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.

p10_anastasia_rizikovLast November in The WholeNote I interviewed Christina Petrowska Quilico about the many international piano competitions in the world today, and the abundance of pianists vying for the opportunity to compete. Almost as if to prove my point a message arrived in my inbox yesterday telling me that a twelve-year old Toronto pianist, Anastasia Rizikov had just been awarded the first prize in the adult pianists’ class of the Concurso International de Piano Rotary in Mallorca, Spain, the youngest pianist ever to win this award. Needless to say, this will be the first time many readers will have heard of Ms. Rizikov, who, I expect, has a brilliant career ahead. I doubt it will be the last. Hopefully we will have the opportunity soon to hear her play again in Toronto.

Another Toronto pianist, whose name is not yet well known outside the piano competition circuit, is Ilya Poletaev. He came to Toronto from Russia via Israel at the age of fourteen, continuing his piano studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music. Some years later he completed a Bachelor of Music degree at the Faculty of Music at U. of T., moving on to Yale University, where he did his Master’s and Doctorate.

Just last July he captured First Prize at the International Johann Sebastian Bach Competition in Leipzig and, as the winner, will appear in recital at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. He won first prize in the 2008 Concorso Sala Gallo Piano Competition in Monza, Italy, where he also received the Audience Prize, the Bach Prize, and the Orchestra Prize. He also won First Prize at the 2009 Grieg International Competition, is a laureate of the 2008 National Stepping Stone Competition in Canada and joined the Astral Artists roster as a winner of its 2009 National Auditions. But it was way back in 1997 that he got his start in Toronto when he won the TSO Volunteer Competition which gave him the opportunity to perform Brahms’ Concerto in D Minor with the TSO.

p10or11_poletaevUnlike most pianists, Poletaev manages to find time in his day for harpsichord and fortepiano, intending to include them in his performing career along with the modern piano. “What is important to me is not so much playing various instruments as being able to speak each musical language fluently. I have done a lot of continuo playing on the harpsichord. Doing this you can’t help but see the connection between the continuo and the text, which informs the musical rhetoric. Interestingly, I have found it possible to transfer something of this to my mainstream piano playing to make it more rhetorically vivid.”

In addition to all this he also finds time to pursue his interest in music history with a focus on the less well-known works of well-known composers. He has recently completed a project unearthing largely unknown works of the twentieth-century Romanian composer George Enescu, and with violinist Jennifer Curtis has recorded Enescu’s complete works for violin and piano, scheduled for release soon by Naxos. Not surprisingly, with abilities as both a performer and as a scholar, he has recently been appointed an assistant professor at McGill University.

A little closer to home I asked harpsichord wrangler extraordinaire Dawn Lyons of Claviers Baroques about Ilya Poletaev: “… He is a really, really nice guy who can play the piano and the harpsichord very well … I mean very, VERY well … stupendously well, in fact. Den [Den Ciul, her partner in Claviers Baroques] says he is one of the ten best harpsichordists on the planet who can do ‘magic’.”

Where this is all leading is to the good news that we will have the opportunity to hear this accomplished Torontonian on June 4, when he will play the rarely-performed Piano Concerto No. 3 by Nikolai Medtner, with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Peter Oundjian.

The choice of this concerto would appear to reflect Poletaev’s musicological interests and perhaps his Russian background. Nikolai Medtner, who was Russian, lived from 1880 to 1951, and was trained at the Moscow Conservatory as both a concert pianist and as a composer (he studied composition under Taneyev). From a Canadian perspective it is interesting that in 1924 he toured the United States and Canada. A slightly younger contemporary of the much better known Russian composer and pianist, Sergei Rachmaninoff, he dedicated his second Piano Concerto in c minor, Op. 50 (1920–27) to Rachmaninoff, who dedicated his own Fourth Concerto to Medtner. The third Piano Concerto (in e minor “Ballade”, Op. 60, 1940–43) was written towards the end of his life when he was living in London. Medtner recorded his three piano concertos with the Philharmonia Orchestra in 1947.

“I first became acquainted with Medtner’s music when I was sixteen” Poletaev writes. “Something that makes him a very special composer is that he was able in a very original way to put together both his Russian and his German roots. What makes it Germanic is its coherence, the way unity is built into it in a very organic way. This was not an important feature of Russian music. What seems Russian to me is his thematic material, which while not overtly “Russian,” is somehow psychologically charged in that it contains a quality of remembering the essential. It is definitely not cliché, but when you hear it you feel as if you have heard it before but then forgot. Unlike Rachmaninoff, his music is hard to follow on first hearing. It is denser, more polyphonic and almost overloaded. While it unfolds very logically it requires an effort on the part of the listener. To me Rachmaninoff’s appeal is more immediate but Medtner’s is more lasting.”


In an editorial in the May issue of The WholeNote David Perlman observed that one of the biggest changes to occur in the Toronto music scene over the past fifteen years has been the emergence of a summer music season in Toronto. I remember more than once commenting in the June or July issues on the migration of musicians to small towns and rural areas, which came alive with the sound of music while the music almost stopped in the city.

I say “almost” because a series of weekly concerts beginning in late May and continuing until Labour Day was growing and flourishing all through that time. The series, still flourishing and which is now celebrating its twentieth anniversary season, is Music Mondays. The visionary behind the series was Margot Linken, the administrator (a position she still holds) at Holy Trinity Church, the series’ venue. For the first ten years the artistic director of the series was the organist and harpsichordist, Paul Jenkins, who moved on to other things and was replaced by the series’ current director, Sue Crowe Connolly.

p12_holy_trinityThe venue, the venerable Holy Trinity Church, an heirloom from a Toronto now long gone is almost as much a part of the performance as the roster of excellent performers that Ms. Crowe Connolly assembles for the series. Sheltered from Yonge and Dundas Streets by the Eaton Centre, it stands like an oasis of memories of things past. This impression becomes all the more intense when you go inside and are enveloped by the smell of the aging pine interior, the light mellowed by the stained glass windows and a silence that can remind you of an almost forgotten quiet place inside yourself. When the music begins it comes out of that silence, surrounds you and fills you at the same time, as if it had always been there and always will be there. We don’t know how lucky we are that this beautiful building, this beautiful idea, was saved from the wrecker’s ball – but that is another story.

Besides providing a weekly concert Music Mondays has provided opportunities for emerging artists such as Autorickshaw and violinist, Jasper Wood and many others. I was also surprised to find out that its fame has crossed the Atlantic and requests to perform come regularly from abroad. Among these have been the Polokwane Choral Society from South Africa, Italian early music singer and instrumentalist Viva Biffi Biancaluna, organists Reinhard Seeliger from Germany and Henri Ormieres from France, and German French horn player, Manfred Dippmann.

To mark the anniversary, Music Mondays has extended its season to the end of September and will also host a celebrative reception after its June 6 concert. I hope to see some of you there!


Another musical visionary in our midst is Boris Brott. In response to the lack of cultural activity in the Hamilton area way back in 1988 he put together the first Brott Summer Festival, which was eleven days long. This year the festival begins in June and ends in August. The very next year, with support from the Ministry of Labour Brott started National Academy Orchestra, as the official Orchestra of the Brott Music Festival. The orchestra gave the festival something most summer festivals don’t have, a resident symphony orchestra, and additionally provided what amounted to an apprenticeship programme for young orchestral musicians. What a stroke of brilliance!

The 2011 Brott Festival begins in Burlington with four performances by the National Academy Orchestra on June 11, 18, 25 and 30 with an impressive array of soloists and conductors.


Started in 2007, the current incarnation of the Music at Sharon concert series is a relative newcomer to the early summer music season. By the time you read my column the first concert in the series will probably already have taken place, but four others remain – June 5, 12, 19 and 26.

Needless to say, there are many other wonderful performances waiting to be discovered in our listings. I hope you get out to some of them.

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

12bFar east of the Don River, past which some denizens of the Annex and points west proudly tell you they never go – the poorer, they – two fine orchestras are quietly (in a manner of speaking) getting better and better, becoming two more of those “best kept secrets.” Let’s begin with the one based in north-eastern Scarborough, the Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra, now in its 25th season, which is coming of age under the capable leadership of artistic director, Norman Reintamm.

Appointed to this position four years ago, Reintamm sees himself as part of a team which has worked together to create a stronger ensemble than the one they began with. “I abhor the ‘maestro mentality’,” he told me. “It has been a pleasure seeing the orchestra grow over the past four years, and it is because of team work; one must give credit where it is due.” In the team, he includes his principal players – all strong musicians – the manager, Colleen O’Dwyer, a former banker, who runs the orchestra like a business, the personnel manager, Alan Ogilvy and the librarian, John Selleck, who at one time actually worked with Leonard Bernstein.

There is no denying, of course, the central role of the artistic director/conductor in raising the level of the orchestra. “I’m very much a builder and like working with an organization to take it to ‘the next level.’ To start with, I’m looking for an orchestra that has strong community ties and is at a level equivalent to a good community orchestra in Europe. What I am finding is that the more attention one puts into detail [at rehearsals] – intonation, phrasing and performance practice – the better the musicians that are attracted to the orchestra.” Better rehearsals and better players, of course, result in a better orchestra which creates more interest in the community. In the short time Reintamm has been in charge, subscriptions have increased by about 20 percent. As an example of the calibre of players the orchestra is now attracting he mentioned principal cellist, Oleg Volkov, who at one time was a student of Rostropovich and was a cellist in the Bolshoi Orchestra in Moscow.

Reintamm, a relative newcomer to Toronto – more on that later – brings an exceptionally strong conducting background to the job. Born in Hamilton, he caught the “musical bug,” as he calls it, as a chorister at Christ’s Church Cathedral there. Later he studied as an organ major at the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto, at McMaster University and at the Royal College of Music in England, where he studied with Sir Norman del Mar, Sir David Willcocks and Christopher Adey. While in London he conducted ballet performances with the Young London Ballet Company at Sadlers Wells Theatre. Upon returning to Canada he guest conducted a number of orchestras and for two years was an apprentice conductor of the Hamilton Philharmonic under Boris Brott.

During this time, in discussion with his parents about his career, they suggested – much to his surprise given that his father had escaped from Estonia after its annexation to the Soviet Union – that he go to Estonia and work in the theatres. He went there, played and conducted for the National Opera Company in Talinn and was offered a job.

There, Reintamm “learned the profession from the ground up, playing rehearsals, accompanying singers, playing chamber music, leading orchestra rehearsals, chorus master work – the whole shpiel that you learn as a conductor growing through the house. Working in an opera house you literally learn, as in the trades, as a ‘journeyman apprentice.’ So, you know, when the tenor doesn’t come in, how to get out of it … there are stories I could tell!”

13At this point in the conversation I commented on the formidable piano technique required to do the sorts of things he had described. “You have to be [a good pianist]. For instance, any soloist that I work with, I coach myself; and for any concerto soloist, we rehearse first with me playing the orchestral part, so that all the work is done before going in front of the orchestra. That way everything works and you don’t have to put it together in front of a group of musicians waiting for the soloist and the conductor to decide what’s going on! Every conductor should be able to play a keyboard fluently, just for the sake of rehearsing with musicians.”

Returning to Estonia, Reintamm was there during the momentous events, portrayed in the film, The Singing Revolution, which The WholeNote showed a few years ago at the Bloor Cinema, when Estonia became independent of the Soviet Union.

I wondered out loud about why he had left such a great job to come back to Canada. The reason was his father, whose health was failing. “It was a very hard decision for me to come back and face the reality of restarting my life in a completely new set of circumstances. How do you leave a fabulous opera house, where you’re in the pit every night doing operas and ballets, but my dad had given me so much of his life that I knew it was time for me to go back. I returned about eight and a half years ago in 2002. My father died about a year later, and I’m glad I was able to be with him.”

We will have one more opportunity this 25th anniversary season to hear the fruits of the labour of Norman Reintamm and his team. On May 28, the orchestra will perform Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, which he is very excited about. “It’s a good piece for our orchestra to do because there is such a super range of musicians especially right now with a large string section and great strength in the brass and woodwind sections. It’s something they can really get their teeth into. With close to 90 musicians we’re a large romantic orchestra, the kind of orchestra you can use to do Mahler. It’s great for me because in my days with Boris [Brott] I discovered I had an affinity with Mahler and it’s a showpiece for the finale of our 25th season.”

Definitely worth the trip to the P.C. Ho Theatre in Scarborough.

We will move now to south-western Scarborough, home base for the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra. This story is something of an update on my story, Two Cities, Four Orchestras, a Flutist and her Nephew, in the February 2009 issue of The WholeNote. The occasion was the visit to Toronto of flutist, Louise DiTullio, to perform with the Scarborough Philharmonic and Sinfonia Toronto and to record a CD, a kind of retrospective of her five decades of playing recording sessions for movie soundtracks in Los Angeles.

There have been developments in the two years since then. First, the CD is now available from its distributor, Naxos. Second, a review of it can be found in the DISCoveries section of this issue of The WholeNote. Third, at that time (the 2008/9 season) Ron Royer, Ms. DiTullio’s nephew, now a resident of Toronto, was the interim conductor of the Scarborough Philharmonic while a search was underway for a new artistic director.

What has occurred between then and now is best described in Royer’s own words: “The search committee chose three excellent guest conductors who ended up being offered other career opportunities which prevented them from accepting Scarborough’s permanent music director job. For example, conductor Daniel Swift became a music officer for the Canada Council for the Arts and is doing great work there. So the board offered me the permanent position, but I asked that the orchestra have the opportunity to vote on it first. I received a strong majority of support from the players, so I decided to take the plunge and become a music director for the first time in my career.”

Since Royer is also a composer with quite a roster of commissions, performances and recordings, the time-honoured tradition of the composer-conductor is alive and well and living in Scarborough. I was interested in his perceptions of how composing informed his work as a conductor:

“I believe that composing gives a particular perspective on understanding the construction of music, which can’t be learned from just score study. I [originally] wanted to study composition to better understand the music of great composers (both past and present). It is interesting … how many … conductors have also composed or arranged music for orchestra. For example, Vancouver Symphony music director and conductor, Bramwell Tovey, is an excellent composer and premiered an opera this season.”

Royer is also a cellist with over ten years of professional, mostly orchestral, work under his belt. This, he told me, “gave me a lot of practical experience to facilitate both composing for and conducting an orchestra. Performing cello with the Toronto Symphony, the Utah Symphony, the American Ballet Theatre Orchestra in Los Angles, touring for Columbia Artists and performing at the Grammy Awards, all gave me different, but interesting viewpoints on music,” which, he told me, have facilitated both composing and conducting.

These experiences, he said, have also influenced the way he approaches conducting and composing. “When I program for the SPO, an important consideration is choosing music that the orchestra will play well and will enjoy playing. When I compose, I want the players to sound good performing my music and to enjoy playing it. I usually approach things from a player’s perspective, which can be a very different approach from someone who has rarely or never ‘sat in the trenches’ as a symphony performer.”

The last opportunity to hear the Scarborough Philharmonic this season will be on May 14, in a programme called “Spaghetti Western: music inspired by Hollywood.” The soloists will be Louise DiTullio and Toronto Symphony Orchestra English horn player, Cary Ebli. Ms. DiTullio’s CD, The Hollywood Flute, will be available for purchase and she will be on hand after the concert to autograph them.

The really big event this May, however, is the sixth annual Organix Festival, which, of course, is all about the pipe organ, that musical and technological wonder that was developed centuries before steam engines, trains, cars, airplanes, telephones and computers! The great thing about this festival is that it offers performances by some of the best local organists as well as by one of the best in Europe, this year, Dr. Andreas Sieling from Berlin. Two American artists will also be part of this year’s festival, Jonathan Ortloff from Vermont and David Troiano from Michigan. The local organists performing this year are Andrew Adair, Elizabeth Anderson, Alison Clark, Paul Jenkins, Gordon Mansell, William O’Meara, David Palmer, Sarah Svendsen, Aaron Tan and John Tuttle. More details on the festival can be found in the listings and on page 2 of this issue, or online at organixconcerts.ca.

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

One of the more unusual concerts this month is “Samantha Chang and Friends” on April 16. Flutist, Samantha Chang, the enterprising woman behind the event, is a fine example of “musician-as-entrepreneur,” which is, in my opinion, what you have to be if you want to be a musician. Chang has a head start on many. “I see myself as someone who truly wants to take something I love and make it into a career,” she says. “I first started out as a commerce student at U of T, which gave me a lot of insights into the business world. I also worked in the financial district for nearly ten years, and you learn a lot by interacting with the bankers!”

19_classical_samanthachangMost musicians, when they do a solo concert select a venue like the Heliconian Hall or Gallery 345, venues with a capacity of about 85. You don’t need a large audience to fill the house and you can focus on the music without worrying (much) about filling the hall. The venue for Chang’s concert? Koerner Hall, with a capacity of just over 1,100. “If you have a dream,” she says, “you have to dream big!” What’s more, in a typical solo recital there are at most only a few other musicians – a collaborative pianist, of course, and occasionally a small ensemble. In Chang’s upcoming concert there are 16 other musicians – flutists, pianists, cellists, bass players, a violinist, a singer, an oboist, a harpist and even a drummer!

Having put on a few concerts myself, I had to ask how she has balanced the artistic and the management components. “I admit,” she says, “I am … sleep deprived … [but] I wouldn’t do any of this if I didn’t enjoy it. As a musician, I often feel like I am always at work: my ears are constantly listening, and my brain is churning.”

So obviously this is no ordinary flute recital. It is a veritable Babette’s Feast of a concert: “I like to be entertained at a concert, and I hope to do the same for the audience when I am on stage by presenting … diverse programs and performers.” With a view to avoiding giving the audience an overdose of flute, she is including two works for violin that will be played by Conrad Chow, the Debussy violin sonata and the Canadian premiere of Gold Rush Songs by Bruce Broughton. (I mentioned Broughton’s name in last month’s column in connection with the Scarborough Philharmonic’s April 2 concert at which his Triptych for Violin and Chamber Orchestra will be premiered by the same Conrad Chow).

Another original on the program will be a Rumba by Chick Corea arranged for flute quartet by Dimitriy Varelas, an Uzbekistani flutist and former arranger for the Helsinki Wind Quintet, who now lives in Toronto and will be among the performers.

There is more to Chang than business smarts and good programming instincts. She took her first flute lessons at the age of 13 from Mizi Tan, the flute teacher at the Shanghai Conservatory, and played all through high school. In her third year of commerce studies at university, she realized that this what she really wanted to do with her life. She began to take lessons again, holding down a number of part-time jobs to pay for them. After graduating, having responded well to master classes with English flutists, Peter Lloyd and William Bennett, she auditioned for a number of English music schools and was accepted by them all. (Some of you may remember a concert she gave, with an orchestra, at the George Weston Recital Hall a few years back. A video of that concert was her audition!)

She chose to go to London’s Royal Academy, where she studied with Kate Hill. There, having been told that she would need to study for two years in order to graduate, she completed all her written assignments by the end of October and after one year received her diploma! “However, I go back every summer,” she told me. “I’m considering going back for another degree.”

Her artistic vision? “A great musician/flutist is someone who can touch the audience’s soul. I love listening to Rampal shape a phrase so effortlessly, same with Moyse, he breathes music! WIBB (William Bennett) has so much enthusiasm for music making that it shows in every performance.”

“And what personal qualities does one need to become a great musician?” I asked. “Persistence is key! Patience is a given! Also, learn to listen to other people, learn from their qualities … For me, the flute is the closest thing to singing. You can honestly breathe and speak through your flute.”

It’s been said that each generation must re-invent the musical tradition. I would take that a step further and say that each musician needs to re-invest in the musical tradition, absorb it as thoroughly as possible and mould it anew, into something that reflects the spirit of one’s time and one’s own awakening musical soul, infused with life through the assimilation of an artistic tradition. April 16, at Koerner Hall, let’s see how Chang is doing on her chosen path.

Brahms, Brahms and Brahms

THE MUSIC OF JOHANNES BRAHMS is prominent in the listings this month. For example, three of Brahms’ four symphonies will be performed in April, beginning with the Guelph Symphony Orchestra’s performance on April 3 of his fourth symphony. On April 9, the Oakville Symphony Orchestra will perform the third symphony. At the very end of the month, on April 29, the Ontario Philharmonic Orchestra will perform the first symphony in Oshawa and also the next day at Koerner Hall, the last concert in this season’s Mooredale Concerts series. The programs for these two concerts consist entirely of music by Brahms, and in both, the incomparable Anton Kuerti will perform Brahms’ Piano Concerto No.1 in D Minor.

There’s an abundance of Brahms’ chamber music too. The Academy Concert Series’ concert on April 16 is an all-Brahms program performed in the style of the time. According to Academy artistic director Nicolai Tarasov, the program will “display the depth and the power of Brahms’ musical intellect, the wisdom, lyricism, warmth and charm of his melodies, and the manifold beauties and moving, passionate passages contained within [his] music.” Tarasov also let me know that this is, in fact, his last concert as artistic director of the Academy Series, a post that will be filled by cellist Kerry McGonigle.

One of the works on the Academy Series’ April 16 program is the Clarinet Sonata Op.120, which, coincidentally, will also be performed this month, on April 10, by Katarzyna Marczak, as part of Trio sTREga’s concert at Gallery 345. And there will be yet another Brahms-centred program on April 16 presented by The Chamber Music Society of Mississauga. The focus of their program, however, will be the friendship between Brahms and Clara Schumann, and will include music by both. There will also be two opportunities to hear Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No.5 on April 2, performed by the Hart House Symphonic Band, and on May 7 by Orchestra Kingston. There will be at least two other opportunities to hear chamber music by Brahms, and several to hear his choral music, including at Tafelmusik’s series of concerts between April 7 and 10.

Eye Catchers

THREE OTHER UNUSUAL PROGRAMS in the first half of the month also caught my eye: on April 7 pianist-composer Adam Sherkin, who is from Toronto and has, I believe, recently returned from England’s Royal Academy, is giving his Toronto debut at the Jane Mallett Theatre, with a program that combines works by Bach, Beethoven, Claude Vivier and Colin McPhee with three of his own compositions. On April 9 a group of musicians associated with Vermont’s famous Marlboro Festival will perform chamber music at Koerner Hall.

Finally, this year is the 39th season of The Associates of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, which from January to May presents four concerts given by members of the TSO and one by the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra. This month’s concert, on April 11 is, according to Armin Weber, Director of Marketing for the series, “… one of the biggest concerts the Associates of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra have launched.” What makes it one of the biggest is that two ensembles will perform, the first a quartet of traditional Chinese instruments, led by Anna Guo, who plays the yangqin, a Chinese hammer dulcimer. Ms. Guo taught at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, and from 1985 to 1996, was head of the Shanghai Women’s Silk String Quintet. In 1996 she settled in Toronto. The other ensemble on the programme will be a string sextet led by TSO violinist, James Wallenberg. For most of the programme the two groups will perform separately, but for the final work, depicting harmony, the two ensembles will join forces, demonstrating the universality of music and by extension, of humanity. Ah, if only politics could be left to musicians, then we would have concerts instead of wars!

Need I repeat that what I have written about here just scratches the surface of our always abundant listings? So read those listings thoroughly to find what interests you.

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

March has arrived and with it the vernal equinox, Saint Patrick’s Day, the famous Ides, probably an early thaw, and with it a flood of student recitals at music schools here and everywhere. Go to the website of the Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario, for example, where events on the calendar are colour coded: student recitals are orange, and the March calendar is almost all orange! We cannot list all student solo recitals – there just isn’t the space in the print magazine to do so. But I recommend going to one in March. It’s great fun being able to say, down the road, that you spotted a great artist early in their career. Just go to the website of the music school nearest you and find out what is going on. That is not to say there are no student performances in our listings pages. We list music school recitals by student ensembles or by particular teachers’ students. For example, see the recital on March 4 by the York University Brass Ensemble or the one the following day by students of the voice teachers at York University.

Meanwhile faculty recitals continue through March: the Faculty Woodwind Quintet at Wilfrid Laurier University will perform there on March 3. The flutist in this ensemble, incidentally, is Amy Hamilton, whose flute quartet’s new CD, “Canadian Flute Quartets,” I have reviewed in this month’s “DISCoveries.” Other university teachers, Brock University piano professor Karin Bella and U of T guitar professor Jeffrey McFadden will give recitals on March 1 and 7 respectively, to name but a few.

Vocal Recitals

It looks like another good month for vocal recitals, getting off to an early start on March 1 with U of T voice students presenting a programme of songs composed by New Zealanders and Australians at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. The very next day, hot on the heels of “Nixon in China,” the COC’s vocal series continues with compositions by John Adams, introduced by the composer himself, in town because of his major role, as composer and conductor, in the TSO’s New Creations series.

16_isabella_stewart_gardner_portraitOn March 6 the Aldeburgh Connection will tell the story in song of the life of Boston socialite and philanthropist, Isabella Stewart Gardner. Aldeburgh artistic co-director, Stephen Ralls told me this about the programme: “It’s one of those programmes which is so difficult to describe [because it] has so many [interwoven] threads!” The unifying theme, however, is the connection of the music with Bostonian Isabel Stewart Gardner. She patronised American composers, such as Clayton Johns, Margaret Ruthven Lang and Charles Martin Loeffler, who will be represented on the programme. As a young woman she spent time in France and when back in Boston programmed a lot of French music in concerts at her home, so there will also be songs by Fauré, Debussy, Chausson, D’Indy and Bemberg. One of her causes, Ralls told me, was the welfare of black people in Boston, so there will be arrangements of spirituals as well as other music of her time, including piano duets by Gottschalk and MacDowell. “As you can see,” Ralls said, “it’s a rich vein! We will take in all the people whom she patronised or who were friends of hers in Boston, [such as] John Singer Sargent, Bernard Berenson and Henry James…”

Returning for a moment to the universities, Brock University in St. Catharines appears to be a hotbed of vocal activity, with three recitals, March 15, 22 and 25; and on March 26 the Port Hope Friends of Music are presenting a concert by three singers from the Opera School of the University of Toronto. Other upcoming vocal recitals are mezzo Vilma Indra Vitols presented by the Latvian National Opera Fund Canada on March 27 and baritone Michael Fitzgerald at Metropolitan United Church on March 31.

Piano Recitals

17_jane_coopA number of fine pianists are performing in Toronto in March. Two of these are faculty members at the University of British Columbia, Jane Coop and Sara Davis Buechner. Jane Coop will give two recitals for Mooredale Concerts, one designed for children and one for the rest of us, featuring music by Beethoven and Scriabin, on March 20. Then on March 25 she will be at the Aurora Cultural Centre’s Brevik Hall, a beautiful new 150-seat facility that sells out fast, especially when an artist of Ms. Coop’s calibre is performing! I asked the newest member of The WholeNote team, Sharna Searle, herself a pianist, who has recently come here from Vancouver and has heard Jane Coop play on several occasions, to say something about her. Searle wrote: “I admire her focussed, considered and keenly intelligent understanding of, and approach to, the music. I’ve always thought she was a very grounded player with this wonderfully clean, unfussy, flawless technique, something I always appreciate in a pianist. My teacher at music school (U. of Western Ontario), Ronald Turini, had a similar technique; he never ‘got in the way of the music.’”

17_buechnerSara Davis Buechner will perform with Sinfonia Toronto in its interesting “Fantasies” programme on March 11 and for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society on March 12. She has an astonishing range of musical affinities, and an encyclopaedic concert and recital repertoire, spanning the breadth of keyboard music from Bach to contemporary. An indication of this: her back to back Sinfonia Toronto and K-WCMS appearances do not have a single composer in common.

Speaking of the K-W Chamber Music Society, yet another eminent pianist, Janina Fialkowska, will also perform for the K-W Chamber Music Society on March 15. This remarkable organization, you may be interested to know, has no fewer than eleven different concerts listed in this month’s issue. If you haven’t gone – I know I’ve said this before – go! It’s like a house concert but with artists who usually perform in larger, less intimate, venues. Fialkowska can also be heard on March  5 with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and on March 13 in a concert presented by Visual and Performing Arts Newmarket.

The list of piano recitals this month goes on and on, but I will mention three more. Sa Chen, a Chinese pianist, who has won prizes at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition (2005), the 14th International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw (2000) and the Leeds International Piano Competition (1996), will perform at the MacMillan Theatre on March 27 under the auspices of the Li Delun Music Foundation. This will be her first appearance in Toronto. Just two days later, on March 29, Music Toronto will bring us the internationally renowned Montreal pianist, Marc-André Hamelin; and on March 30 and 31, French pianist, Jean-Yves Thibaudet will be the soloist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in the second concert of a TSO “Signature Series” celebrating the 200th anniversary of Liszt’s birth.

Also Noteworthy

Of the several events designed for children, one in particular caught my eyes: the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra’s concert called “Bella the Tuba Gets Her Melody” on March 26.

On the community orchestra front, the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra continues its pattern of innovative programming on April 2, including in its programme three world premieres, including one by the evening’s guest conductor, Alex Eddington and a violin concerto by Bruce Broughton, a Hollywood film composer with Canadian roots.

AND FINALLY, A WARM WELCOME to an astonishing array of distinguished visitors this month: Marina Piccinini and Andreas Haefliger (March 11); Hilary Hahn, violin,  and Valentina Lisitsa, piano, March 1; John Williams, guitar, March 27; the Scharoun Ensemble of the Berlin Philharmonic, March 11; John Adams (as conductor), (March 5); The Barra McNeils, (April 5 and 6) Evelyn Glennie, (March 2); Borealis Quartet, (March 3); Tokyo Quartet, (April 4); Karen Gomyo, violin, (March 23).

As Richard Margison observed in the very early days of WholeNote Magazine, the great thing about The WholeNote is that it includes local artists as well as internationally known stars. Since everyone’s career starts at the local level, he said, this is good for everyone. So, let’s all try to get out to hear at least one concert by a local artist and one by a student as well as one or two by our distinguished visitors. Our participation as part of the audience is just as important in creating a living musical culture as our participation as performers. Bravo, I say, to the man who came out to a concert by my students in January. “What brings you to our concert?” I asked him during the intermission. His answer was simple: “I wanted to hear some music I had never heard before.” He was not disappointed, and all of us who participated in the music-making were helped and affirmed by his presence there. ν

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

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