Violinist Andrew Wan and pianist Angela Park in performance on July 26. Photo credit: James Ireland.Andrew Wan, concertmaster of Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (OSM) and violinist along with Jonathan Crow in the New Orford String Quartet, was a logical choice to participate in this year’s Toronto Summer Music Festival (TSM), the first under Crow’s artistic direction.

Before Crow introduced Uriel Vanchestein’s Les Veuves (The Widows) to begin TSM’s July 26 concert before a full house in Walter Hall, Wan stood up to congratulate his quartet partner, saying he was like a brother from another mother. They’re both consummate musicians, dedicated, versatile and passionate. On July 20, the day after Wan’s first TSM public appearance (performing with Crow and James Ehnes in Bach’s Concerto for Three VIolins BWV 1064R), he spent an hour in an open rehearsal with fellows of the TSM Academy working on Korngold’s Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op.15. His passion for Korngold’s “very complex piece, very gnarly, very romantic,” as he described it to the audience in Walter Hall, was evident from the way he handled the beautiful, soaring melody of the slow movement from the first violin chair, and the powerful bowing that propelled the ad hoc Academy members as they played the piece together for the first time. “That’s pretty crazy,” Wan said, turning to the audience, when they finished. (There are 54 changes of time signature in the Adagio alone.) When a problem with a specific bar bothered the cellist, Wan immediately said: “Why don’t we isolate it?” A rhythmic question was solved by counting out three bars, ending with the troublesome one. At one point Wan had everyone sing a few bars before playing them. (Wan’s quicksilver intelligence and problem-solving directness resembled similar traits Crow brought to the open rehearsal of the first movement of Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” String Quartet a week later in Walter Hall, when he was in the first violin chair with another group of Academy members. Talking quickly so as not to waste time, Crow used a cellphone metronome to try out different tempos, had various combinations of instruments play in pairs to concentrate listening, tailored the quartet’s sound to the larger venue of Koerner Hall where the performance would take place August 4, and slowed down a climactic passage to better hear its components and check intonation.)

L-R: Andrew Wan, Joseph Johnson and Steven Dann, in performance on July 26. Photo credit: James Ireland.At the July 26 concert, Wan played first violin in Les Veuves, and together with Crow, violist Steven Dann and cellist Desmond Hoebig, produced a rich and polished tone in Vanchestein’s programmatic tale of an Indigenous woman who takes revenge on lumberjacks who destroy the trees that surround her home. Wan then joined pianist Angela Park in Oskar Morawetz’s hyper-romantic Sonata No.3, which served as a bold, rhapsodic vehicle for his sweet, fulsome, highly coloured tone. Dohnányi’s Serenade in C Major for String Trio, Op.10 followed with Wan, violist Steven Dann and TSO principal cellist Joseph Johnson blending their individual voices and precise playing in what served as a compelling argument for the primacy of live performance.

After intermission Crow, Park and cellist Desmond Hoebig took on Dvořák's resplendent Piano Trio in F Minor, Op.65 with Crow and Hoebig trading melodies, with gorgeous violin tone and limpid cello sensitivity, while Park supplied a balanced support on the keyboard. Even more than in Les Veuves, there was a sense of the connection between the Orford and the New Orford string quartets (Hoebig was the cellist in the Orford’s last years before taking up the principal cellist post in the Cleveland Orchestra) and of the generational torch being passed. The spontaneous standing ovation was well-deserved.

Andrew Wan and Jonathan Crow in performance at the July 27 Shuffle Concert. Photo credit: Gord Fulton.Late the next afternoon, on July 27 (just 30 minutes after Crow’s Death and the Maiden rehearsal), Wan and Crow got together for an hour-long Shuffle Concert dubbed “Concertmaster Duo” at Heliconian Hall. Wan recalled his first meeting with Crow at Orford in Quebec, one summer in the early years of the new century. Wan was a student and was struck by “this tall blond dude who had just played the hell out of the violin part of Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night.” Within a few years they were friends and part of the New Orford String Quartet. “We annoy each other endlessly,” he joked.

The concert began with a sonata for two violins by Jean-Marie Leclair, the Baroque violinist/composer who founded the French violin school. The two concertmasters were a matched pair, exhibiting a light touch and a tightly coiled tone, characteristics that were even more pronounced in a vivid interpretation of a handful of Bartók’s 44 Duos for Two Violins. A selection of Berio duos, inspired by the writing styles of other composers, followed: the first, based on Bartók, opened a door to several of these miniature character studies, all of which oozed charm and humour. The violinists’ technique was on full display in Seven Proximities by Quebec’s Maxime McKinley; their virtuosity and musicianship shone in Prokofiev’s epic Sonata for Two Violins in C Major, Op.56 with its long lines, mysterious mood, devilish passagework, slow and sultry slow movement and jocular finale. Schnittke’s clever Moz-Art (on K416) for Two Violins was played with verve. Their version of Mozart’s Turkish March put a bow on a lively 60 minutes of music that is rarely heard live. The concert was another essential component of the cornucopia that is this year’s Toronto Summer Music Festival.

The Toronto Summer Music Festival opened on July 13, and runs until August 5.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

 

Cellist Elinor Frey.The Toronto Music Garden has presented Summer Music in the Garden, a series of free open air concerts throughout the summer, since 2001. On Sunday, July 23, Montreal-based cellist Elinor Frey, an artist who has appeared several times in the series, returned with her duo partner, the Italian harpsichordist Lorenzo Ghielmi. They brought a program of German music from the mid-eighteenth century, most of it appearing on their recent CD titled The Berlin Sonatas on the Belgian Passacaille label.

The program was beautifully presented, in spite of the constant threat of rain and a persistent breeze. The conditions did not prevent a large crowd from gathering in the Music Garden, and the event staff skillfully added just enough amplification to make all the music and the artists' commentaries entirely clear. Frey played her five-string Baroque cello, an instrument that adds an E-string above the usual top A-string. Such cellos were common in seventeenth and eighteenth century European court orchestras, and were particularly suited for virtuoso playing in high registers. Frey demonstrated this with her own instrument by playing two solo violin pieces by Franz Benda, a composer who spent 63 years in the service of Frederick II “the Great” of Prussia. Benda's Progressive Exercise no.25 and his Caprice no.16 were both elaborate, extroverted showpieces that transferred beautifully to the five-string cello.

The Toronto Music Garden.Frey and Ghielmi collaborated in three sonatas, by Carl Friedrich Abel (1723–1787), Carl Heinrich Graun (1704–1759), and Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732–1795) – all examples of the so-called “language of sensibility” (Empfindsamkeit) from this time period. At the concert, Frey described this stylistic approach as “an expression of sadness, anger, wrath, joy, love, and praise.” The style, she said, calls for “various changes in dynamic, both abrupt and subtle, at the service of beautiful melodies and expressive fantasy.” The many interpretive shadings found in all these sonatas, as displayed by Frey and Ghielmi, yielded a delightful range of expressive music. The two artists were an ideal duo, both showing their individuality within a perfectly balanced sense of ensemble. The program was rounded out with Ghielmi's subtly nuanced harpsichord solo, the Fantasia in A minor BWV922 by J.S. Bach. This was Summer Music in the Garden at its finest!

In the coming weeks, Summer Music in the Garden will offer a great variety of diverse musical performances, including Fiddling in the 21st Century, Eh?!, with traditional fiddlers Anne Lederman, Emily Stam and James Stephens (August 10); Fire and Grace, with violinist Edwin Huizinga and guitarist William Coulter (August 24); and the season finale, the Ton Beau String Quartet (September 17). See the details for these and many other excellent performances in our listings, or at: http://www.harbourfrontcentre.com/summermusic/performances/.

Summer Music in the Garden runs until September 17 in the Toronto Music Garden.

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

 

Angela Hewitt at the Westben Barn. Photo credit: Stephen Dagg.Rashaan Allwood in performance on July 21. Photo by the author.Last weekend from July 21 to 23, Campbellford’s Westben Arts Festival pulled out all the stops to curate an immersive piano concert experience. From mainstage performances at the Westben Barn, to their new “One-of-a-Kind Experiences” series fostering a novel approach to listening for sounds, to generous opportunities for artist interaction, it appears that artistic director Brian Finley and his team have assembled a winning formula for innovative piano programming.

Setting the tone on the evening of Friday, July 21, Rashaan Allwood presented a recital of piano works by Olivier Messiaen alongside a multimedia slideshow. The performance alternated between selections from Catalogue d’oiseaux and Petites esquisses d’oiseaux, video soundclips of birdsongs represented in the music, and painted depictions of the musical scenes by Avery Kua, commissioned especially for the performance. The stage became an interactive museum exhibit showcasing interactions between nature, birds, and natural phenomena, and Allwood was an insightful, enthusiastic ornithological guide through it all. Juxtaposed against Campbellford’s birds chirping along in real time, the presentation felt almost like a country adaptation of John Cage’s atmospheric 4’33”.

At the piano, Allwood’s tonal palette enriched the experience in colourful ways. Guided by Messiaen’s indications, he evoked brilliant, crystalline cascades as well as sound masses when called for. I would have liked to savour the pauses for longer: though there are no concrete storylines in these Messiaen works, there were tangible moments of tranquility which could have been contrasted even more against turbulent scenes.

All told, was there a takeaway impression from the performance? Not exactly—like the sounds of nature, it was a fleeting event to be relished in the moment. A result that Messiaen himself would have approved of.

Jan Lisiecki in performance on July 22. Photo by the author.On Saturday afternoon, it was Jan Lisiecki’s turn to take centre stage. Born in Calgary to Polish parents, his heritage courses through his playing. Pianists would appreciate the “Winter Wind sweep” he infused across the afternoon’s program—it is a tension-heightening sensation that Lisiecki is able to draw out from sequences of notes, and a hallmark of his playing in this concert.

Here, the acoustics in the Westben Barn posed a challenge, favouring certain pieces over others in Lisiecki’s program. I’m not sure he would have been satisfied with the results of the Bach, despite his efforts to bring it to life. There is an undeniable intellect to Lisiecki’s playing, the same one that allowed him to skip three grades in school: he took much of the Partita No. 3 at a chipper pace, recalling a Gouldian nimbleness and precision. It was evident that he was striving for a sparkling tone, but in this particular space the acoustics backfired on the superimposed, fast-moving textures; they came out as a scramble of notes. But what brilliance could not be drawn out, Lisiecki compensated for with gorgeous “Winter Wind sweeps” in the rising basslines.

In the Chopin Scherzo No. 1, Lisiecki took liberties with its clear-cut structure: he demonstrated his expertise in Polish dance forms, infusing the calm middle section with a mazurka stilt. In a performance that wasn’t otherwise striking, was this a Revolutionary move? The audience was enthralled and gave him full applause heading into the intermission.

Resurfacing on stage, Lisiecki took on an entirely different character for the second half, which was delivered much more clearly than the first. Assuming a calm, assured maturity, the Chopin Nocturnes Op. 48 were introspective and searching: the changing moods of the first nocturne were seamlessly navigated, and in the second nocturne the pain was clear and earnest. With the four Impromptus Op. post. 142, Lisiecki sucked the audience into his and Schubert’s world. The third Impromptu in B-flat Major was a standout in the set, evoking a carefree jaunt in the park with tuneful whistling.

Angela Hewitt in performance on July 23. Photo by the author.On Sunday, Angela Hewitt stepped onstage to reassert her reputation as a pre-eminent Bach interpreter of her generation. Each performance resembled an intimate diary entry, meticulously crafted at the piano. The six opening Scarlatti sonatas allowed everyone to ease into the Barn’s acoustics; when it came time to play Bach, Hewitt had already weaved a personal sound world. She created for herself a bubble of meticulous attention to detail within a compact dynamic range, spinning an illusion of expansive contrasts. It is interesting to compare her approach towards creating musical interest with Lisiecki’s from the day before: the former opted for varied articulation and less extremes in volume, while Lisiecki favoured the reverse. As a result, there was a stately character to Hewitt’s Bach, and the Barn’s acoustics were masterfully transformed into that of a closed Baroque palace.

An interesting phenomenon was how Hewitt’s closing Gigues were tentatively executed in comparison. Repeated usage of pedal simultaneous with an unsettled left hand were observed, as was an odd tempo fluctuation in the right hand. The closing Beethoven “Moonlight” Sonata also showed kinks in its armour. Was this an indication of flagging stamina? Even if so, after such an authoritative conception of Bach, this was easy to forgive—especially with Hewitt performing on a piano whose tone had been unravelling as the afternoon advanced (an issue Lisiecki had also encountered during his performance).

Angela Hewitt at the Westben Barn. Photo credit: Stephen Dagg.As a whole, in this weekend snapshot the Westben festival—now in its 18th season—seems to be hitting all the right notes, as they continue bringing music to a tight-knit community of enthusiasts. “We remain really, really excited about the future,” enthused Finley on the weekend. He hinted at programming ideas for future seasons, including concerts running through the night: “This has given us some real courage to pursue these special experiences that are [within] music and beyond, in this beautiful area. So we’re dreaming hard!”

Westben’s summer festival series runs until August 6 in Campbellford. For more information, visit www.westben.ca.

Jennifer Liu is a recent graduate in piano performance, and has written on classical music for La Scena Musicale, The WholeNote magazine, and Musical Toronto.

 

HOGTOWN's Laura Larson (Louise "Lulu Hearts"), Karen Slater (Maddy Foster) and Emma Wiechers (Anastasia). Photo Credit: Sam Gaetz.(HOGTOWN's Laura Larson (Louise "Lulu Hearts"), Karen Slater (Maddy Foster) and Emma Wiechers (Anastasia). Photo Credit: Sam Gaetz.)

Last Friday was the 21st of July, 2017, but for a couple of hours it was also a summer night in 1926 in prohibition-era Hogtown – aka Toronto the young and gritty. About 18 months ago I had made the exact same time travel trip, walking through the doors of Toronto’s historic Campbell House to see the very first dress rehearsal of Sam Rosenthal and Drew Carnwath’s HOGTOWN: The Immersive Experience, a new site-specific show designed to fit into the many rooms of Campbell House on one hand and, on the other, to bring to life as many aspects of life in 1926 Toronto as possible. It was fun but still at an early stage of figuring out how many characters to include and how to combine and interweave all the storylines. Last summer the show was developed further and revived, and now, this summer, a new version has just opened, streamlined and focused and with some great musical additions.

No more than sixty people can attend at once, and the night I was there, there were about forty of us. After a casual pre-show in the courtyard where various characters interacted with the audience, we were gathered into the house and split into three groups to experience the three foundation scenes of the main storylines. On the main floor in the dining room, we met the two rival mayoral candidates, ambitious social reformer Sam McBride and incumbent Thomas Foster; McBride’s wife; various Toronto movers and shakers; and the kingpin of the night, suave and conniving union boss Bob Delacourt. Partway downstairs was the gambling den, and a bit further down the speakeasy, home to hostess Carl-Mays, the White Hot Jazz Band, and dancers who captivated with a gloriously 1920s song-and-dance number. Up at the top of the house was the meeting for the women’s Temperance League, a fiercely led group of women fighting to maintain prohibition and make sure that the prohibition candidate is elected, and in between were bedrooms, parlours, staircases and hallways, where the action used every available space.

It was great fun being immersed in the Toronto of the twenties, with prohibition and illicit drinking raging, gangsters and politicians rubbing elbows, politicians' wives and daughters up to various shenanigans, a mild-mannered reporter – our MC for the start of the evening and in love with the daughter of one mayoral candidate – tracking down a story, the innocent and not so innocent famous ( including baseball star Tommy Burt) and unknown (including two young flappers skipping out on other responsibilities to join the speakeasy as dancers for the night), with everything tuned up to a high stakes pitch on the eve of the election.

The first incarnation of the show was very much a theatre piece that included music only in the speakeasy location. Now, music has percolated up and through the house: original compositions by music directors Douglas Price and Paul Humphrey added to period standards to flesh out characters and relationships and give new impetus to various plot points. When I spoke to director and co-writer Sam Rosenthal after the performance, he said that in the first year audiences had really responded to the musical scenes and he wanted to build on that to see how it might strengthen the experience as a whole.

Sam Rosenthal (HOGTOWN's co-creator/director) and Jorge Molina (Gil Shwartz). Photo credit: Sam Gaetz.(Sam Rosenthal (HOGTOWN's co-creator/director) and Jorge Molina (Gil Shwartz). Photo credit: Sam Gaetz.)

Since for the first three scenes of this show, you’re on your own to decide where to go and what to watch, I didn’t get to see all the songs – sadly missing a gangster number in the gambling den – but I did see some wonderful new pieces: a Gene Kelly-esque duet about family expectations for baseball player Tommy Burt (Eric McDace) and aspiring reporter Ronny McBride (Saphho Hansen Smythe), a fun solo by flapper Lulu (Laura Larson) about how to navigate society, the fabulous “Temperance Tantrum” led by powerhouse head of the temperance league Mary O’Grady Hunt (Tara Baxendale) with stylized character breakout solos for her outwardly demure daughter Eleanor (Jaymee Fuczek) and for wild radical board member Pauline Drabble (Andrea Irwin), and Eleanor’s period-flavoured “Got A Lot’ song in the speakeasy where she dares to bet on a horse race. The numbers were all fun, well sung, and brilliantly choreographed by Nicola Pantin. Not all the new numbers were true to the style of the 1920s, and sometimes felt composed in a later (1940s) or more contemporary musical theatre mode. Somehow this still worked, as the period was so strongly evoked at the beginning of the show, and by various numbers throughout, including “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate,” a knockout solo by Arinea Hermans as Toni Swift.

The last new character number I saw was the moving final song, sung by speakeasy hostess Carli-Mays Johnson after she has been told she has been traded to a Chicago crime boss as part of a big Bob Delacourt deal. Michelle Piller was both hard nailed and heart breaking,   evoking a magnetic combination of Bebe Neuwirth and Patti Lupone, a rich ending to that character trail. At that point we were all gathered up to the ballroom for the finish of the evening and a wrap of the story, capped by a full company number sung in the courtyard.

For a lover of musical theatre this new version of Hogtown is a delight. I wonder, though, if more traditional theatre lovers would feel the same way. Some of the grit and darkness of the earlier version is subsumed by the innocence of the musical numbers, so the creators/producers have an interesting dilemma on their hands; they are in a very interesting place of having experimented with going in a musical direction and needing to decide whether, in future editions, it will be more a play with music or more of a full-blown musical. ‘Finished’ or not, however, Hogtown is a great way to spend a couple of hours and a fun window to Toronto’s past. I know that I would like to go again to follow some of the other storylines and see some of the numbers I missed this time around.

HOGTOWN: The Immersive Experience plays at Campbell House until August 20. For more information and to buy tickets you can visit www.thehogtownexperience.com or http://www.campbellhousemuseum.ca

Toronto-based “lifelong theatre person” Jennifer (Jenny) Parr works as a director, fight director, stage manager and coach, and is equally crazy about movies and musicals.

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