Ahhh, summer’s here, finally. Time to hit the road, get outta town, escape the city, right? Maybe not. There is so much going on in Toronto that you might want to consider a musical “staycation” this summer, for part of it, at least.

From Music Mondays to Sunday Serenades, you can catch a local, free (or at most $5–$10), indoor or outdoor summer concert series performance pretty well every day of the week, from June right up to the end of August and into September. Befitting summer’s easy pace, enjoy a leisurely perusal of the daily offerings below.

classical anastasia-rizikovMonday: For the past 21 years, every Monday throughout the summer, locals and visitors alike have “taken a load off” at around noon, entered the inviting, downtown sanctuary of the Church of the Holy Trinity and experienced a wonderful, restorative, musical performance, presented by Music Mondays. What is different this year is that it is artistic director Eitan Cornfield’s first full season at the helm of this much-loved series.

Last year, Cornfield shared some of his thoughts with us at the end of the 2012 season. This year, the veteran former CBC radio producer offers a few more thoughts on his approach to the series, at the front end of the summer and from the vantage point of a year’s worth of hindsight.

Interestingly, in his search for “organizing principles” for Music Mondays,” Cornfield’s language is more reflective of environmentalism than show business or the arts: he speaks of “an ecological image of Toronto’s musical life,” and what it takes to “survive and thrive in such an environment ... the effects of climate, nurture, location.”

“I began to answer these questions by considering the ecological niches that are underserved” he says. “What comfort, solace and sanctuary is there for weary shoppers, tourists, finance and IT workers in the high rise beehives of downtown Toronto, what opportunities for reflection, to recharge our artistic and spiritual batteries? ... We’re surrounded by pop and light entertainment, the short burst of song, the guitar riff, the advertising jungle, all fuel for ADD. And so we’ve redefined the mission of Music Mondays as providing food for thought ... not just the traditional Western music of dead white guys, but the classical and art musics of all cultures ... [and] a new branch of the Music Mondays organism devoted to showcasing young composers.”

“In a nutshell: we know where we fit into the environment: we provide a distinct ecological niche for both music lovers and performers, we promote diversity and accessibility, we nurture the young and the talented and we marry their music with ideas.”

Food for thought, indeed! The delectable series runs June 3 to September 30.

classical bob-neighbourTuesday: “Be inspired by the power and overwhelming beauty of a great cathedral organ” says the Cathedral Church of St. James website, under “Recitals and Concerts,” inviting you to find inspiration at two weekly, downtown, organ recital series. Music at Midday is the one on Tuesdays at 1pm. (I’ll get to Sunday’s Twilight Recitals later.)

Composer and St. James Cathedral’s interim associate organist, Andrew Ager, holds court for the majority of these concerts, with current artist-in-residence David Briggs performing at four of the recitals over the summer. Music coaxed from the 5,000+ pipes of the cathedral’s Casavant organ can be heard on Tuesdays from June 4 to July 30, and again on August 13 and 27, when Briggs performs music with a “French Flair” (works by Langlais, Bach, Franck, Saint-Saëns and Briggs) followed by “Music to Rouse the Spirit” (works by Bach, Briggs, Tchaikovsky, Elgar and Widor).

Wednesday: With three very distinct concert series falling on Wednesdays, say “so long” to the mid-week slump. St. Stephen in-the-Fields Anglican Church, in Kensington Market, starts things off in June with its weekly Concerts at Midday (12:35pm), featuring a variety of instrumentalists including pianist Richard Herriott (June 5), organists Eric Osborne (June 12) and Andrew Adair (June 19), and clarinetist Nicolai Tarasov (June 26). The series winds up August 28 with Bruce Nasmith performing double duty on guitar and organ.

Come July, two other outdoor Wednesday series swing into action. From July 10 to August 28 the City of Toronto hosts the free 12:30pm “Fresh Wednesdays as part of its annual Summer Squares Concert Series. Munch on produce purchased from the Nathan Phillips Square Farmers’ Market while listening to a featured Canadian singer-songwriter of the week — a perfect pairing. And if you feel like an evening away from the bustle of downtown, the Artists’ Garden Cooperative obliges with its truly eclectic Plein Air Salon Garden Concerts. Taking place throughout July and August, at 7:30, these lovely garden concerts offer everything from folk/roots music and jazz to country blues and Bossa Nova. Attend the AGC’s free launch party on June 25 at 4:30 for a sampling.

Thursday: Thursdays will pose an even greater challenge to your concert-going plans, with four series to contemplate, in June at least. Nine Sparrows Arts Foundation wraps up its regular Lunchtime Chamber Music recital series at Christ Church Deer Park, with four June concerts. NSAF has been running the weekly noon hour recital series since the fall of 2009, presenting local musicians — often graduate performance majors from U of T’s Faculty of Music — in “a unique chamber music program designed to provide showcase opportunities for rising talent.” You can catch some of this young talent at 12:10 on June 6, 13, 20 and 27; mind you, that last recital happens to include some “seasoned” talent: The WholeNote’s own Allan Pulker on flute.

The pairing of music and food has always been a winning combination, especially when the former is free and the latter cheap. Once again, the City of Toronto has married the two for “Tasty Thursdays” at Nathan Phillips Square, inviting you to relish “international dishes (for $7 or less) served up by a variety of Toronto restaurants, while enjoying free live music from the stage, including roots, blues, reggae and Latin sounds.” The series runs Thursdays, from 11am to 2pm, with concerts at 12:30, July 11 to August 29. Yum!

As it’s done for the past 13 summers, Harbourfront Centre continues to gift us with Summer Music in the Garden, a glorious outdoor series in the entrancing Toronto Music Garden. Every Thursday from July 4 to September 12 (except September 5), people wend their way to the Garden, to set out blankets and chairs, or claim space on the terraced seating area, in anticipation of the evening’s live performance at 7pm. In her curatorial statement, Tamara Bernstein refers to the season’s “joyous eclecticism,” an apt and inspired description of what Bernstein has programmed: “music from 17th-century Europe; string quartets by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and more; South Asian ragas; thundering taiko drums; music for African kora, viola da gamba and Persian instruments; fiddling from Cajun, Celtic, French-Canadian and Norwegian traditions; several world premieres — and of course the garden’s ‘patron saint,’ J. S. Bach!” Irresistible, yes? The magic of the Garden awaits you ... as it does on several Sundays at 4pm, throughout the summer, as well.

The final Thursday series I want to mention here is the newest kid on the block, or rather, in the park, St. James Park, former home of the Occupy Toronto camp. Hosted by the St. Lawrence Market Neighbourhood BIA, Music in St. James Park was conceived and coordinated by local writer and music lover, Bob Neighbour, a spry (by all accounts) 87-year-old who, while in agreement with the Occupy message, wanted to revive his neighbourhood park, have it known and frequented for its loveliness rather than its political past. As Nancy Miller, Neighbour’s wife, wrote in an article for the online publication Good News Toronto, August 2012, Neighbour “just wanted to sit, on a warm evening, and listen to beautiful music.”

Armed with the old adage “they can only say no” — something my wise, Jewish mother taught me — Neighbour approached his neighbourhood BIA about supporting a free music series in the park, and they liked the idea. Musicians were lined-up, local businesses came on board and “occupy the gazebo” translated into beautiful music emanating from the park’s gazebo, which hadn’t been used in decades. In its inaugural year there were six concerts; this year there are eight at 7pm, ranging from those classical music boundary pushers, the Annex Quartet, on June 20, to the spirited Boxcar Boys performing their unique mix of wild gypsy, Dixieland jazz, klezmer and folk music, on August 8. Last year I attended the second concert. Two greats, Jane Bunnett and Hilario Durán, graced the gazebo with incredibly exhilarating, sexy Cuban music. It was a perfect evening. Here’s to eight more.

Friday and Saturday: It seems that there’s a dearth, generally, of Friday and Saturday summer concert series. Perhaps presenters figure the city empties out on weekends with its citizens making a beeline for “the cottage.” For those of us who remain in the city (by choice or otherwise), local pianist Gordon Murray kindly fills the void with his two, one-man “mini-series.” On Fridays (June 7, 14, 21, 28 and August 23 and 30) it’s Piano Potpourri, 1:10pm at Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church, featuring an assortment of selections from classics, opera, operetta, musicals, ragtime, pop, international and other genres; you’re encouraged to bring your lunch. The three Piano Soirée concerts (June 29, July 27, August 24), at 8pm on Saturdays, also at Trinity-St. Paul’s, offer up more formally programmed recitals with works ranging from Kalman’s Dream Once Again to Liszt’s Un Sospiro. Check the listings for details.

Sunday: In contrast to the scarcity of Friday and Saturday concerts,Sunday’s abundance includes afternoon concerts in gardens, twilight church recitals and evening serenades in the square. You already know about two of them: Cathedral Church of St. James’ Twilight Recitals at 4pm (June 2, 9, 16, 23) and Harbourfront’s Summer Music in the Garden, also at 4pm (June 30; July 21, 28; August 11, 18, 25; and September 8, 15). And there’s yet another of the City of Toronto’s Summer Squares Concert Series. This time it’s “Summer Serenades” at Mel Lastman Square, featuring swing, jazz and big band music, at 7:30pm, on seven consecutive Sunday evenings from July 7 to August 18. Last in our survey of Sunday, City of Toronto Historic Sites presents Music in the Orchard. These popular outdoor performances in June at the Spadina Museum, begin at 1:30pm and feature jazz and improvised music (June 2); works by Mozart and beyond for wind octet (June 9) and classical to modern works for flute, clarinet and bassoon (June 16). As its press release suggests, “Bring a blanket. Bring a picnic. Bring the whole family. Pay what you wish.” Instructions for a perfectly pleasant Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday: And last but certainly not least is Toronto Summer Music Festival. Originally conceived as a summer series, with concerts every other day or so over a four-week period, TSMF now commands mid-July to the beginning of August with an astonishing array of local and imported talent gracing its three stages, five days a week. For those whose idea of a “staycation” includes total musical immersion, TSMF is, more than any other, the in-town festival for which to stick around or come home.

Convinced to stay put for a bit? Good. Enjoy the music and summer on! 

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.

Rossini, Wagner, von Suppé, Tchaikovsky, Smetana, Donizetti, Grieg, Offenbach, J. Strauss, Jr., Liszt. Sure, they all hold membership in the pantheon of great composers, but do you know what else they have in common? Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and Wile E. Coyote, to name some of those lovable Looney Tunes characters who have danced, pranced, chased and raced around on screen, to the music of those aforementioned composer heavyweights, or rather, to brilliantly conceived and executed adaptations, orchestrations, arrangements and “borrowings” of their music by American composers, Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn, the ingenious creators of the symphonic soundtracks to those zany Warner Bros. cartoons of yesteryear. (They sure don’t make ’em like they used to.)

1808-classicalLooney Tunes: Remember The Rabbit of Seville? (1949) — “Welcome to my shop, let me cut your mop, let me shave your crop. Daintily, daintily.” (Can’t you just hear/see Bugs Bunny, dressed in a barber’s outfit, beckoning Elmer Fudd with that Rossini-inspired score à la Stalling?) And what about What’s Opera, Doc? (1957) that amazing tour de force where Franklyn manages to condense the four nights of Wagner’s Ring cycle into seven exhilarating orchestral minutes to accompany the cartoon capers as Bugs and Elmer battle it out in a parody of Wagner operas. It’s famous, of course, for Fudd’s “Kill the Wabbit,” sung to the tune of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” from Die Valküre. As George Daugherty, creator and conductor of “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony” has said, “Once you’ve seen Elmer Fudd chasing about on screen singing “Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit,” you will never hear Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” the same way again.”

Well, guess what? Bugs is back in town! And you’ll be able to test Daugherty’s theory when “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony” returns to the Sony Centre after its hugely successful 2011 engagement. Celebrating over two decades of Bugs Bunny on the concert stage, the production involves projecting the classic cartoons onto a large screen, while an orchestra, in this case the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, provides a live accompaniment, with Daugherty conducting. It’s great fun for both the audience and orchestra (though a little more tricky for the latter). There is one performance in Toronto on May 18, at 7pm; a 2pm show was recently cancelled. Two days earlier, on the 16th, Daugherty will conduct the KWS on home turf at Kitchener’s Centre in the Square, at 7pm.

And what’s on the program? In addition to the two iconic cartoons mentioned, I dangle a carrot with a few others: Baton Bunny, with music by von Suppé, orchestrated by Franklyn; Zoom and Bored (Road Runner “epic”), with an original score by Stalling and Franklyn, based on “The Dance of the Comedians” from The Bartered Bride by Smetana; A Corny Concerto, with music by Stalling, based on Tales of the Vienna Woods and The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II; and Long-Haired Hare, with an original score by Stalling, “after” Wagner, von Suppé, Donizetti and Rossini. You’ll also hear selections from the Great American Songbook and traditional American folk songs. And there will be “guest appearances” by Tom and Jerry, the Flintstones and Scooby-Doo, not to mention an appearance by Tweety and Sylvester in a cartoon titled (presciently) Home Tweet Home, with an original score by Franklyn. I guarantee it will contain a lot more than 140 notes ... and lots of character.

This is serious entertainment, folks. Resist (and poo-poo) at your own risk. Besides, as Daugherty contends: “If most people — even the most highbrow of opera and classical music lovers — were to admit the truth, they would fess up that they heard their first strains of the Ring cycle or ... The Barber of Seville courtesy of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd.” As for Stalling and Franklyn, Daugherty holds them in high regard, suggesting that they’re “up there” with the likes of Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. Come see for yourself.

1808-classical2Lenny tunes: Staying with the screening-with-live-orchestral-accompaniment idea for a moment, if watching Looney Tunes cartoons isn’t your thing, but Bernstein is, then you’re in luck! Because, on May 28 (7:30) and 29 (1:30 and 7:30), at Roy Thomson Hall, Bernstein’s dazzling score to West Side Story will be performed by the TSO, while the 2011 re-mastered version of the film (with original vocals and dialogue intact) is shown, in high definition, on the big screen. “West Side Story: film with live orchestra,” was initiated and shepherded by The Leonard Bernstein Office in New York City, to mark the 50th anniversary of the film which was originally released in October of 1961. You can read here about the amazing journey of the West Side Story reconstruction project — starting with the startling fact that the original score materials did not exist. The piece, alone, is a loving tribute to the film, and offers a real appreciation for, and a fascinating, in-depth account of, the complexities involved in bringing a project of this nature to fruition.

Steven Reineke, recently appointed principal Pops conductor of the TSO (and music director of the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall), will conduct the TSO in what is sure to be a magical and memorable experience. We’re invited to enjoy the two evening concerts with “drink in hand” and popcorn, both available for purchase.

I have to say, as an unabashed fan of the film’s music, choreography and Sondheim lyrics, that the TSO’s bringing it even further to life is going to be very “cool.”

(And if you’d like to hear the TSO play more Bernstein, you can catch the orchestra at the George Weston Recital Hall on June 2, 3:00pm, in a performance of his Overture to Candide, along with Elgar’s Enigma Variations and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Bramwell Tovey conducts and is at the piano.)

Birthday tunes: And with that nod to Bugs and Bernstein accomplished, I close this column with two bicentennial birthday acknowledgments: Wagner was born on May 22, 1813, and Verdi on October 10. Both the Oakville Symphony and the Etobicoke Philharmonic Orchestra mark the Verdi milestone with concerts titled, coincidentally, “Viva Verdi.” On May 11 (8pm) and 12 (2pm) at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts, the OSO offers selected Verdi overtures, arias and duets, with guest soprano Laurie Reviol. On May 24, the EPO returns to the Martingrove Collegiate, at 8pm, and performs the “Triumphal March” and “Ballet Music” from Aida, “Va Pensiero” from Nabucco and other selections. Baritone Jeffrey Carl and soprano Rachel Cleland join conductor Sabatino Vacca, along with special guest, tenor Richard Margison — another coup for the EPO! (Last month, it was pianist Arthur Ozolins performing the Rachmaninoff Third.)

For its free noonhour Chamber Music Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, the Canadian Opera Company presents "Happy Birthday, Wagner" on, you guessed it, the composer’s actual birthday, May 22. The intriguing program, featuring the cellists of the COC Orchestra, includes arrangements of Wagner’s opera overtures for four cellists, Bizet’s Carmen Fantasy for five cellos, and a work by 19th-century cellist, David Popper, who knew and admired Wagner, subsequently transcribing several of his piano solo works for cello. Hmmm. I wonder what either of them would have thought of Stalling’s and Franklyn’s way with Wagner.

Th-Th-Th-Th ... That’s all folks! 

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 impossible, given the copious concert-going options available each month, to note adequately all those that fall within the scope of this column. Each month, I take a deep breath and then choose a cluster of concerts, a theme, a genre, a group of artists or composers, to fill the few precious pages allotted to the Classical & Beyond beat, knowing full well that I will have left out innumerable events equally deserving of coverage. Such is the nature of the beast.

I’m aware, as well, that many concerts warrant more than the scant lines I’m able to afford them. Sometimes though, when the date of a short-shrifted concert falls within the first seven days of the month, thus overlapping two issues, I get to redeem myself. And while it means less space still for the newer listings, well ... I’ve resigned myself to the fact that there will always be those irked and annoyed at me for the concerts I select to write about each month: such, too, is the nature of the beast.

Redemption via Rachmaninoff: Hence my decision to revisit the Etobicoke Philharmonic Orchestra’s upcoming April 5 performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, with the distinguished pianist, Arthur Ozolins. In its 52-year history, the EPO has never performed the Rachmaninoff Third. For its 50th anniversary gala, however, Ozolins played Rachmaninoff’s Second with the orchestra. Sabatino Vacca, the EPO’s music director, tells what happened afterward:

“As we were coming offstage I gently remarked that we really should do the Third sometime. He politely declined, knowing how demanding a piece it is and how demanding he would be of himself to prepare it. I knew it was a lot to ask so I was not too disappointed. A few months passed and Arthur then called us to see if in fact it were possible to program the Third as he was considering playing it after all. You cannot imagine how delighted I was! I immediately began to see where it would best fit into our current season.”

Vacca goes on to describe the thrill of rehearsing the concerto in the two-piano version with Ozolins; of getting a glimpse into ‘’just how thoroughly Mr. Ozolins prepares a concerto; no ‘note’ is left unturned!” And how Ozolins “often manages, somehow to play both [piano parts] at the same time!” Though Ozolins has played it throughout his long career, Vacca remarks on the “boyish curiosity” that comes through Ozolin’s preparation, “as if coming to it for the first time, always discovering new things.”

Interestingly, in an audio interview with Paul Robinson (posted July 31, 2010 — date of conversation unknown; theartoftheconductor.podbean.com), Ozolins speaks endearingly of his early childhood exposure to (and enduring affinity for) the music of Rachmaninoff:

“I used to sit under my mother’s piano when she was practising before she died. [Ozolins was only five and a half.] Then afterward my grandmother kept playing because she was also a graduate from the St. Petersburg Conservatory in Russia. And she knew Rachmaninoff; and she just almost constantly was practising the First and the Second piano concertos of Rachmaninoff. Maybe that’s why I have such an identification with Rachmaninoff. I just adore Rachmaninoff so much; I’ve heard it ever since a child.”

Vacca clearly appreciates Ozolins’ deep connection to Rachmaninoff’s music, acknowledging that “it will be a great experience and privilege for us to perform [the Third Concerto] with someone who counts it as one of his signature pieces. “It will be,” he enthuses, “a rare opportunity for the Etobicoke community and beyond to hear Mr. Ozolins perform this concerto, one of the pinnacles of ultra-Romantic bravura pianism.”

It seems rather fitting that this exceptional concert, which gets under way at 8pm, is being performed at Martingrove Collegiate, home to the gifted program in Etobicoke. There certainly will be no shortage of musical gifts emanating from the stage that night.

classical russell braun 001115 years young: The EPO may be in its 52nd year, but it’s a mere tot compared to the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto, now in its 115th season — yes, 115, and going strong — it announced season 116 last month! And of course, the wonderful women — and men — of the WMCT are celebrating the organization’s 115th anniversary in grand style. On May 2 at 1:30pm, the stage of Koerner Hall will be graced by Canadian musical luminaries, violinist James Ehnes and baritone Russell Braun. Collaborative pianist Carolyn Maule, who happens to be married to Braun, joins them.

How do you get two of the busiest classical musicians on the planet to perform together? How does the program get chosen? How long does it take to nail down the details? And the venue? Last week I put these questions to WMCT’s artistic director, Simon Fryer (concurrently principal cello with the Regina Symphony, head of strings at the Regina Conservatory and active chamber musician), and here’s what he told me:

“The idea for this project came forward in the course of a discussion with Russell in Parry Sound at the 2009 Festival of the Sound. Both artists have been long-time favorites of the WMCT so when Russell mentioned that they had been talking about collaborating it was a no-brainer to grab the idea and run with it. The details of programming took longer to pin down but Russell had clear and wonderful ideas to build around and once the skeleton was in place James was able to fit appropriate works into it. These are both major artists with very busy schedules, but once we had a good handle on the program direction it fell into place nicely. With such possibilities the project was an obvious choice to present at a major event in Koerner Hall.”

Simple, eh? But it took a lot more than just being at the right place at the right time. Fryer’s background, experience and personality all contributed to his being at that “right place.” In asking what drew him to the WMCT position, which he assumed in 2005/6 — planning was then under way for the 110th season — he shed some light on all three:

“I had left the Toronto Symphony to join the Penderecki String Quartet in 2003. My sheepdog personality enjoys collecting artists and audiences together with great music, so bringing ideas for musical events and collaborations to reality had always been an interest for me. With many such events behind me, the opportunity to consolidate from random events to a coherent season was something I began to search for.

“The opportunity presented itself in the form of the WMCT. Here was an organization in strong financial shape, with a loyal and knowledgeable audience, looking for artistic direction from the professional arena for the first time ... I had known of the WMCT ever since I arrived in Toronto and was impressed by the people I met with and their clear sense of purpose.”

classical james ehnesTo what does he attribute the WMCT’s unparalleled success and how does he plan to sustain it?

“The success of the series over 115 years is a result of careful management, strong understanding of the tastes of the members and a large and enthusiastic resource of volunteers. It is my job to maintain and build that understanding so that tastes are developed and new horizons approached. Continuing the tradition of bringing a spectrum of Canadian and international artists to the WMCT stage, is a fascinating and rewarding task. I do not work alone either — I have a wonderful artists selection committee that provides both an expert sounding board for ideas and a superb resource of knowledge.”

It sounds like the WMCT is in very savvy and capable hands under Fryer’s artistic leadership.

And now back to the big event. While it won’t be the first time Ehnes and Braun will be sharing the stage for a WMCT concert — that happened in 1998 at the WMCT’s centennial celebration concert– it will be their first time actually playing together. (A further “fun fact”: in 1992 both Ehnes and Braun made their Toronto debuts with the WMCT in season 95, within a month of each other.)

The afternoon will begin with works by Bach (the first for voice and violin; the second for solo violin) and will end with settings of English songs based on poet A. E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad, by Vaughan Williams, Butterworth and Barber, for the combinations of voice and violin, voice and piano, and voice, violin and piano. In between you’ll get to marvel at Ehnes’ virtuosity with three Paganini caprices, and luxuriate in Braun’s rich tones in Beethoven’s only song cycle. A new work for voice, violin and piano by John Estacio, commissioned by the WMCT for the occasion, will complete the outstanding program — one fit for this most exciting and monumental occasion!

In addition to these two magnificent evenings of music making, there are probably another 115 listings to consider for April and early May. It’s spring — time to step out and take in the season’s multitude of 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.

 


1806 classical and beyondWhat a difference a month makes! It seems that after weeks of intimate, romantic, light-hearted, sweet and sexy Valentine offerings, mighty, majestic and weighty Russian fare is to be the antidote to all that sweetness, judging by the proliferation of programs focusing on Russian music this month. (Not that Russian music can’t be romantic — think Rachmaninoff’s Second piano concerto.) With titles like “Russian Masters” and “Kiev to St. Petersburg,” works by Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff abound, with Prokofiev, Mussorgsky, Shostakovich, Rimsky-Korsakov and Rubinstein also represented. It all promises to be rather thrilling!

(And for those of you still hankering for the sexy stuff, at the end of the column there’s a Quick Picks of Piazzolla, whose tempting tangos turn up the heat all over the place this month.)

Community bookends: Interestingly, two community orchestras are offering programs comprised of symphonies and concerti by Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky, at each end of this issue’s date range. Perhaps one reason for the focus on these two Russian giants is the significant birth and death anniversaries occurring this month and further down in 2013. This year marks the 120th anniversary of Tchaikovsky’s death. Rachmaninoff was born 140 years ago on April 1 and died 70 years ago on March 28.

Whatever the reason, we’ve got two evenings of great orchestral fare to consider. Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 and his Violin Concerto in D Major are featured in Counterpoint Community Orchestra’s “Kiev to St. Petersburg,” March 2, 8pm, at Saint Luke’s United Church. Erica Williamson is the violin soloist and the CCO’s Terry Kowalczuk conducts.

About a month later, on April 5 at 8pm, it’s the Etobicoke Philharmonic Orchestra’s turn at Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, when they present “Russian Masters” at Martingrove Collegiate. The program also includes Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3. Reputed to be one of the most technically challenging in the repertoire, it will be in the most capable hands of Canada’s Arthur Ozolins, who recorded the Rachmaninoff Third, as well as the First, Second and Fourth, for CBC Records, with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, under Mario Bernardi, between 1985 and 1993.

Speaking of pianists and Russian repertoire, in between the CCO and the EPO, the TSO presents “From Mozart to Sibelius” on March 23 at 7:30. In between Wagner’s “Prelude to Act III” of Lohengrin and Mozart’s “Overture”to Don Giovanni, pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin will perform a personal favourite of mine, Rachmaninoff’s beautiful (and remember, romantic) Piano Concerto No.2, the piece he played when he won the 2011 TSO National Piano Competition. The guest conductor is Mélanie Léonard who is in her first season as associate conductor of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. And the Sibelius? The program, which repeats on the 24th, ends with his Finlandia.

Stravinsky on Sorauren: Sorauren Avenue, that is, number 345 — home of Gallery 345. Created in 2005 by Edward Epstein, the gallery has evolved into a wonderfully welcoming — and very busy — acoustically superb space for the performance of jazz and contemporary classical music, as well as standard, classical repertoire. Typically, you’ll find 12 to 15 Gallery 345 listings in any given issue and this one is no different. This round, there’s a kind of “mini Stravinsky festival” and, interestingly, a “mini Piazzolla festival” happening between March 1 and 26 — three concerts in each mini-fest.

There’s even one concert offering a work by both Stravinsky and Piazzolla: March 1, in a concert of music exploring dance, rhythm and movement, aptly titled “Pas de Deux,” cellist Kathleen Long and pianist H.W. Cecilia Lee perform Stravinsky’s Suite italienne, a very popular work based on several movements from his 1920 neoclassical ballet Pulcinella. For this arrangement, Stravinsky collaborated in 1932/33 with legendary cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, who later teamed up with fellow living legend Jascha Heifetz on an arrangement for violin and cello. (The most-often-performed arrangement, though, is the one for violin and piano, a 1933 collaboration between Stravinsky and violinist Samuel Dushkin.)

The other works on the program include Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances, two pieces by Kapustin, Poulenc’s Sonate pour violoncelle et piano, Op. 143 and, as promised, Le Grand Tango by Piazzolla, all ensuring an exciting musical study of dance, rhythm and movement.

The other two concerts in Gallery 345’s unofficial Stravinsky fest occur at 8pm on March 11 and 20. The first, with the Pivot Chamber Soloists (Minghuan Xu, violin; Soo Bae, cello; Romi deGuist-Langlois, clarinet; Winston Choi, piano), features two Brahms trios (A Minor, Op. 114 and B Major, Op.8)in addition to Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat for clarinet, violin and piano. Originally scored for septet, Stravinsky later arranged his work for the condensed trio version being performed here. Incidentally, the PCS plays the same program the next day in Waterloo, for the indefatigable Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society, which presents two other March concerts (3 and 10) featuring works by Russian composers; cellist Bae and pianist Choi perform as a duo in the latter. These KWCMS concerts are noted below in a selection of Russian picks.

The March 20 concert features Ensemble Paramirabo, a versatile and innovative quintet from Montreal. Dedicated to “reserving the lion’s share of their programming to new works,” the ensemble will perform The Rite of Spring, arranged by emerging, Canadian composer Kevin Lau. Lau’s Gates of Light , M.Y. Ha’s Fairy Tale and the eponymous Paramirabo, composed by Claude Vivier in 1978, complete the program.

More Stravinsky: While it might normally fall under the “In With the New” banner, in this case it only makes sense for me to include Arraymusic’s “Stravinsky’s Sphere: The Influence of Igor Stravinsky.” On the March 10 program: a new work by Oesterle, the Canadian premiere of Andriessen’s Life, L’Histoire du Soldat and a player piano version of The Rite of Spring by plunderphonics (google it) guru John Oswald. The Arraymusic Ensemble, with guest violinist Marie Bérard, perform at the Enwave Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, at 3pm.

A final hot tip:Doing Rite by Stravinsky” is the title of piano great, Jon Kimura Parker’s April 2 solo piano recital at Flato Markham Theatre. Starting at 8pm, Parker will no doubt dazzle as he performs his arrangement of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, along with Prokofiev’s Sonata No.3, Op.28, Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G Minor, Op.23 No.5 and the stirring Pictures at an Exhibition, by Mussorgsky. Miss it and weep!

RESIDUAL RUSSIANS PICKS

March 3 8:00: Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society. Toronto Serenade String Sextet. Rimsky-Korsakov: String Sextet in A; Rubinstein: String Sextet in D Op.97. Waterloo.

March 7 7:30: Iron Strings Quartet. Iron Strings Plays Tchaikovsky. Smetana: String Quartet No. 1 “From My Life”; Tchaikovsky: String Quartet No.3 Op.30.

March 10 8:00: Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society. Soo Bae, cello, and Winston Choi, piano. Rachmaninoff: Sonata for Cello and Piano; and works by Chan Ka Nin, Piatti and Messiaen.

March 14 7:30: Trinity College, University of Toronto. Music That Speaks To You: Shostakovich – Rumours, Lies, Enigmas and Music. . Shostakovich: Second Trio. Gryphon Trio; Gary Kulesha, commentator.

April 5 8:00: Gallery 345. Art of the Piano: Alejandro Vela. Works by Prokofiev and Granados.

April 6 7:30: University of Toronto Faculty of Music. University of Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Weinzweig: Symphonic Ode; Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings Op.48; Dvořák: Symphony No.8 in G Op.88. Victor Feldbrill, conductor.

QUICK PIAZZOLLA PICKS

March 3 2:00: Gallery Players of Niagara. Let’s Tango. Works by Villa-Lobos, Piazzolla and Jobim. St. Catharines.

March 3 3:00: Georgian Bay Symphony. Dance Forms. Byrd: Fantasias; Moulinié: Fantasias; and works by Haydn and Piazzolla.

March 8 8:00: Aurora Cultural Centre. Great Artist Piano Series: Seiler Piano Trio. Works by Mozart, Schubert and Piazzolla.

March 8 8:00: Flato Markham Theatre. Tangos: From Gardel to Piazzolla. Romulo Larrea Tango Ensemble; Romulo Larrea, bandoneon/compositions/conductor. Markham.

March 22 8:00: Gallery 345. Tango Café: An Evening of Music and Dance. Contemporary and traditional tangos by Piazzolla, Canaro, DiSarli and others.

March 26 8:00: Gallery 345. Duo Les Amis – Love: Innocence, Passion, Obsession. Piazzolla: Milonga en re; and works by Yanyuk, Franck, Rota, Frolov and Pepa.

Prepare to be amazed! 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.

As I sit here, on the coldest January day in Toronto on record since 2009, it’s almost comforting to have to turn my thoughts to the romantic, warmth-inducing, Valentine’s Day-inspired concerts that February brings. And, indeed, there is much to tempt us, an array of delightful performances to warm the “cockles of your heart” — metaphorical or otherwise, whatever they are — and, hopefully, the rest of your body, too.

classical-feb2013Chopin, obviously: Think fast. Most romantic composer? Answer: Chopin. Yes, there are others, and he may not be your first choice (or not your choice at all), but, let’s face it: it’s not really possible to get through a column about concerts in the “season of romance” without mentioning those featuring the works of Chopin. Besides, who would want to? For so many, myself included, it’s gorgeous, seductive, romantic music.

Chopin’s oeuvre consists mostly of solo piano works — nocturnes, waltzes, préludes, études, ballades, impromptus, polonaises and mazurkas, to name some of the most familiar and beloved. In addition, he also wrote two piano concertos, some songs set to Polish texts and a few chamber pieces. This month, we are treated to at least one ballade, waltz and polonaise, two sets of études (12 in each), his set of 24 préludes, a sonata, two scherzos, a chamber work and a concerto. So much Chopin, so little time ... or space.

So let’s get right to it; and don’t forget to check the Quick Picks at the end.

Chopin, not so obviously: Chopin is not the first composer to spring to mind when considering repertoire for a chamber choir known for its historically accurate performances of music from the Baroque and Classical periods. Then again, the Georgetown Bach Chorale is not your average chamber choir. In addition to its innovative choral programming, as part of its season it also offers concerts of orchestral, chamber and solo performances, often involving creative collaborations with guest artists, in unique venues.

Its February 10 and March 3 concerts are a case in point: the first is a 4pm house concert titled “Winter Moods,” and features guest cellist Mary-Katherine Finch and the Chorale’s artistic director/conductor, Ron Greidanus, at the piano, in chamber works by Debussy, Chopin and Prokofiev. Regarding the Chopin “mystery music” (“works by” is all we were told), it’s a safe bet to expect either — or possibly both (there are only two Chopin works for cello and piano) — the Cello Sonata in G Minor, Op.65 and/or the Grand Duo concertant in E Major B70, (written, jointly, with Chopin’s friend, cellist Auguste Franchomme). If that isn’t filling enough, for the $45 in-advance-only ticket, you also get a choice of hot stews, cheeses and homemade bread after the concert. If music — and stews — be the food of love, indeed!

“Relics of the Romantic Era,” on March 3, 8pm, in the quaint Norval United Church, will feature solo works by Chopin performed by guest pianist Matthew Pope, in addition to choral works by Reger, Brahms and Tavener. As stated in its brochure, it has always been a mission of the Chorale “to expand the musical experiences of its listeners.” Judging by these two concerts, clearly it’s “mission accomplished.”

And with that interesting detour out of the way, on to the solo piano music!

Formidable Fialkowska: Celebrated Canadian pianist Janina Fialkowska is a musical force to be reckoned with and a distinguished interpreter of Chopin’s piano works. Along the way, she received some excellent mentoring: after her prize-winning performance at the inaugural Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition, held in Tel Aviv in 1974. Rubinstein, himself, took her under his wing and helped launch her international career. The rest, as they say ... 

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. In 2002, Fialkowska’s hugely successful career was sidetracked by the discovery of a cancerous tumour in her left arm. However, her heroic recovery and successful “two-handed” return to the stage in 2004 — for 18 months, prior, she performed the “left hand” concertos of Ravel and Prokofiev which she adapted for the right hand — is, by now, the stuff of legend and widely documented, so I won’t go on. Besides, as she told the Financial Times’ Andrew Clark in a January 11, 2013 interview, she “hates“ talking about that hiatus in her career, though she recognizes that it “makes a good story” and that it inspires others. Clark adds: “That sense of life regained has transformed her music-making: her playing now has a spirit-of-the-moment freshness and spontaneity that many musicians strive for but few attain.”

That freshness and spontaneity will be on display when Fialkowska graces the stage at two concerts in February: one on Chopin’s birthday, February 22 (yes, March 1 is also often cited), at London’s Aeolian Hall, and the second a day later, on the 23rd, in Waterloo, for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society. Both concerts offer works by Chopin, Grieg and Schubert; the Aeolian concert, however, is another “works by” situation; the “fleshed-out” repertoire provided by the KWCMS suggests what Fialkowska might also play in London (but no guarantees): Schubert’s Four Impromptus D935, Op.posth.142, four Lyric Pieces by Grieg, and the following works by Chopin: Polonaise in E-Flat Minor, Op.26 No.2, Scherzo No.4 in E Major Op.54, Scherzo No.1 in B Minor Op.20, Waltz in A-Flat Major, Op.64 No.3, Mazurka in C Major, Op.56 No.2 and Mazurka in C Minor, Op.56 No.3. If I had my druthers, I’d go to both concerts!

Chopin at noon: While Chopin’s sublime, sensuous music may be tailor-made for late-night listening, who says you can’t enjoy it during daylight hours? This month, as part of its popular free, noon hour Piano Virtuoso Series, the Canadian Opera Company offers two concerts featuring piano works by Chopin. For the first one, “Reflections,” on February 26, pianist Connie Kim-Sheng, a 2010/11 Glenn Gould School Concerto Competition winner, performs Ballade No.3 in A-Flat Major, Op.47; the program also includes the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata No.31 in A-Flat Major, Op.110, Miroirs by Ravel and Rachmaninoff’s Études-Tableaux Op.39 No.5. “Shades of Chopin,” the second concert on February 28, features a young Saskatoon-born pianist, Justin Min, in an all-Chopin program, including the Sonata No.3 in B Minor, Op.58, his final piano sonata. Perfect lunchtime fare!

Études vs. Préludes: One might call it an embarrassment of riches, when two extraordinary pianists are scheduled to perform in recital, on the same day, at basically the same time, with Chopin on both programs, no less. Here’s what’s happening on March 3: at 3pm, Jan Lisiecki, the prodigiously gifted, 17-year-old pianist is performing Chopin’s two sets of 12 Études, Op. 10 and Op. 25, at the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall. And over at Walter Hall, at 3:15pm, the brilliant (and clearly more seasoned) Hung-Kuan Chen is making his Toronto debut in a performance of the 24 Préludes Op.28, for Mooredale Concerts; Chen’s program also includes Mozart’s A Little Gigue in G Major KV574, a fragment from his Suite in C Major KV399, and Schubert’s Sonata in C Minor D958.

Jan Lisiecki is known to, and has dazzled, Toronto audiences; he’s also been featured in the pages of The WholeNote and in video interview at Conversations@TheWholeNote. Hung-Kuan Chen, on the other hand, is new to The WholeNote, so a few more words are warranted.

Taipei-born and raised in Germany, Chen shares more than one thing in common with Janina Fialkowska: both were prize winners of the Rubinstein Piano Master Competition (he in 1983) and both, curiously, experienced serious damage to the tools of their trade and a remarkable recovery from the damage. Chen suffered an injury to his right hand in 1992, that caused neurological damage, resulting, eventually, in focal dystonia, a disorder consisting of confused motor commands. In an article Chen penned, he describes the disorder: “When the brain is sending overly complex and conflicting messages, the commands are conflicting and the fingers become stiff in the process. A fitting visual analogy would be the old style telephone switchboard with tangled-up wires.” Read more about Chen’s journey at focaldystonia.co.uk/#/piano/4563030880.

Like Fialkowska’s, Chen’s return to the stage, in 1998, was met with rave reviews and he has gone on to a celebrated career. A reviewer for the Boston Globe had this to say in 2006: “Hung-Kuan Chen is back in prime technical form ... This man plays music with uncommon understanding and the instrument with uncommon imagination.”

And it is our uncommon good fortune to have the choice between Lisiecki and Chen. Perhaps it will all come down toétudes vs. préludes.

A Little More Love and Romance:
Some Heart-Warming Quick Picks

Feb 01 8:00: Aurora Culture Centre. Great Artist Piano Series:
Chu-Fang Huang, piano
. Haydn, Chopin, Wanghua Chu and others.

Feb 07 8:00: Toronto Masque Theatre. Les Roses de la Vie: A Parisian Soirée. Music by Marais, Couperin, Chopin, Fauré, Debussy, Poulenc, Aznavour and others. Also Feb 8 and 9.

Feb 12 8:00: Music Toronto. Piano Series: Gabriela Montero, piano. Brahms: Three Intermezzos Op.117; Schumann: Fantasie in C Op.17; Montero: improvisations.

Feb 14 8:00: Hart House Orchestra. Violins and Valentine’s Day: A Perfect Match. Schumann: Second Symphony; Beethoven: King Stephen Overture; Copland: Clarinet Concerto.

Feb 14 8:00: LUSH Cello Quartet. An Evening with LUSH Cello Quartet. Love-themed songs and classical works.

Feb 14 8:00: Toronto Concert Orchestra. Love Notes. Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto; Saint Saëns: Suite in D; Gray: Introduction and Autumn Prelude. Christoph Seybold, violin; Kerry Stratton, conductor.

Feb 16 8:00: Kindred Spirits Orchestra. Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn. Beethoven: Overture to Fidelio Op.72c; Schumann: Piano Concerto Op.54; Mendelssohn: Symphony No.3 Op.56 “Scottish.”

Feb 16 8:00: York Symphony Orchestra. Romantic Legends. Tchaikovsky: Polonaise from Eugene Onegin; Romeo and Juliet Overture; Capriccio Italien; Chopin: Piano Concerto No.1; also Feb 17.

Feb 19 8:00: Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Love Will Keep Us Together. Songs by Porter, Berlin, Mancini and others. Betsy Wolfe, soprano; Mike Eldred, tenor; Steven Reineke, conductor. Also Feb 20 (mat and eve).

Feb 24 5:00: Nocturnes in the City. Anna Betka, Piano. Works by Beethoven, Bach, Schumann, Prokofiev and Smetana.

May your hearts be warmed and your senses seduced. Enjoy! 

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

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