ImageContemporary music is acknowledged as a means of introducing fresh ideas. And contemporary vocal music offers a powerful artistic medium for the delivery of meaningful and profound messages.

I have witnessed this often throughout my career in broadcasting and music production. Before my professional life, one of the earliest and most indicative examples of this occurred when I met the Polish/French composer and conductor René Leibowitz (1913–1972) while I was an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin (UW) School of Music in 1967. Leibowitz was a strong advocate of the music of Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951), the Second Viennese School and new music in general, after World War II. He had been invited to UW as a guest lecturer in 1967, thanks to the efforts of Austrian/American violinist Rudolf Kolisch (1896–1978), leader of the Pro Arte String Quartet which was the quartet in residence at UW. Both Leibowitz and Kolisch had close ties with Schoenberg. Kolisch had been a student of Schoenberg since 1919, and in fact, after the death of his first wife in 1923, Schoenberg married Gertrude Kolisch, Rudolf’s sister. In Leibowitz’s case, it was hearing Schoenberg’s work Pierrot Lunaire that inspired him to become a composer himself.

René LeibowitzDuring this, for me, momentous year at UW, Leibowitz and Kolisch collaborated in overseeing performances of several of Schoenberg’s works, including Pierrot Lunaire, the Violin Concerto and, especially significant for me as a student, the choral work, Friede auf Erden (or Peace on Earth,) a work premiered in 1911. I was a member of the UW Concert Choir that year, and over the course of many rehearsals, we prepared Friede auf Erden under Leibowitz’s baton. The process of preparing this intense and passionate cry for humanity was itself a memorable experience, focusing on achieving clarity through the intricate counterpoint and frequently fluctuating tempi of the score. But I will never forget the look on Leibowitz’s face as we performed the work in concert. It was, for me, a young student, the first time I had witnessed a genuine, undiluted expression of pure ecstasy on the countenance of a conductor. This was a work whose message carried especially deep meaning for Leibowitz, and in turn, for all of us in the choir and the audience.

David Lang. Photo by Peter Serling.As we approach the season of Lent, there are a number of significant works scheduled for performance in Toronto that underscore this capability of vocal music to convey powerful messages. Particularly notable are two unusual settings inspired by the Passion according to St. Matthew. On Sunday afternoon, February 25 at 4pm, the Elmer Iseler Singers will offer a performance of The Little Match Girl Passion by American composer David Lang at Eglinton St. George’s United Church. It’s a 2008 composition for choir, for which Lang won a Pulitzer Prize that same year. In his program note, Lang says, “I wanted to tell the story of The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen. The original is ostensibly for children, and it has that shocking combination of danger and mortality that many famous children’s stories do.” He continues: “There are many ways to tell this story. I started wondering what secrets could be unlocked from this story if one took its Christian nature to its conclusion and unfolded it, as Christian composers have traditionally done in musical settings of the Passion of Jesus. The most interesting thing about how the Passion story is told, is that it can include texts other than the story itself. These texts are the reactions of the crowd, penitential thoughts, statements of general sorrow, shock, or remorse. These are devotional guideposts, the markers for our own responses to the story, and they have the effect of making the audience more than spectators to the sorrowful events onstage.”

Lydia Adams, artistic director of the Elmer Iseler Singers, shared her very personal view of the work. She said: “I first became aware of David Lang’s The Little Match Girl through listening to performances online, and felt immediately connected to it. The sparseness and sadness of the music conveyed the horrible sadness of Hans Christian Andersen’s words, and it struck a chord. For me, the chord was personal. We have so many homeless people in the freezing cold here in Toronto, and, a number of years ago, someone very close to me was one of them. We didn’t know he was safe for a number of months. We feel as a society that we must protect children and others who have no home. When we fail at that, our society is diminished. With this performance, I wanted to put the spotlight on child poverty and homelessness in our city and our country.”

Tan DunA contrasting, but equally personal approach is the Water Passion after St. Matthew by Chinese composer Tan Dun, presented by Soundstreams on March 9 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre at 8pm. Tan says that he views water as “A metaphor for the unity of the ephemeral and the eternal, the physical and the spiritual – as well as a symbol of baptism, renewal, re-creation and resurrection.” He wrote that, “When I read the account of the Passion in the Bible, I heard the wind, the sound of the desert. Perhaps for other readers of the Passion, every image is red and bloody – but instead I always felt the desert heat, and heard the stones and the water. So I shaped the story through these sounds, giving the element of water an important theme.” Several years ago, as he listened with his pregnant wife to an ultrasound, he heard the sound of water and he realized, “This is the sound all human beings hear first. It’s the beginning, and the beginning is the ending, and the ending is the beginning. That’s the meaning of resurrection. Resurrection isn’t just a new life, but a new idea.”

The stage setting and lighting are integral parts of his Water Passion. Seventeen large transparent water bowls, lit from below, are set up in the form of a cross. The cross delineates the performance areas for the two choruses (one consisting of sopranos and altos, the other tenors and basses) the two vocal soloists (soprano Carla Huhtanen and bass-baritone Stephen Bryant) and the instrumental soloists (violinist Erika Raum and cellist David Hetherington). The conductor, David Fallis, and three percussionists are positioned at the respective ends of the cross. Fallis has said that, “For me, Tan Dun’s Water Passion sets the passion story in an eternal context, but not necessarily the eternal context of Christian theology. The water imagery (which leads to starting the piece with “Baptism” – a unique addition to the passion story), the water leitmotifs, the water instruments pervading the work, all these give a sense of endless calm, natural washing.”

Sir James MacMillan. Photo by Philip Gatward.Between these two passions, another major contemporary choral work will be featured during the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s New Creations Festival. On Wednesday March 7 at 8pm at Roy Thomson Hall, music director Peter Oundjian will lead the TSO and the Toronto Children’s Choir in the North American premiere of Scottish composer Sir James MacMillan’s Little Mass. It’s a work that MacMillan wrote in 2014 for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Youth Choirs, and it is “little” in name only, running a good half hour. Macmillan wrote that, “My Little Mass is a setting of three of the smaller sections of the Ordinary of the Mass (Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei) for young voices and orchestra. Nevertheless, each movement is reasonably substantial, with much space for the orchestral music to grow and develop.” Peter Oundjian, who will conduct the work, told me that, “MacMillan’s music has a passion and intensity that speaks directly to the listener, an emotional response that comes from a deep faith. His vision is ideally suited to vocal music, and I consider him to be one of the finest choral composers in the world today. In particular, he has an innate affinity for children’s choir – I cannot think of a contemporary composer who has explored the sonority of young voices more effectively. This is a heartfelt, deeply moving work, and I wanted to bring it to Toronto audiences.”

Just as significant as these works cast with large forces, is the upcoming premiere of another major vocal work, but in the genre of the art song: the premiere of a cycle of songs by Vancouver composer Jeffrey Ryan, which set writings of the artist, Emily Carr. Titled Miss Carr in Seven Scenes, Ryan’s 25 minute song cycle was commissioned by the Canadian Art Song Project (CASP) and will have its premiere on Monday, March 19 in a program presented jointly by CASP and the Faculty of Music of the University of Toronto, in Walter Hall at 7:30pm. The recital is titled “The Artist’s Life Through Song,” and features mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó, tenor Christopher Enns, and pianist and CASP co-artistic director, Steven Philcox. In his notes to the work, Ryan says that, “Many years ago, at a used bookshop in Cleveland, I discovered Hundreds and Thousands, the published journals of the iconic Canadian painter Emily Carr (1871-1945). Carr wrote about her struggles to be an artist, both creatively and practically: to develop her own voice, to adequately convey what she saw to the canvas, to discover the intersection of art and spirit, to deal with self-doubts and frustrations, to find an audience, to sell her paintings, to make ends meet. As I was just finishing my doctoral studies and about to embark on my freelance career, her words resonated deeply with me. The challenges she wrote about were much like the ones I was about to face, and indeed every artist faces.”

Ryan continues: “For me an art song is a little opera scene, with character and back story, and, like the orchestra in an opera, the piano never merely accompanies. I knew immediately that Carr’s journal entries, personal yet universal, could bridge song and theatre in a kind of monodrama of an artist’s life – though it was not easy to condense the texts from a 300-page book! These resulting seven scenes provide a series of snapshots chronicling Carr’s parallel journeys of capturing the mountain to her canvas and conquering the mountain to artistic success and validation.” In writing for mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó, Ryan said he found in her an ideal interpreter for such a remarkably intimate story.

Also on the program are Four Short Songs on poems of Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) by John Beckwith and American composer Ben Moore’s Dear Theo (letters of Vincent Van Gogh to his brother, Theo,) sung by baritone Christopher Enns.

These, and many more new works underscore the potential for profound reflections on contemporary life. I’m pleased to say I have seen Leibovitz’s ecstatic expression on others over time, although perhaps not often enough. But through the audience’s support of our composers and authors, it will continue to appear.

David Jaeger is a composer, producer and broadcaster based in Toronto.

Nick FraserBannerNick Fraser has become a key figure in Toronto jazz since moving here from Ottawa two decades ago, an inventive and inspiring drummer who invigorates any music he touches.

He’s played across the spectrum, but he’s been most notable as a creative force in some special groups, like Drumheller, a quintet that set a standard for free jazz in Toronto for its decade-long existence. Then there’s the chamber jazz supergroup Ugly Beauties, with pianist Marilyn Lerner and cellist Matt Brubeck, as well as his membership in the fusion quartet Peripheral Vision, the Lina Allemano Four, as well as Allemano’s edgy electronics-driven improv project Titanium Riot.

Nick Fraser. Photo by Brett Delmage.

Lately, though, Fraser has been taking steps to raise his international profile as drummer, composer and bandleader. His most prominent association is with saxophonist Tony Malaby, a central figure in New York free jazz who first established his credentials working with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian.

Fraser’s connection with Malaby goes back 20 years: “Tony and I met in 1996 at a jazz retreat in Idaho that was run by Gunther Schuller. I was 20 years old and Tony was in his early 30s and I was really impressed with his sound and his demeanour. We’ve kept in touch over the years and have worked together fairly regularly since 2012.” They’ve worked in a trio with Canadian-expatriate pianist Kris Davis, but February offers a chance to hear them in Fraser’s unusual quartet project that’s launching its third CD, Is Life Long?, on Clean Feed, the world’s most active free jazz label. The configuration of the group, with cellist Andrew Downing and bassist Rob Clutton, has an inspired flexibility, with Downing moving freely between lead and rhythm roles.

Tony Malaby and Joe Hertenstein at Downtown Music Gallery, NYC, October 2016. Photo by John Sharpe.Fraser’s vision as a bandleader/ composer is to open the music’s possibilities. “I’m interested in music that allows the musicians to occupy a number of spectra. The quartet music allows us to occupy extremes of the dynamic range, or to juxtapose traditional musical language with more experimental gestures, or to swing between collective improvisation and solo-oriented action. Of course, this is true of all “free” music, but having compositions allows for, in addition to those things, a range of intentionality in the music.”

Fraser initially describes his compositions as numbered “Sketches,” later sometimes assigning titles. On Is Life Long? individual sketches sometimes merge into spontaneous suites. “They’re all vehicles for group improvisation and they’re not finished until they’re performed. Even then, they’re only finished until the next performance. As for the specific musical content, often it’s just a melody, sometimes with a given harmony line, bass line or rhythmic structure ... it varies.“

Every performance is an adventure. As Fraser remarks of the band members, “Tony is a very powerful, special musician and I cherish each time we get to play together. That said, I think the same thing about Andrew and Rob. Each of the people in the band offers me an amazing model of artistic growth.”

The quartet launches Is Life Long? at The Rex Jazz and Blues Bar, February 5 and 6, 194 Queen St. W.; therex.ca; (416) 598-2475.

Stuart Broomer writes frequently on music (mostly improvised) and is the author of Time and Anthony Braxton. His column “Ezz-thetics” appears regularly at pointofdeparture.org.

Richard Rose - Courtesy of Tarragon Theatre"Music Theatre” as we use the term in The WholeNote is a large tent, covering a wide range of productions and performances in which music pervades the drama rather than simply decorating it. It’s this interweaving that I will be hoping for in a new version of a Shakespearean classic opening at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto on January 2. Artistic director Richard Rose is making a foray into new and uncharted (pun intended) territory with a rock and roll Hamlet, with music and music direction by his longtime collaborator Thomas Ryder Payne.

As a longtime devotee of both Shakespeare and musicals, with a particular fascination for when the two become blended into one, I contacted Rose to find out more about the inspiration behind this idea and what we might expect.

The show isn’t even in rehearsal yet, so it is early for the director to speak about what we will see in January – but in some ways it was even more interesting to have that conversation now, as the concept and its development are currently still in flux. Here is some of what we spoke about (edited for length):

WN: What was the initial inspiration to turn Hamlet into a rock and roll musical?
RR: I’ve always wanted to do Hamlet, and you want to find a great time to do it. It’s not really a rock and roll musical. It’s part concert, part radio play, part performance. I’m not sure where it will eventually land. I had an idea that it would be interesting to do Hamlet accompanied by a rock and roll concert. I didn’t really know what that would lead to except that the play always seemed to be about a young person’s despair and rage against the system, about trying to find out who they are. Hamlet is struggling between being a hero who can take action and his conscience: how do you act in the world when the world is actually politically corrupt?

But why rock and roll particularly?
Because of the rage. Marshall McLuhan talks about how young people have turned to rock and roll to push out all this information of the electronic age that is coming at them, and they’re shrieking, trying to express their identity – and that’s why it is so loud – to somehow express their anger – and that’s Hamlet, isn’t it? He is asking “Am I man of action or conscience? Can I kill someone, can I commit an act of revenge knowing that the society and the world around me is filled with lies? I have to do absolutely the right thing, but I don’t know what the right thing is.”

If we have a world full of lies it is very hard to know who we are; here the music, the rock and roll, will be a fundamental way of showing the anger at the hypocrisy of the world and it goes further than that.

You and Thomas Ryder Payne are longtime collaborators. But every show is different. How did it work this time?
He was part of the project from the beginning and we both felt that Hamlet was the right fit for a rock and roll take, and rock and roll was the way to connect to young audiences today. In a preliminary workshop a rough concept emerged, of speaking the text against a musical background. Hamlet’s soliloquies, for example, got bashed against the progression of a rock and roll guitar accompaniment [capturing] a feeling of what Hamlet is going through as he speaks. Then we started to find and develop a sonic experience.

Sonic experience?
An environmental mood creating the overall time and space of the play, as well as for specific scenes and effects such as the appearance of the ghost – or the chaos of the Danish Court through a mashup of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture with jazz and martial music. So, while this is not at all a traditional rock musical, music is essential and dictated the working method. We would jam like a rock band: someone comes up with a riff, someone starts to work with that riff, someone starts to sing a song to that riff or we speak to that riff.

Where do the actors fit into the process?
Call it ongoing experimentation – the company is not yet officially in rehearsal at this point. It’s things like the actors taking a different approach to the text, looking at the words as song lyrics from different genres such as punk, or from the points of view of singers as different as Mick Jagger, Frank Sinatra or Peggy Lee, to see what effect this has on the speaking or thinking of the lines.

And actual songs?
There will be at least some songs as well as the underscoring and background music. Hamlet will have a song of his own, though most of the soliloquies are spoken. The Gravedigger has a song as he actually does in the play. Hamlet and Ophelia’s relationship will be explored through music with Ophelia possibly singing snatches of her later “mad songs” as happy innocent pop songs early in the play, then distorted versions of those songs after the death of her father… And we’re seeing the play within the play, when Hamlet tries to prove Claudius’ guilt, as a kind of mini-operetta, a heightened moment of performance for the other characters to watch…. Most of it though will be spoken against music rather than sung – [and while] there will be some elements of staging the performers will mostly be acting the play at microphones like a radio play, but supported by the sound behind that evokes the world, the inner life, and works with them.

And the musicians?
The actors themselves. Only two will not be singing or playing instruments: Nigel Shawn Williams as Claudius, and Tantoo Cardinal as Gertrude. All the others will be singing and playing instruments, with no additional musicians to back them up other than [composer and music director] Thomas Ryder Payne as live mixer and sound man.

As Rose went on to explain, the company is comprised of actors who are almost all musicians as well. Noah Reid, whose album Songs from a Broken Chair is available on iTunes, stars as Hamlet. Brandon McGibbon of the ElastoCitizens, and many musical theatre credits including Once and The Producers, will play Laertes as a teenager so obsessed with his guitar that he never puts it down until his world falls apart with the death of his father and madness of his sister. Jack Nicholsen, Greg Gale, Jesse LaVercombe, Beau Dixon, Cliff Saunders, Rachel Cairns (the one piece of cross-gender casting as Rosencrantz) all have strong musical backgrounds, and Tiffany Ayalik, who plays Ophelia, has special vocal techniques from the discipline of throat singing “to go to places other people don’t go.”

“To go to places other people don’t go” sounds like a fitting mission statement for this latest outing by an always adventurous theatrical team.

Hamlet runs January 2 to February 11 in the Tarragon Main Space at 30 Bridgman Ave., Toronto.

GouldSchoenberg BannerGlenn Gould recording Schoenberg’s songs with Helen Vanni, 1964 - Photo by Don HunsteinLate in 1974, CBC Radio, in collaboration with writer/host Glenn Gould (1932-1982) and with me as producer, presented Arnold Schoenberg: The Man Who Changed Music, ten one-hour-long broadcasts honouring the centennial of the birth of composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951).

It was a comprehensive series of programs, and in the course of those ten episodes a great deal of Schoenberg’s music was heard, including the early Romantic works, the middle period, freely atonal pieces and the serial, 12-tone works of his late period. The inclusion of much of the Austrian/American composer’s piano music, as recorded by Gould himself, was a unique feature of the series. Gould’s script was written carefully and in a conversational style, for shared delivery between the CBC Radio staff announcer (or “sidekick,” as Gould at times called him), Ken Haslam (1930-2016) and Gould, the series host. The writing was clear, precise, with typical Gouldian exactitude. Every word was meant to count, even those words that appeared to express the personal opinions of Haslam, but which had clearly been placed in the script by Gould. And the point of all these words and music was to share as much of the Schoenberg legacy with CBC listeners as was possible within the allotted air time, and along the way, to demonstrate Gould’s devotion to it.

In the tenth and final chapter of that series of broadcasts, and at precisely the right moment for summative comments about the ten programs, Gould says, “Even now, 23 years after his death, it’s extraordinarily difficult to effect any really balanced judgment about Schoenberg’s contribution. Though it’s not particularly difficult to find an axe to grind and with which one can whack away with.” And despite Gould’s own personal admiration for Schoenberg’s music, he doubted that the composer would ever become, as he termed it, “a household word.”

Notwithstanding this assessment of the prospects for a wider acceptance of the music of Schoenberg and his students and disciples – the so-called Second Viennese School – people like flutist/composer Robert Aitken, the founder and artistic director of Toronto’s New Music Concerts (NMC), value it as an essential foundation of today’s music. And in fact, within the first eight weeks of 2018, New Music Concerts’ programming will include Schoenberg’s Phantasy Op.47; his String Trio Op.45; the Chamber Symphony Op.9, in a quintet setting by Anton Webern (1883-1945); and Alban Berg’s (1885-1935) Chamber Concerto. A newly commissioned Chamber Concerto by Montreal composer Michael Oesterle (b. 1968), which uses the identical chamber orchestra as Berg’s concerto, will reflect the entire collection in the light of the present.

Robert Aitken - Photo by Daniel FoleyI asked Aitken what prompted him to create, in effect, a mini-revival of the Second Viennese School in New Music Concerts’ programming for 2018. He told me that the desire to include this repertoire is always a factor in his thinking, and that it has been so ever since he studied composition with John Weinzweig in the early 1960s. Weinzweig taught the 12-tone, or serial, technique of composing that Schoenberg had devised and introduced in 1921. Aitken told me that one of the aspects of Schoenberg’s music he admires is that, even given the frequent complexity of the counterpoint, the clarity of the music is never an issue. Aitken says that clarity and attention to every minute detail are also important values in his own compositions, musing that such attention to detail is a Virgo trait. (He and Schoenberg are both Virgos, as was Schoenberg’s student, John Cage (1912-1992).)

New Music Concerts’ three-concert Schoenbergian revival kicks off at the Betty Oliphant Theatre at 8pm on Sunday, January 14, with a program featuring the Chicago-based Duo Diorama, violinist MingHuan Xu and Winston Choi, piano, performing the Schoenberg Phantasy Op. 47, and as the soloists in the chamber concertos of Alban Berg and Michael Oesterle. In that tenth and final centennial broadcast in the CBC’s 1974 Gould/Schoenberg series, Gould said of the Phantasy, composed in 1949, and one of Schoenberg’s last completed works: “I still think it’s full of uneasy mixtures of Brahms and Wagner: you know, expressionistic violin lines, soaring, diving, equally expressionistic harmonics within a relatively four-squarish sentence structure.” Gould himself recorded the Phantasy with violinist Israel Baker in 1964 for Columbia Records.

Michael OesterleThe idea to commission the Chamber Concerto by Oesterle sprang from the shared enthusiasm by Aitken, Oesterle and Daniel Cooper, an enthusiastic NMC supporter, for the Berg Chamber Concerto for piano, violin and 13 winds (1923-1925). Oesterle’s concerto has the same instrumental forces as the Berg, and it will receive its world premiere on the January 14 concert. The Berg Chamber Concerto will complete the program. Aitken will conduct the NMC ensemble, with Duo Diorama as soloists.

Three weeks later, on February 4, at Gallery 345, NMC will present a 1923 Anton Webern arrangement of Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1 Op. 9 (1906). The Calgary-based Land’s End Ensemble will be joined by Aitken on flute and clarinetist James Campbell for this quintet version of one of Schoenberg’s more frequently arranged works. Schoenberg himself arranged the piece twice, for both smaller and larger forces. Berg made an arrangement for two pianos, and Webern’s arrangement itself exists in two versions. Land’s End Ensemble will also perform trios by Canadians Sean Clarke (b. 1983), Hope Lee (b. 1953) and Matthew Ricketts (b. 1986).

Finally, three weeks later on February 25, at 8pm at Gallery 345, NMC will present another late work by Schoenberg: his String Trio Op. 45 (1946), in a performance by Trio Arkel, along with a program of trios by Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933), Kaija Saariaho (b. 1952) and James Rolfe (b. 1961). The concert will be preceded at 6:30pm by a screening of the Larry Weinstein film, My War Years: Arnold Schoenberg.

Perhaps by the end of this sequence of three concerts, it will be revealed that any doubts about the value of Schoenberg’s contribution have, by now, diminished or even vanished altogether – and that, if not yet in Gould’s phrase “a household word,” Schoenberg is at very least a welcome and engaging house guest.

David Jaeger is a composer, producer and broadcaster based in Toronto.

George Li - Photo by Simon FowlerThe 2015 International Tchaikovsky Competition produced a motherlode of talent, sparking concert careers by each of its top four prizewinners. This past March, Show One Productions brought gold medallist Dmitry Masleev to Koerner Hall; on February 4 they will complete the Koerner circle with George Li’s recital there. Boston-born Li – the son of Chinese immigrants – shared second place with Lithuanian-Russian pianist Lukas Geniušas, whom Show One presented in a memorable 2016 Koerner Hall concert with fourth-place winner Lucas Debargue of France.

A student of English Literature at Harvard now in his fourth year, Li explained in an email exchange with me in mid-November that his non-musical studies have affected his approach and led to a deeper understanding of the music he plays, echoing what he told the Harvard Gazette in September 2016: “With music, there’s a balancing of different qualities and you have to have control and finesse and technique. There’s always a fine line between too much control and technique with being overly emotional, overindulgent. With literature, it’s not always an outpouring of emotion. It never goes overboard. It’s on the cusp of going overboard, but it never does.”

Elsewhere in this issue in his Editor’s Corner, DISCoveries editor David Olds calls Li a “fabulous young performer” in his review of Li’s debut CD, Live at the Mariinsky.  

WN: How important a role did music play in your home growing up?
GL: It was definitely a big part of my life ever since I was little. I was always surrounded by music, whether it be listening to the classical radio station, going to concerts to hear the BSO, or recitals in Boston, or listening to my sister practise.

How did you come to start playing the piano? How old were you?
I started when I was about four years old, and much of how and why I started was due to the things that I mentioned above. Because music played such a big part in my life from a young age, it almost became inevitable that I would try it out, and I haven’t stopped since!

Who was the first composer you fell in love with as a child?
I remember becoming obsessed with the Moonlight Sonata for a period of time, as well as Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 3, so I suppose Beethoven and Prokofiev.

Who were your musical heroes in your formative years?
When I was in my teens, I listened quite a bit to pianists in the Golden Age of playing, so I really idolized Cortot, Horowitz, Gilels and Richter. I also started listening to a lot of orchestral music, so conductors like Abbado and Kleiber gave me great inspiration as well.

Do you feel a particular kinship to any pianist (or musician) living or dead?
I connect especially with Horowitz, because of his magical abilities with the piano; the amount of colour and character in his playing is astounding, and he’s also unafraid of taking risks.

When did you feel that you would devote your life to music?
I think I started realizing that I would fully immerse myself in music when I was 12 or 13. It was actually at a concert I was playing then when I realized how powerful music is, and what a transformative experience it was to be able to perform onstage. Since that concert, I decided I would fully dedicate myself to music.

Your upcoming Toronto recital mirrors your first CD, Live at the Mariinsky. What went into choosing the repertoire for it?
There were several reasons, but the most important for me was that I felt that there was a strong arc throughout the program. Although each piece is of a totally different style and from a different period, there is also a fluidity throughout; each piece flows naturally into the next in terms of tone and character. For example, in the first half of the CD, the Haydn sonata – which contains a nuanced tinge of darkness and tragedy – flows quite naturally into the turbulent, dramatic tragedy that is the Chopin Sonata No.2.

You concluded the program of your Toronto debut with Music Toronto in December 2012 with the Liszt Consolation No.3 and Hungarian Rhapsody No.2, both of which also conclude your first CD and Koerner Hall concert. What is the attraction these pieces have for you and how has your approach to them evolved over the years?
Liszt has been a favourite composer of mine throughout the years, and these two pieces especially have been a part of me for a long time. I especially appreciate that Wagnerian drama and the operatic references that he often implements, and while we don’t exactly hear Wagner in the Rhapsody, I nonetheless try to highlight the drama and the variety of colours that I do hear throughout the piece.

Are there any particular pieces, orchestral or chamber, that never grow stale for you?
Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, Mahler’s Second Symphony and quite recently Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune have been a few of the orchestral pieces that I’ve been listening to incessantly.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

Back to top