Fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout in performance at the savannah Music Festival in 2011. Photo ℅ Frank Stewart, the Savannah Music Festival, via npr.org.Fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout in performance at the savannah Music Festival in 2011. Photo ℅ Frank Stewart, the Savannah Music Festival, via npr.org.“Dearest Mozart,

Warm greetings from across the globe! I am wrapping up my time-travels here in Canada and find myself in a city called Toronto, in the province of Ontario – it’s quite cold for November, but the town is delightful, and my stay has been nothing if not pleasant. This place is altogether incredible; there are enormous buildings, all of them new, great and majestic churches, and millions of people living in this one municipality!

Do you remember our old colleague who built you that piano a while back? (Not Schantz, I know you didn’t like his instruments very much, even though Herr Haydn thought otherwise!) I mean Herr Gabriel Anton Walter, of course. Well, you won’t believe what I discovered this week – a virtual replica of one of his own instruments here, 7,000 millaires away from our beloved Austria! Apparently, the Canadians copied his design almost exactly with this particular piano, which is housed by the University here. [Ed: the fortepiano used for this performance was built by Virginia-based builders Thomas and Barbara Wolf in 1997 and maintained by Barbara Wolf for the duration of these concerts.]

I found and heard this piano in a beautiful old church, named after the Holy Trinity and St. Paul, and it was played in the most remarkable way by Herr Kristian Bezuidenhout, a fellow European (by way of the Dutch colonies, but that is another story) from London, England. The instrument was mellow and warm, beautiful in appearance and tone, a little auditory snapshot of our homeland here in this wondrously wintry metropolis. [Ed: The ‘Mozart’s Piano’ concerts, presented by Tafelmusik, took place at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre in Jeanne Lamon Hall, from November 9 to 12, 2017.]

You will be delighted to know, dear Mozart, that Herr Bezuidenhout was accompanied by Toronto’s own Tafelmusik orchestra and together they played an entire concert of our Austrian and German music. They included one of your ‘Viennese’ symphonies, a piano concerto (from those Lenten concerts you gave in Vienna a while back) and your rondo – the one in A minor – as well as two symphonies written by our old colleagues Johann Christian Bach (also from London!) and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. It was terrific to hear their music again; apparently Tafelmusik obtained their performing parts for Carl Philipp Emanuel’s little work from across the continent – on loan from a library in California – part of the United States, the country immediately south of Canada. How wonderful it is that our little tunes are now being discovered and played across the world!

Herr Bezuidenhout is a striking figure, immensely poised and possessing quite the aura onstage, and he led the group with a vigour that rivals our young Beethoven. (His hair is considerably more restrained, though, and his wardrobe much nicer!) He played with love and passion, and I would be hard-pressed to find a single flaw with his leadership, technique, or performance. His interpretation of your Rondo would bring you particular joy, for he imbued it with freedom and sensuality (but always tastefully) – and your concerto was played the fastest I’ve ever heard it! Even the Emperor himself would have risen from his seat in excitement at the end of it.

The hall was packed to the rafters (I was in the balcony and almost didn’t get a seat – they sell tickets to their concerts here!) and people were most approving of your music – it received three rounds of applause at the end of the evening. All in all, the concert was performed in a way that expressed both the simple joys of your music and the complexity of your ideas, always balanced, nuanced, and, I dare say, virtuosic enough that one might think the players were fellow Austrians! On the whole, my dear Mozart, they did a fine job of bringing our music to life and I think you would be immensely pleased with the results.

I return to Austria soon, with some regret, but I must get back and resume my work at the publishing house where we will soon print Herr Haydn’s last collection of string quartets.

Give my warmest regards to your sister, your lovely wife and child, and all those whom I have sorely missed while on my journeys. I look forward to reuniting with you all upon my return. Until then I remain

Your faithful and true friend,

Carlo Artaria* ”

*Artaria & Co. was founded as a publishing house for art and maps by Carlo Artaria (1747–1808) in 1770 in Vienna, then the capital of the Habsburg Monarchy. The company expanded its business to include music in 1778. Its most important early collaboration was with the Austrian composer Joseph Haydn, who published more than 300 works through Artaria, including many of the composer's string quartets (such as the Opus 33), which were a popular seller. The value of Haydn's works helped push Artaria to the top of the music publishing world in the late 18th century. This important relationship helped Artaria secure the rights to the works of other important classical composers such as Luigi Boccherini and, most notably, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. -Wikipedia

Tafelmusik presented the concert “Mozart’s Piano,” featuring fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout, November 9 to 12, 2017 in Toronto.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

The Semer Ensemble in performance in Toronto, on November 8, 2017. Photo credit: Avital Zemer.The Semer Ensemble in performance in Toronto, on November 8, 2017. Photo credit: Avital Zemer.The nature of music is inherently temporary. Play a note and it’s gone – a disruption of air, a few sine waves released into the beyond. Fire, flood, an ill-tempered or poorly-worded review, changing tastes – all these can render music obsolete, stricken from history and never to be heard again. Whether Bach’s lost church cantatas, untranscribed folk tunes within an atrophying culture, or the deliberate destruction of musical scores, the abstract nature of our artistic medium presents unique challenges for preservation and performance – challenges to which, at one concert last week presented by the Ashkenaz festival, the Germany-based Semer Ensemble rose with ease.

By the year 1933, the Nazi party controlled Germany, appointed to power at the end of that January. That April, the Nazis began redefining the status of persons they considered socially undesirable, including homosexuals, those with disabilities, and Germany’s Jewish population. The Nuremberg Laws, passed in 1935, stripped Jews of even their most basic rights and culminated in ‘Kristallnacht’, the Night of Broken Glass, in November 1938.

By 1939, almost 250,000 of Germany’s 437,000 Jews had fled the country.

One of the businesses destroyed during Kristallnacht was the Hebräische Buchhandlung, a Hebrew Bookstore run by Hirsch Lewin, which sold a variety of books, religious items and gramophone records. In 1932, Lewin had founded Semer Records, an in-house label, which had become increasingly popular as the Nazis increased their restrictions on Jewish cultural involvement, ultimately forbidding Jewish musicians from performing in or around non-Jewish settings and people. Lewin had produced a tremendous number of records between 1932 and 1938 as artists rushed to create a lasting memento of their culture.

With the destruction of Levin’s Buchhandlung, the entire catalogue of the Semer label – 4,500 recordings – was wiped out, evidence of its existence instantly erased from history.

Fast-forward to Toronto, in 2017. Nearly every seat in the George Weston Recital Hall is full, a few fresh faces peppering the predominantly middle-aged and older crowd. This audience is buzzing with excitement, chattering like schoolchildren in energetic and enthusiastic tones all around, close connections and family ties being discussed as if at a reunion.

The stage of the hall is shrouded in indigo-hued light, illuminating a mélange of instruments including a Steinway grand piano, accordion, trumpet, violin, upright bass, electric guitar, and six or seven microphones. It looks like the prelude to a strange fusion performance – part retro, part modern. According to the program, the evening’s performers are equally eclectic, coming from Russia, Latvia, Japan, Germany and the United States.

Why the all the excitement for what seems to be a distinctly eccentric performance? We gather to hear the lost music of Levin’s Semer record label, rescued from obscurity by the German musicologist Dr. Rainer E. Lotz in the 1990s. Through his exhaustive and persistent search across Europe, Lotz was able to recover and restore almost the entire Semer collection, reissued as an 11-CD set in 2002. In 2012, Berlin-based musician Alan Bern was commissioned to transcribe and arrange the collection and assembled the Semer Ensemble, a group of Jewish music specialists, to perform these pieces in live venues.

It is Bern who leads tonight’s performance by the Semer Ensemble, and his powerful stage presence and leadership captivates us even before the first notes are played. The music is extraordinary, both in scope and quality, a mix of art song, folk music, traditional prayers and genre-bending compositions for varied combinations of voices and instruments. Czárdas, a magnificent fantasy for violin solo and piano, combines classical and folk music in a seamlessly delightful composition, while The Little Bell uses a beautiful vocal line over sumptuous choral textures to form a touching piece. Smiles are everywhere throughout the three-hour concert – on stage and in the crowd. We can feel the joy in the air and can’t help but clap and tap along to the infectious rhythms.

Throughout the concert, Bern and his band pause to share stories of individual songs and works, providing us with invaluable context. Especially powerful are the unexpected parallels Bern draws between much of this decades-old music and contemporary global issues. Take, for example, the striking ballad The World Has Become Small; although written in the 1920s, Fred Endrikat’s text could pass as a modern protest of what the ensemble’s singer Sasha Lurje calls the ‘Smartphone Era’:

“The world’s become cramped,
It’s become a struggle
For the smallest bit of trash.
We roar along with a thousand horsepower
And can’t ever let it go again.
We’re sitting in the Tower of Babel
And we can only hate each other.”

Other highlights feature traditional music, including the ebullient Klezmer-style Rejoice in Jerusalem and the chant-like As for our brothers, the whole house of Israel. A personal favourite is A tender hand, based on an Arabic melody and magnificently realized by the ensemble. These surprisingly multi-dimensional musical works, all recorded on the Semer label within a few years of one another, show an incredible snapshot of the vibrancy of Jewish musical life in the 1920s, before the Nazi oppression attempted to eliminate all record of it.

In his introductory note, Askenaz Foundation director Eric Stein referred to ‘living culture’ and the phenomenon whereby art that, lost in obscurity only decades prior, can be revived, reinvigorated, and restored to a place of cultural prominence. As we face a future in which eyewitnesses to the Holocaust and life in pre-World War II Europe can no longer share first-hand accounts and recollections, stunning performances and presentations by groups such as the Semer Ensemble provide opportunities to discover and celebrate those living histories which inspire, educate, and enrich anyone who takes the time to listen.

The Ashkenaz Festival presented the Semer Ensemble in performance on November 8, 2017, at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

JaegerConcertBannerEnsemble contemporain de Montreal (ECM+), performing at ISCM 2017 on November 6, 2017. Photo credit: Jan Gates.The World New Music Days festival has been held in a different country each year, since 1922. Organized by the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM), its stated purpose is “to present music from each of our members, showcasing the incredible diversity of musical practice in our time.” The 2017 edition of the festival, marketed as ISCM2017, took place in Vancouver, B.C., November 2 to 8. In the 95-year history of the festival, this was only its second time in Canada.

The Canadian Section of the ISCM partnered with the Vancouver organization Music on Main to host the 2017 festival, staging some 30 concerts in a wide range of Vancouver venues. Local ensembles, as well as visiting artists and groups, were presented. Two of the visiting groups, Ensemble contemporain de Montreal (ECM+), and Land's End Ensemble from Calgary, made notably strong impressions, especially with Canadian works.

For ECM+, conducted by artistic director Véronique Lacroix on November 6 at Vancouver’s Roundhouse Community Centre, it was the world premiere of a stunning new concerto for violin and chamber ensemble by Montreal composer Ana Sokolović, EVTA, written for the brilliant young violin soloist Andréa Tyniec. Sokolović’s concerto is structured in seven contiguous movements, each inspired by colours of the chakras. The title, EVTA, means “seven” in the language of the Serbian Roma, and accordingly, the work is strongly influenced by the style of gypsy violin playing in the Balkans. Tyniec's solo violin was an astounding traveller through the seven movements, flashing virtuosity in so many ways, one lost count. The thread of this exciting composition never lost clarity as it swept through its intricate and surprising courses.

Lacroix also led her superb ECM+ in contrasting pieces by Grzegorz Pieniek (Poland), Martin Rane Bauck (Norway) and Iñaki Estrada Torío (Spain). ECM+ shared the concert with Vancouver's Turning Point Ensemble, conducted by Owen Underhill, who performed music from Chile, Croatia, Serbia and Tajikistan. The decision to present these two virtuoso ensembles in the same concert was an inspired one – and the display of contemporary performance techniques was impressive throughout.

Land's End Ensemble from Calgary is essentially a piano trio (John Lowry, violin; Beth Root Sandvoss, cello; and Susanne Ruberg-Gordon, piano) who, together with artistic director Vincent Ho, follow a mission to introduce audiences to contemporary music by Canadian and international composers. Their concert was also staged at the Roundhouse in Vancouver’s Yaletown, earlier in the week on November 5, and included works from Austria, Brazil, Canada, Finland and Ukraine. The highlight was Toronto composer Omar Daniel's Trio No. 2, commissioned by Land's End in 2015. Daniel describes the trio as a polystylistic discourse through levels of nostalgia. The enormous range of expressive nuances in this piece left the listener satiated – and convinced by the music’s maturity.

The 2017 edition of the ISCM festival took place in Vancouver from November 2 to 8. This report is part of a series of articles on thewholenote.com on ISCM 2017 and related music in the Vancouver area this month.

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

Pianist Benjamin Grosvenor. Photo credit: Patrick Allen, operaomnia.co.uk.On Tuesday, November 7, the remarkable British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor made his third appearance on Music Toronto’s Jane Mallett Theatre stage since February 2014, to the delight of a large and appreciative audience.

Grosvenor’s exceptional talent was revealed at the age of 11, when he won the keyboard section of the BBC Young Musician of the Year. At 19, he became the first British pianist in more than six decades to be signed to a recording contract by Decca. Shortly thereafter, he was the youngest soloist to perform at the First Night of the Proms in London. Gramophone magazine named him its Young Artist of the Year in 2012. Today, at 25, Grosvenor is in the vanguard of the new generation of pianists, in the company of the likes of Daniil Trifonov, Yuja Wang and Jan Lisiecki.

Grosvenor is a unique creator of sound worlds, attentive and nuanced – a riveting performer with keen musical insights which his effortless and prodigious technique affords.

From the opening notes of Mozart’s Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, K333, the mood was set as Grosvenor invited us into a self-contained world of tone colour and dynamic balance, of sparkling and well-shaped phrases that conveyed the composer’s musical structure. The middle movement was marked by the pianist’s singing tone and a delicacy built on strength, typified by a hush in the development section. The Allegretto grazioso exuded Mozartean joy and playfulness, leading to a cadenza that showcased Grosvenor’s brilliant technique. It would not be the last time that technique – and not just for its own sake – would be evident.

Grosvenor’s program then jumped ahead to four – “seminal works” he called them in a recent email exchange with me – written within two decades spanning the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Brahms’ Four Pieces for Piano, Op.119, his final compositions (comprising three intermezzos and a rhapsody), alternated with Brett Dean’s three-part Hommage à Brahms, managing at times to look forward, at times back. Grosvenor played the first Brahms Intermezzo very slowly, its nostalgic, dreamy beginning emphasizing the harmonic progression, occasionally drawing out the chords by breaking them. Dean’s Engelsflügel 1, which followed, began impressionistically before entering into a conversation with our memory of the Brahms. Grosvenor brought a fine sense of control to the second Intermezzo, allowing its lovely lyrical melody to grow organically, followed by the boisterous energy of Dean’s second piece, Hafenkneipenmusik. The third Brahms Intermezzo picked up some of the bits of whimsy present in Dean’s writing, before Grosvenor’s unerring sense of grace balanced Brahms’ strong chord progressions. Grosvenor’s light touch brought out the spellbinding modernism of Dean’s final Engelsflügel 2, before the grand climax of Brahms’ Rhapsody brought the section to a triumphal close.

Grosvenor widened his tonal palette in Leonard Borwick’s arrangement of Debussy’s pivotal Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune – a piece Pierre Boulez called the beginning of modern music – a colouristic tour de force. Berg’s Piano Sonata, Op.1 came next, given an astounding interpretation, a forceful, romantic, totally engaged, propulsive, yearning, tender, ardent chordal jamboree. Ravel’s atmospheric three-part Gaspard de la nuit followed, with Ondine and its rigorous dynamism, massive wave-upon-wave impressionism, tender glissando and double arpeggios displayed with unalloyed fluency. The colourist in Grosvenor came to the fore
in the mysterious, inscrutable Le Gibet before expanding in the demonic Scarbo to every hue in a dark rainbow, shaped with a raison d’être that was far more than a blurred handful of whirling notes.

His next visit cannot come soon enough.

Pianist Benjamin Grosvenor was presented in recital by Music Toronto on November 7, at Toronto’s Jane Mallett Theatre.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

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