lunch, bordering on high tea, Hart House presents the 648th concert of its “Sunday Concert Series” at 3pm on November 13, featuring mezzo Erica Iris Huang and Emily Hamper at the piano. The concert takes place in the Great (and most grand) Hall of Hart House.

So, you may not get a free lunch anytime soon but you can gorge on all of the free and wonderfully varied lunchtime musical fare available in November and early December.


16_lang-lang_philip_glaserBefore signing off, another brief — and this time intentional — nod to our two guys on the front cover. Unlike Two Pianos Four Hands’ Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, who eventually gave up on the dream of becoming concert pianists (and have gone on, mind you, to do great, virtuosic stuff in theatre), here are a few who stayed, and are staying, the course. Oh, and these concerts will cost you a buck or two:

• November 6, 3pm: Angela Hewitt performs works by Bach, Ravel, Fauré and Debussy at Koerner Hall;

• November 12, 7pm: Mississauga Pops Concert Band plays something “Old, New, Borrowed & Blue” at the Meadowvale Theatre in Mississauga, featuring works by Holst, Mozart and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue performed by pianist David Atkinson;

• November 18, 8pm: Staying with the “old and new” theme, Sinfonia Toronto presents “Gems Old and New” with works by Beethoven, Teehan and Hatzis and pianist Ratimir Martinovic performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.12 K414 at the Glenn Gould Studio;

• November 9 to 19: Lang Lang will be “in residence” with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra over those ten days, during which he’ll perform all five of Beethoven’s piano concerti. See the listings for details;

• November 11, 23, 25, 8pm: Gallery 345 continues with its “The Art of the Piano” series, featuring Beatriz Boizan and Mauro Bertoli on the 11th and 23rd, respectively; on the 25th, the Gallery presents pianist Ilya Poletaev, performing the music of George Enescu, with Axel Strauss, violin;

• November 27, 5pm: Nocturnes in the City presents pianist Jan Novotný in works by Mozart, Dvořak and Janáček at St. Wenceslas Church, 496 Gladstone Ave.

Whether or not you pull out your wallet, I hope you will take the opportunity to savour several of this month’s tempting musical offerings. Enjoy!

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

It’s October — the new fall concert season’s in full swing! And, as with most season launches — 2011/12 being no different — there was a flurry of press releases sent ‘round toward the end of summer announcing new artistic appointments — those “new faces in old places.”

classical_uri_meyer_at_arcadian_courtOne such appointment is conductor Uri Mayer’s new role as artistic director and principal conductor with the Toronto Philharmonia Orchestra. Maestro Mayer, orchestral programme director and resident conductor of the Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School, will lead the TPO in its upcoming concert series, at the George Weston Recital Hall.

Last month, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Uri Mayer at the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall café, where we chatted about his new appointment and related topics.

Right off the bat, I asked him what compelled him to take on the position with the TPO, given his busy schedule and his extraordinary conducting career to date.

"Actually, I’d known about the orchestra for some time. Last season they had a search for a new conductor/artistic director. I was not part of that [process] but I did conduct the first concert of the previous season. And I guess some people must have liked what I did. Because at the end of the season – really at the beginning of the summer – I was asked by the Board to take on the orchestra. And I thought about it, and I realized that it’s a very good group of musicians, in my neck of the woods, playing in a beautiful hall – at the Toronto Centre for the Arts – and I believed that my talents and my experience could bring them to the next level. And I was frankly flattered that they approached me.

"So this nice, relatively small ensemble, with a few concerts, I think can add a new dimension to musical life in North York, particularly, and in Toronto. And I’m delighted that I was asked to share my expertise and experience."

Click Here for the rest of the interview

And now to some other new appointees:

Judith Yan will make her debut on October 23, as the new conductor/artistic director of the Guelph Symphony Orchestra, in an all-Russian programme featuring works by Mussorgsky, Glazunov and Glinka, with guest violinist, Jacques Israelievitch (TSO concertmaster 1988–2008).

Speaking of Toronto Symphony Orchestra concertmasters, Jonathan Crow, the TSO’s newly appointed one, will be featured as soloist in two TSO programmes. On October 1 (at Roy Thomson Hall) and October 2 (at George Weston Recital Hall), Crow performs Beethoven’s Romance No.2 for Violin and Orchestra; as an added bonus, he’ll chat with TSO music director, Peter Oundjian, from the stage, following both performances. Also, pianist Emanuel Ax is performing Brahms’ Piano Concerto No.1 on the same bill. The second programme, on October 15 and 16, will feature Crow as soloist in a performance of Bach’s Concerto for Oboe and Violin and Brandenburg Concerto No.5, under the baton of TSO conductor laureate, Andrew Davis, at Roy Thomson Hall.

classical_simonfryer_2Unless you’re planning a trip to Saskatchewan in the near future, you won’t likely hear cellist Simon Fryer in his new appointment as principal cello with the Regina Symphony. However, if you’re in downtown Toronto on October 27, you’ll get to hear him perform Haydn and Weber trios with flutist Robert Aitken and pianist Walter Delahunt, and a new work for flute and cello by Chris Paul Harman, commissioned by the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto. The concert takes place at Walter Hall, and is a presentation of the WMCT’s long-standing, afternoon chamber series, of which Fryer is the artistic director.

Leaving the world of shiny, new appointments for something a bit older, I would be remiss if, in closing, I did not provide at least a brief “Liszting” — I know. Ouch! — of some concerts marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of Franz Liszt (b. October 22, 1811):

• October 1, Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, André LaPlante, piano, Centre in the Square, 101 Queen St. N., Kitchener;

• October 6, University of Toronto Faculty of Music, Jacqueline Mokrzewski, piano, MacMillan Theatre, 80 Queen’s Park;

• October 7, Gallery 345, Alejandro Vela, piano, 345 Sorauren Ave.;

• October 16, Royal Conservatory, Louis Lortie, piano, Koerner Hall, 273 Bloor St. W.;

• October 22, Christopher Burton, piano, Oriole York Mills United Church, 2609 Bayview Ave.; also performing November 6, Women’s Art Association of Canada, 23 Prince Arthur Ave.; and

• October 22, Lenard Whiting, tenor, Brett Kingsbury, piano, Christ Church Deer Park, 1570 Yonge St.

The rest of the full interview

In addition to his having guest conducted numerous leading Canadian and international orchestras, including the Montreal, Toronto and Houston symphonies, the Israel Philharmonic and with the National Ballet of Canada, Mayer has been principal conductor/artistic director of several orchestras and ensembles over the course of his career – Edmonton Symphony, Orchestra London (then known as the London Symphony), Israel Sinfonietta, Osaka’s Kansai Philharmonic Orchestra. As a result, he’s had his share of “first days” as “the new one.” So, I inquired as to how Mayer approaches those first days with a new orchestra, what he does to set the tone, the rapport.

"For me it’s about making music. And that’s universal. So whether I conduct in Toronto or, when I’ve conducted in Japan, Germany or Israel, I try to make music. And because it’s such a universal language, it’s fairly easy to do that. And then I try to convince people and inspire people to do it my way," he added, grinning.

"Now, when somebody has an artistic leadership role, then one looks at each day differently, because one has long-term goals to really improve the quality of playing, the quality in which the music is delivered. And one has an obligation to build the ensemble, the organization, to become better and better each day. So, one addresses more specific issues and makes gentle corrections as one progresses with the work/rehearsal process. And then one has to have an outlook of what the priorities are – particularly artistic priorities. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the ensemble? And then try to capitalize, initially, on the strengths but immediately build up the weaknesses. So, that when one performs on stage, the public gets a sense of commitment and fulfillment from the music that’s performed at the platform.

"So being the music director/artistic director of an orchestra is a commitment for some years, to improve whatever is there. They take the best and improve it. And take the weaker parts and improve them even more."

With that, I proceeded to ask Mayer what he considered to be a tough question to answer, which was, on average, how long it takes him to assess, and to “gel” with, a new orchestra.

"It’s a bit elusive. It takes many rehearsals and performances to gel. But, I think if one does music with sincerity, musicians get, immediately, the sense of where the soul of the person in front of them is, where their heart is, what their approach is. And that’s a little mystical because the baton doesn’t make any noise. And the hands, with the best technique, are relative."

During my research for this interview, I learned that on October 22, 2009, Mayer received an honourary doctorate in music from the University of Western Ontario and gave the fall commencement address, that same afternoon, to about 600 graduates, including those from the Don Wright Faculty of Music. (For those interested, his full, inspiring address is available on youtube at the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWNaJjhQPEs.)

In his address, he spoke of the medium of music crossing all boundaries of culture, language and economic status, and of communicating one’s vision, with the stroke of a baton, to a hundred musicians. After admitting having listened to his entire address, I wanted him to elaborate, further, on the mystery of communicating through music. With an easy laugh, he began:

"You know, the older I get, the more mysterious this becomes. I’ll tell you a story from my youth. When I was a young conducting student – all my student life I was double majoring in viola and conducting – I had the privilege of attending a masterclass given by a quite renowned conductor at the time, Antal Doráti, who was previous music director of the Detroit Symphony, Minneapolis, Philharmonia Hungarica, and he came to the University of Tel Aviv and gave this masterclass for a couple of conductors. And I stood up in front of my buddies, the students, and attempted to conduct the opening of Mozart’s Symphony No.35, “Haffner.” And I thought that technically I was quite good – very, very clear – but I could not get the orchestra to play together at all. I tried three, four times. And then the maestro, who was feeble and sort of aging, but mentally in good shape, stood up in front of them, and waved his arms; and really, there was no clarity in the motion, whatsoever. But the students, the orchestra, played fantastically together and in good spirit and it was an amazing tone, an ensemble, right off the bat. And I realized that, you know, conducting has nothing to do with clarity of the motion. It has to do with conviction. And it worked.

"So, ever since, I attempt to stand up in front of a group of people – with a lot of preparation – and whatever I like to do, play it with the best conviction that I have. And then the language does not matter.

"And, conductors are known to travel in different countries and often they do not speak the language of the host country. But they do marvelous music. And then they feel it; they can convey the feeling – with the eyes, with the body, with the soul."

I asked Mayer about some of his more memorable moments of achieving that mysterious simpatico or “kismet” with an orchestra.

"I had some beautiful moments like that, actually. Quite a few in different countries. One of them was years ago – Mahler Eighth [Symphony], in Taipei. Some concerts with the Montreal Symphony, of which I did quite a few. And some amazing concerts that people played for me in a radio orchestra in Hungary."

After Mayer mentioned Taipei, I thought about some of his other work in Asia and was curious about how he ended up conducting the Kansai Philharmonic Orchestra in Japan.

"A friend of mine heard that this orchestra was looking for a conductor and they recommended me to the orchestra. And I was asked to do a concert as a guest. And a few weeks after the concert, I got a call from the manager of the orchestra asking if I would like to become their next principal conductor. So, it was basically, very simple. How did their process work? I have no idea. But I spent many months there over a six and half, almost seven year period.

"And it’s interesting because the language was not easy. My Japanese is terrible; I learned a few words. So I worked mostly in English and in German. A lot of the people in Japan were trained in Germany or had German training. So [German] terminology is very familiar to them. And really, during rehearsals I tried to speak very little and do as much conducting as possible and work on the essentials. And they were fantastically prepared, I must say, in attitude and seriousness."

I asked about the size of the orchestra and Mayer said it was a good size of about 80 to 85 musicians, adding that they played big repertoire with an absolutely full complement. And he continued:

"The number of full scores that people brought to the rehearsals was stunning for me; I’d say 30 to 40% of the orchestra members brought scores. So they knew the repertoire and they knew what else was going on. It was beyond anything I’d seen anywhere or experienced with other orchestras – and some very good orchestras, by the way."

Mayer was with Kansai from 1994 to 2000. And from 2005 to now, he has been involved with the Royal Conservatory, initially on a part-time basis, with the level of involvement increasing two years ago, when he became director of the orchestral programme and resident conductor of the Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School. So I asked him what he was up to between 2000 and 2005.

"Guest conducting in different countries. Also, I did quite a few performances with the National Ballet of Canada. So, from the mid–1990s I did quite a few productions with the National Ballet which was a major time commitment and a wonderful opportunity to learn the art of the ballet, or some of the art of the ballet."

I couldn’t resist asking if he had a favourite ballet. His answer? Nutcracker. Of course, I had to ask him why?

"Because I think the music is so gorgeous. And I’ve conducted many performances of that ballet but each time the music is lovelier and lovelier. Some people will probably think that this is silly, because it’s overplayed. But I think Tchaikovsky was a genius.

"And music is music, regardless of whether it’s played on stage or in the pit. Good music is good music."

Given the number of times he has conducted Nutcracker over the years, I wondered about how he managed then, and manages now, with other “overplayed” repertoire, to avoid a dullness and to keep things fresh.

"I approach each performance as a new experience. But if you don’t love it, you don’t do it, or you mustn’t do it. Serious musicians, I think, will agree that when one approaches all scores – I mean, each time one goes back to the score, whether it’s Tchaikovsky or Mozart or Bach or something newer, but when one studies a score in depth – each time one discovers a new element, a new angle, a new beauty. And it’s such joy to look at this thing and say, How? What did he or she mean? How come? How did they have the wisdom and the inspiration to do that? And I marvel at the gifts of composers who could put down on paper – today, maybe on computer [he laughs] – such gorgeous stuff, and such complex scoring, ideas, sonorities.

"We’re [the Royal Conservatory Orchestra] working now on Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Ravel orchestration. It’s a score I’ve conducted, probably in two dozen countries for different occasions. And I’m studying the score again, and my god, you know, it’s like discovering a new piece. How smart, how brilliant, how many colours can somebody like Ravel add to Mussorgsky’s excellent piece!

"I never had aspirations to compose. Since I was a child, my leaning and attraction was to perform. And hence, when I study scores, and the more I get into it, the more I need to learn. And to be able to discover new stuff – new stuff to me – seeing the notes in a new light, or under a new light, or a new shade; trying to understand the emotions, or the possible ways to interpret it, is so gratifying.

"And then, one never has enough time – nor should one explain everything in the rehearsal process, (either to the orchestra or the public) – but, I think if one understands the score and goes into depth, then one hopefully can convey, often without words, the meaning and the depths of emotions that go into that."

Speaking of repertoire and newness and freshness, I turned the focus back to Mayer’s new appointment with the Toronto Philharmonia, and asked him about what he envisioned for the orchestra and the type of repertoire he would like to work on with the TPO.

"I envision them playing mostly classical, romantic repertoire, and added to that, some Canadian, some American stuff – a touch, a taste of the modern. But the foundations of the programmes will be rather traditional. The orchestra doesn’t have enough concerts to cover all the range, all the possible range. And it needs, I think, in building and improving the quality of the orchestra, classics. And Mozart and Beethoven are the best. So, I think it will be highly traditional.

"There’s a core of about 40 musicians who play regularly with the orchestra. So, the size and the budget do not lend themselves to playing the huge, romantic, and big, big repertoire. There’s a wonderful orchestra in the city that plays that. It’s called the Toronto Symphony [he laughs]. And I believe that they do a wonderful job with that and the Toronto Philharmonia does not, and must not attempt to go into that [repertoire].

"But, the other repertoire that we’ll play a lot – and I’m going to choose it carefully – will be fitting for the size of the orchestra, and will also appeal to their loyal public and their base. There’s a base on which we have to build, and we have to please that. But we are going to make an appeal to people who love classical music and who love coming to the Toronto Centre for the Arts. And hopefully, eventually, I’ll take them out from there into other communities."

I then asked if he would share with me what the TPO will be performing on January 25, for its opening concert of the season.

"Yes. Actually, it’s quite close to Mozart’s birthday, so it’s going to be an all-Mozart programme: Serenata Notturna, a “little known” piano concerto, Mozart K467 in C Major, also known as the “Elvira Madigan” [he laughs] (because of the movie), and Symphony No.40 in G Minor, the 'Great G Minor.'"

When I said it sounded like a nice program, he replied, with a smile, “I think it’s good Mozart. There are probably a dozen 'great composers.' And certainly Mozart belongs there. But, the orchestra has a tradition of, in January, celebrating Mozart’s birthday with an all-Mozart programme.”

And when I asked if the TPO usually starts off its season in January, Mayer explained that this was a unique situation, because of the search and the transition year which the orchestra had. He said that the TPO had decided, prior to his coming on board, that they would concentrate their efforts on 2012 and have concerts, once a month, starting in January, adding that the TPO’s season usually runs from October to April.

I then wondered whether, aside from having conducted them last year, he’d met with the orchestra since the new appointment and his answer was “no.” And the first rehearsal?

That’s going to be in January – January 23 or 24. When Mayer told me that, I commented on how amazing it is that conductors typically spend such little time together with an orchestra, in rehearsal, before a performance, acknowledging, of course, the hundreds of hours that go into the prep time, prior to meeting. His unequivocal reply:

"Look, we’re all professionals, starting with the musicians. These people are highly qualified, very well-prepared, very dedicated, very devoted. When I conducted them in October last year, in an all-Beethoven programme, with relatively short rehearsal time, people were very well-prepared. This is world-wide. Very few orchestras have long rehearsal periods. Musicians are serious about the profession and they come knowledgeable. Even those who don’t bring the scores know the repertoire [he grins]. Unlike dance or opera, where the rehearsal period has to be longer, symphony programmes are put together in a relatively short time at a very high level. So a lot of the preparation is in the background. And that’s the way it works."

As we began to wind down the interview, I asked Mayer about what he thought the future might hold for him in terms of any other “new posts” or artistic challenges down the road. Here’s what he told me:

"I enjoy every day as it comes. Right now, I’d like to put this orchestra on the map, as a force, an additional symphony orchestra in the city, to complement what’s already here, and to attract the public, particularly North York, to their concerts. And I’m convinced that we’ll play at a level – high enough and satisfying – that we’ll attract a lot of people.

"This is a huge city. There are a lot of music lovers in this city. There’s room on the stages; there are several very good concert halls. And there’s a public north of Eglinton, and certainly north of the 401, that likes the [George Weston Recital] hall – it’s a magnificent hall. So, we are going to show what we can do and hopefully people will listen to us."

And finally, in his 2009 address to those 600 graduates of the University of Western Ontario, Mayer spoke of those who mentored, assisted and influenced him along the way – great musicians and conductors such as Odeon Partos, Shalom Riklis, Walter Trampler, Leonard Bernstein, Charles Dutoit, to name a few. So my last question to Maestro Mayer was about whether mentoring others now played an important role in his professional life.

"Absolutely! I do that on a regular basis. Whether it’s with young instrumentalists who come and play for me or young aspiring conductors who chat with me about scores, discuss scores, and who have come to my rehearsals. There are several people like that [in my life]. And I think it’s critical that I share my experiences and my insight into the music and into the scores that I have. It’s for them to take this from me and something else from somebody else.

"I was extremely lucky to be influenced by some magical people who were very generous with their time and very helpful in guiding me. Because of them, I am what I am. And I will be always indebted to them for the warmth and the wisdom that they gave me. So, if somebody comes to me, and asks questions or advice – someone who needs help – I am more than delighted to help. I feel it’s a privilege and an obligation. And I do it with all my heart and commitment. And if I can help one person improve, or find their goals or get closer to their goals and aspirations, that’s my goal."

It was a pleasure to chat with Uri Mayer. He was kind, candid, good-humoured and generous with his time. And it was clear that he loves doing what he does. It was also clear that he is well-liked around the Royal Conservatory. Many people strolled by our table, they all smiled at Mayer, and they all said “hello”; and he said “hello” back. Consequently, the interview tape was peppered with hellos, throughout. A fitting note on which to end.

One last reminder: You’ll be able to catch Uri Mayer in action, with the TPO, January 25, at the Toronto Centre for the Arts’ George Weston Recital Hall.

Enjoy this new and exciting season!

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.

Finally, you say, the fall concert season has arrived! No more lovely, warm, breezy … windblown, rain-drenched, too-hot/too-cold, outdoor venues, right? Time to put away your festival folding chairs, straw hats and sunscreen and head for the comfort of the concert hall. Not so fast. There remain a few summer series and festivals “in the game,” reminding us, in the words of Yogi Berra that, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” However, for those of you itching to put away your daypack of festival gear, do not despair; there’s a handful of presenters off to a flying start with their 2011/12 concert seasons, ready to lure you inside.

Fall Flyers

Mooredale Concerts’ September 25 season opener at Walter Hall will be a milestone moment in Canadian music history. It will mark the return of celebrated cellist Ofra Harnoy to the concert stage after a 10-year hiatus. For The WholeNote’s “On the Road” project, Mooredale’s artistic director, Anton Kuerti, himself an eminent pianist, told us this when asked about his plans beyond the summer: “I will perform at the opening Mooredale Concert … with the extraordinary cellist Ofra Harnoy, who has not performed in Canada for about 10 years, and whom I have long admired but never played with.” Now is his chance. At 3:15pm, Harnoy will begin the programme with Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suite No.3 in C Major. Kuerti will then join her in a performance of Beethoven’s Cello Sonata in A Major Op.69 and César Franck’s Cello Sonata. Earlier, at 1:15pm, Harnoy and Kuerti will offer an hour-long, interactive “Music and Truffles” concert geared toward 5 to 15 year olds. Welcome back Ofra!

In contrast to Harnoy’s 10-year sabbatical, distinguished actor Christopher Plummer has continued to grace the stage, non-stop, for close to 60 years. He will grace Roy Thomson Hall, as narrator, when the Toronto Symphony Orchestra opens its season with a performance of William Walton’s music for the film Henry V, on September 22.

14Music Toronto marks the beginning of its 40th season on September 15 with the Tokyo String Quartet and pianist Markus Groh performing works by Brahms, Debussy and a world premiere by MT composer advisor Jeffrey Ryan; (and then, cannily, invites Groh back for a solo recital on September 20).

Over the Labour Day long weekend, you might want to consider the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society’s opening concert on September 4. KWCMS begins its jam-packed season with pianist Anne Louise Turgeon and flutist Ron Korb in works by Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Liszt, Korb and others. Did I say “jam-packed?” Not only does KWCMS produce eight concerts in September, alone; it presents over 70 a year! And they’re held in the KWCMS Music Room — a large room in a private home in Waterloo, with an 1887 Steinway. Is there a nicer way to hear chamber music?

And here’s one final lovely fall season opener. For the first event of the Canadian Opera Company’s 2011/12 Free Concert Series, on September 27, artists of the COC Orchestra will perform music by Debussy, Mozart and Puccini, in a tribute to their late, great and beloved music director, Richard Bradshaw — in the magnificent amphitheatre that bears his name.

Summer Refrain

And now back to summer. The one series that braves the elements in September is Summer Music in the Garden, hosting its 12th season in the enchanting Toronto Music Garden. The series winds up with three concerts in September; there’s one on the 8th, followed by two Sunday afternoons. Interestingly, the first concert features baroque cellist, Kate Bennett Haynes, performing Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suite No.1 in G Major, the piece that was the inspiration for the design of the Toronto Music Garden! (www.harbourfrontcentre.com/thewaterfront/parks/musicgarden.cfm)

Music Mondays has four concerts on offer this month, in downtown Toronto’s acoustically superb Church of the Holy Trinity, bringing their extended 20th anniversary season to a close on September 26. Jerome Summers, clarinet, Sharon Kahan, flute, and Angela Park, piano, perform works by Debussy, Shostakovich and Bizet.

The following summer festivals serve up an impressive array of chamber music and all three take place beyond the GTA, where the churches of Barrie, Leith, Owen Sound and Picton are alive with the sound of music festivals in September!

For its 10-day event (September 23 to October 2), Barrie’s Colours of Music has assembled outstanding recitalists and chamber musicians in ensembles ranging from duos to orchestras. A few highlights: the Ames Piano Quartet plays works by Saint-Saëns, Fauré and Hahn on the 24th; violinist Brian Lewis and pianist Valerie Tryon will tackle Milhaud, Brahms and Schumann on September 28; and the finale, a “Concerto Celebration,” features Tryon and Sinfonia Toronto in works by Turina, Vaughan Williams, Dvořák and Mendelssohn. See www.coloursofmusic.ca/schedule.html for more.

With the “dream team” of artistic director/violinist Mark Fewer and guest directors, cellist Roman Borys and clarinetist James Campbell, programming this year’s SweetWater Music Festival, you know it’s going to be a stellar event. Over three days (September 16 to 18, in Leith and Owen Sound), they will be joined by violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon and pianist John Novacek, and others, to perform works by Dohnanyi, Schulhoff, Messiaen, Bach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Turina and Cam Wilson’s A Tribute to 20th Century Jazz Violin.

Over in Picton, the Prince Edward County Music Festival presents seven concerts between September 16 and 24, with Ana Sokolovic as composer-in residence. On September 23, at the Oeno Gallery in Bloomfield — the only non-Picton concert — you’ll be able to catch SweetWater’s Fewer, again, this time with the SuperNova String Quartet, playing Ravel’s String Quartet and Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 59 No.3; another SuperNova member, recently named TSO concertmaster, Jonathan Crow, will also be in Bloomfield. And on September 24, Marie Bérard, concertmaster of the COC orchestra, will join the ubiquitous Fewer and his other two SuperNova mates, violist Douglas McNabney and cellist Denise Djokic, along with PECMF’s artistic director Stéphane Lemelin on piano, for Dvořák’s Piano Quintet in A Major.

Clearly, there is much from which to choose in these latter days of summer and early days of autumn. Can’t decide? Here’s a suggestion: Drop everything, right now, hang a “GONE FISHIN’” sign on your office door, then head up to Barrie to catch the Colours of Music’s concert of the same name. It includes works by Gershwin. With any luck, maybe they’ll play Summertime.

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

12_classical_roman_borysOttawa chamber music festival (Ottawa Chamberfest) artistic director, Roman Borys, and I sat down at a noisy restaurant that had spilled out onto Toronto’s burgeoning Ossington Ave. to discuss the festival and his role in it.

Borys, the cellist of the Gryphon Trio, had performed there most, if not every, summer since it began in 1993. In the fall of 2007, after the resignation of founding director, Julian Armour (also a cellist), the festival’s board of directors invited him to take on the job of artistic director.

In its first eleven years, according to Borys, “it was this amazing festival that had been fuelled by vision and charisma. The problem was that a lot of important production details were not being looked after. There wasn’t consistency in staff, and it is very difficult to run an organization like that. To be able to attract and keep good staff, you have to be able to pay them. All that business takes a great deal of time.” In spite of this, the festival had been very successful, supported almost entirely by Ottawa people. “It’s about small ensembles, a small group of people relying on one another, there’s an egalitarian feel about this music … everyone is an equal, everyone has their voice, and that’s the beautiful thing about chamber music. I think that is one of the reasons it took off in Ottawa when it did, that this aspect of the music corresponded with the Ottawa psyche.”

Borys brought to the job far more than the artistic maturity gained through study with some of the best teachers in the world and a dozen years of playing with the Gryphon Trio. With the Gryphons he had also found his stride as a musical entrepreneur. “I always paid attention to the way things work. It’s been my role in the trio to be the guy who keeps the business going,” something he has done with remarkable success. The Gryphon Trio has released 14 CDs with Analekta, two of which have won JUNO awards. For many years, while performing all over the world, it was ensemble-in-residence with Music Toronto, with whom it pioneered its innovative appearances at the Lula Lounge, including the highly successful multi-media collaboration with singers Patricia O’Callaghan and Maryem Tollar, Constantinople, which gave them the opportunity to work with Tapestry, the Banff Centre and Robert Lepage’s Ex Machina. “When you deal with these other producers who are working with you on a project, you pay attention and you learn from them, from their practices. You just listen to their conversations and you start to hear what their successes and what their responses to challenges are rooted in.”

Even more than his artistic insight and connections in the music world, Ottawa Chamberfest needed this kind of insight. The thing this organization needed more than anything else, he told me, “was to be given its own arms and legs so it could be an independent entity; it could, in fact exist with interchangeable pieces. It was my vision, right from the beginning, to get this thing to the point where it was an amazing machine.”

The first step in the realization of the vision was the hiring of Glenn Hodgins as executive director. With 12 years experience at Tafelmusik and seven at the Ontario Arts Council, Hodgins brought invaluable insight into how to run a highly successful arts organization and into the inner workings of government supported arts funding. Together, they undertook the major infrastructure upgrade of initiating the use of the database, Artifacts Event, which was created for the much larger Edinburgh Festival. “Starting from the basic premise that an artist is playing a piece at a time and a place,” Glenn Hodgins told me, “it brings together everything related to that event —other artists, sponsors, visitors, piano tuning, page turners, repertoire, guests, accommodation, transportation to and from the festival, local transportation, itineraries, letters of agreement, contracts, and payment, including T-4 slips. It has allowed us to use our limited human resources better and has led to a much calmer work environment!”

Two major infusions of capital, the estate of the late music critic, Jacob Siskind, which was left to the festival, and a Province of Ontario “Celebrate Ontario” grant, have helped the festival gain “some depth in terms of its financial stability.” It now also has a stable administration and administrative practices. “These have not been easy years for us. It has been an enormous amount of work, and we’re just getting to the point where workloads are becoming acceptable, and hopefully burnout and exhaustion are ceasing to be facts of life. I am also now very confident that in the future, when I or anyone else decides to move on, this organization won’t have any trouble going through a process to replace any one of us.”

Borys also told me a lot about the artistic end of his work, about his collaborations with James Campbell of the Festival of the Sound, Brian Finlay of the Westben Festival and other Canadian summer festivals, as well as about exciting developments for the Gryphon Trio. I will try to get some of this onto our website ASAP, but meanwhile I am sure a look at our festival listings and at the Ottawa Chamberfest’s website will be indicative of his work at the artistic end of things.

Allan Pulker is a flautist, a founder of The WholeNote and serves as chairman of The WholeNote’s board of directors. He can be contacted at classicalbeyond@thewholenote.com.

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