istock_000013226437mediumMY FRUSTRATIONS WITH trying to buy classical recordings in stores in recent years prompted me to write this article. In the few remaining retail outlets with their dwindling supplies there is hardly any stock other than the latest issues which are not necessarily the best. If you are looking for something from the past, highly rated in the Penguin Guide, you’ll encounter blank stares and perhaps a waiting period of nine weeks and top prices for special orders. Fortunately, there are now a number of alternatives for the savvy shopper.

➊ ONLINE SHOPPING: Biggest and best of these is the giant of Seattle, Washington and its Canadian counterpart Amazon started in 1994 as an online bookstore but soon expanded into CDs, DVDs, MP3 downloads, software, video games, electronics and what have you. They have an amazing catalogue of new and used classical CDs and DVDs. Anything you are looking for is easy to find with the site’s simple search function which will provide you all the different issues for the piece you want. As Amazon is a large blanket for many sellers all over the world, called the Marketplace, the prices are very competitive and the item will arrive within two weeks or so in perfect condition. Although shipping is extra, there are no taxes and generally you’ll pay less, not to mention the satisfaction of getting something you cannot find elsewhere.

Another alternative is Ebay which operates on the same principle except it is an
auction site. Here you can submit a low bid on a set of discs and if there is not much interest, you can wind up paying next to nothing. Or there can be a real battle at the end for the item and it can be quite exciting. They also have a tremendous selection of CDs and DVDs and generally you cannot lose.

A good local option is Harmik Grigorian founded his Atelier Grigorian in 1980 with the flagship store on Yorkville Avenue and later opened branches in Oakville, London and Montreal. L’Atelier is noted for excellent selection and service and dedication to classical music and jazz. The company has now expanded into online shopping with a user friendly website which includes CD reviews from WholeNote, Gramophone and the New York Times (“In the Press” on the menu bar) and a direct link to the Canadian Opera Company with recommended recordings to preview the COC season. The extensive selection of recordings is easy to browse, but understandably not as large as Amazon and digital downloading is not available.


➋ DIGITAL DOWNLOADING: Taking full advantage of that marvellous machine now in everybody’s household one can realize the computer’s full potential by not buying any physical product but obtaining the content electronically, directly from the recording company. No expensive warehousing or store inventory is required, as the company need only put its entire catalogue on one giant computer. Their affiliated download site will set up a system for the customer to buy and download a disc or individual tracks onto their hard drive. My favourite one of these is which is run by NAXOS. They represent many labels, not the most famous ones, but Profil, Delos, Ondine, BIS, Chandos, Hungaroton, Analekta, ATMA Classique, Centrediscs and many others, plus the entire NAXOS catalogue, can be found here. Prices are usually US $9.99/disc, $6.99 for NAXOS. Individual tracks are $1.99 each and you can make your own CD mix if you wish. And the quality is excellent not to mention the product is in your hands instantly, no running downtown, no HST, no parking or tickets and no aggravation. Downloading is a simple step by step process with the program supplied by the site. You register and pay by credit card then download to a specific directory e.g. “My Music.” A word of caution though – be sure you know where you are saving the file, otherwise you may never find it. The final step is making the CD with a burner program such as Nero or Windows Media and out comes your brand new recording. You also get bonus points that can be applied for the next purchase. Record cover and booklet are supplied and can be easily printed out.

From my investigations I found out that the labels under the Universal umbrella – DGG, Decca and Philips – have something similar going at Again the entire catalogues are offered and although the prices are presently in British pounds, soon they will accept US and Canadian dollars.

Latest news is that Sony Music Entertainment has also joined the flock under the name of No details are available at the moment, but I do know that they own RCA Red Seal, Columbia and Sony Digital Classics, which were previously unavailable for downloading.


➌ STREAMING DVD RECORDING FROM TV, INTERNET VIDEO, INTERNET MOVIES AND RADIO: Recording from TV and radio has been with us for a long time by tape and VHS, but now one can record digitally using a DVD recorder. And what do people do with the saved video? Some put it on, a video sharing site now owned by Google. What this does to classical music performances cannot be overestimated. We can see great pianists, orchestras and famous conductors from the past and present performing, rehearsing, giving masterclasses in streaming video with excellent picture and sound quality. Entire symphonies and operas can be presented at no charge to you. A good search engine will find the artist, the composer or the piece you wish to see/hear. Unfortunately each segment is limited to 10 minutes and that can be irritating when watching a longer piece, but I am sure this will soon be improved. There are limitations for the upload: no copyrighted material can be uploaded (e.g. commercial videos) which is understandable. Many excellent videos have been removed for this reason, but a wealth of exciting material remains. Much could be written, but I don’t want to spoil your fun of discovering this marvellous territory yourself.

The latest thing in this field is from called Digital Concert Hall. The idea was initiated by the orchestra members of the Berlin Philharmonic and they are putting all the concerts on streaming video in High Definition and state of the art sound. The concerts are simulcast onto your computer and you can watch the entire concert interruption free for the price of a ticket. Tickets are available on the site for 9.99 Euros per concert which is charged to your credit card. The programs are of the highest quality. Current front ranking conductors like Abbado, Rattle, Boulez, Haitink, Barenboim, Janssons, Järvi, Thielemann and soloists like Schiff, Uchida, Grimaud etc. Programming is adventurous and there is an emphasis on modern and new music like Berio, Ligeti, Kurtág and even jazz, Sir Simon Rattle’s great specialty. I urge you to look into this site seriously. You won’t regret it.

In conclusion if I may include the final lines of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail: “Wer zu viel Huld vergessen kann/Den seh man mit Verachtung an!” which roughly translates: For whom all these blessings are not enough, let him be held in contempt!

p8IF YOU WANT TO SEE what makes the career of Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear so interesting, take a look at two video clips posted online. In one, Goodyear performs a piano transcription of The Blue Danube Waltz. In this virtuosic repertoire he reveals the exceptional grace, elegance, and lyricism for which he is well-known. In the other, Goodyear plays the first movement of Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata. You can see a facet of Goodyear’s playing which has emerged in full force since he started performing and recording all 32 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas. Here, there’s a spontaneous emotional energy, fired by dramatic phrasing, imaginative colours, and daring tempos.

Read more: Stewart Goodyear, Off the Cuff

p54_overtones_sampler_page_01In July the Royal Conservatory of Music released its new flute examination syllabus and with it the new thirteen-volume “Overtones: A Comprehensive Flute Series.”  Both are, in my opinion, giant steps forward for students and teachers of the flute.

One of the most notable changes is the addition of four new grades: a preliminary (pre grade one level), grades three, five and seven. The preliminary level is particularly welcome as it provides an achievable goal for beginners, for whom the first year of study is arduous, as it involves learning to produce a sound (not so easy), sustaining the breath long enough to play whole phrases, and gaining a foothold without straining in the middle register of the instrument. Grades three, five and seven, not offered in the preceding syllabus, bridge the large gaps between the even numbered grades, which most of us felt were too great to be readily navigated in a year of study. Another enormous improvement is that, unlike its predecessor, the 2006 syllabus, which was part of a book containing the syllabi not only for the flute but also for oboe, clarinet, saxophone and bassoon, this one is for the flute only, which makes it much more reasonable to expect students to purchase one. No matter how much exam information a teacher writes in a student’s dictation book, doubt about exactly what is expected of him or her seems to persist. For each student to have his own copy will be a great help exam preparation.

The thirteen volumes of the series cover all the grades from the preliminary level to grade eight. There are no books yet for grades 9, 10 and ARCT. Each grade level has its own repertoire book, which includes a flute part as well as a piano accompaniment and two recordings, one of each piece in the book with accompaniment and one, for practice purposes, of just the accompaniment. The recordings will be helpful in two ways: 1) they will be invaluable in helping students decide which pieces to prepare for the exams; 2) they will be helpful in learning the pieces, as they can get to know what the pieces they are learning sound like before and as they are practising them, and will be able to play them with the recorded accompaniment. Although there are many more pieces specified in the syllabus than could possibly be included in each grade’s anthology, they certainly provide enough choice for most students to be content to choose pieces from the book for their grade level.

The situation is a bit different for the study repertoire, of which there is an ever growing abundance for the flute. There are only two volumes – up to grade 4 and from grade 5 to 8. The compilers have done very well to include a representative selection, but that selection for each grade is necessarily small and needs, I think, to be supplemented by books of traditional and contemporary studies. The syllabus is so constructed that each additional book of studies that a student purchases should be good for at least two grades.

The series also includes a volume of graded orchestral excerpts, a really excellent addition, since the syllabus includes orchestral excerpts beginning at the grade 2 level! To be able to find all the orchestral requirements in one book up to grade 8 level is an enormous help to students.

For most students one of the most vexatious parts of exam preparation is learning scales. I’ve tried everything, from working on the notes of scales in pairs, groups of three and five as well as playing the opening phrase of “Joy to the World” (a descending major scale) as a way of learning scales. However, no matter what I try, it always seems hard! Sure, I’ll write each scale out, or get the student to write it, in the dictation book, but a month later, it seems to be irretrievably lost in the forest of verbiage that accumulates over the weeks and months! The “Overtones” technique book has a section for each grade in which all the scales, arpeggios and other scale-related materials are written out in full, just as they are to be played at the exam. This will be a great help to all my students and I expect to those of my colleagues.

An innovative change in the exam requirements for scales should be very helpful to students: the range of a scale, not the number of sharps or flats in its key signature, is now what determines what scales are to be played at any given grade level. Up to the grade 6 level, students are required to know a group of anywhere from six to ten scales per grade, so that over the course of grades 1 to 6, they learn all the scales but are not expected to be able to play them all at one exam until grade seven. This is a good idea, I think, in that with fewer scales to learn per grade, students should be able to learn them more thoroughly

Kudos to the RCM and to co-authors Diane Aitken and Jamie Thompson for a job well done. I expect a lot of good vibes will be going your way from flute teachers and students over many years to come!

p9ON SEPTEMBER 19 an enthusiastic crowd gathered in Walter Hall at the University of Toronto for a concert of music by John Beckwith. The setting was appropriate, since Beckwith had spent most of his long career teaching at the university’s Faculty of Music. Before the music got under way, Beckwith sat on stage with New Music Concerts artistic director Robert Aitken to talk about the programme. Aitken, a flutist and composer who had studied with Beckwith, like so many prominent figures in Canadian music, told Beckwith, “I have always looked up to you.”

Aitken recalled how Beckwith had arrived at one of the first concerts ever put on by New Music Concerts 40 years ago. A snowstorm prevented most people from coming. But Beckwith, with characteristic élan, arrived on cross-country skis.

Now 83 years old, Beckwith was being celebrated not just for his huge body of compositions, or even for the many books he had written and edited, or, for that matter, his lively journalism. It was his unconditional commitment to classical music, contemporary music, and above all, Canadian music that have put him in a class of his own. (Beckwith has a new book coming out by the end of the year honouring his own teacher, John Weinzweig.)

I spoke to Beckwith earlier in September, a few weeks before the concert, at his art-filled Victorian home in the heart of the Annex, a short walk from the university where he studied and taught for so many years, and where his partner, Kathleen McMorrow, is head librarian of the U. of T. Music Library. As I came in, I noticed the bicycle he still uses to get around the city sitting in the front hallway.

Read more: John Beckwith

atelier_page_70When I cast my mind back to the early years of Opera Atelier, my strongest recollection is the photograph of a baseball pitcher in the programme notes. The picture depicted the moment of repose before the pitcher “winds up” to deliver the ball, which is why this anonymous sports figure ended up as a front-man for the ideal baroque aesthetic. The pitcher’s stance, with its raised hip/slouch (think Michelangelo’s David and the penny will drop) was in the perfect baroque “S” shape.

I have something of a special relationship with Opera Atelier because I was the first arts journalist to write about the company. It was 1986 and they were mounting Acts 1 and 2 of Monteverdi’s Orfeo and Landi’s Il Sant’Alessio at the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Walker Court, in conjunction with the Vatican Splendours exhibit. It was their first professional gig – meaning that they got paid.

Read more: Authentic Mastery: Opera Atelier at 25
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