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Friday, April 16, 2010

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Lortie not Himself in Chopin Recital

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

I was one of the few people who didn’t give Louis Lortie a standing ovation at Koerner Hall this afternoon.

I have a deep respect for Lortie, who has long been a favourite pianist of mine, and not because he's Canadian. I have attended many of his concerts and masterclasses and he has never let me down before. Just last March, when he played Ravel’s G major Piano Concerto with Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, I quietly shed a few tears during the moving adagio.

However, Lortie was a very different pianist in an all-Chopin recital today. He struggled with some of the most rudimentary things such as memory lapses, which, as human as he is, just should not happen at his virtuoso level.

The program, built around Chopin’s four ballades and key-matching nocturnes (except for the third ballade in A-flat major), flopped from the beginning with the pairing of the G minor Nocturne, Op. 15, No. 3 and the G minor Ballade. Playing them as one continuous piece, the ballade’s solemn and weepy opening introduction in octaves felt out of place after Lortie gave the mazurka-like nocturne a groovy, jazzy treatment. Maybe the gentle Op. 37, No. 1 Nocturne in the same key with its choral middle section would have worked better.

The coupling of the F major Nocturne, Op. 15, No. 1 with the F major Ballade was more successful in character, as was the case between the F minor Nocturne, Op. 55, No. 1 and the F minor Ballade. However, instead of the cheerful A-flat major Nocturne, Op. 32, No. 2, Lortie chose the E-flat major Nocturne, Op. 9, No. 2 and the C minor Nocturne, Op. 48, No. 1 to precede the A-flat major Ballade.

The rest of the program was made up with the Berceuse in D-flat major, the F-sharp major Nocturne, Op. 15, No. 2 and the Barcarolle, also in F-sharp major.

Overall, there was some really nice, warm sound coming from the piano, even though the instrument’s higher register seemed often overpowered by its lower counterpart. However, Lortie’s playing came across choppy most of the time due to erratic use of rubato, his chords were not always dead-on, and his running passages, albeit technically brilliant, were sometimes sloppy in their manner of care. All of this is uncharacteristic of the kind of precision player Lortie is known for.

Playing all four Chopin ballades in one concert is a major undertaking for any pianist. Throw in some nocturnes and two of the most popular pieces by the composer and it’s a daunting recital in more ways than one. After an overwhelming standing ovation, and a few shouting bravos, Lortie ended the recital on a good note, playing theD-flat major Nocturne, Op. 27, No. 2 to perfection. It was by far the best playing of the afternoon, but it was too little too late.

That being said, I still look forward to Lortie’s next recital when the pianist is likely to be more himself.

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This Week in Toronto (April 12 - 18)

Jean Sibelius (photo taken around 1889-90)

There was a time when the Toronto Symphony Orchestra featured works by Jean Sibelius with regularity, especially during the tenure of the Finnish conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste. I recall hearing Sibelius symphonies and other orchestral works like Kullervo, Karelia Suite, and of course the famous Finlandia. If you are a Sibelius fan, the next two week's programs are for you. The TSO under guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard is presenting The Sibelius Festival from April 14 to 22. On the program will be all seven symphonies plus some of his violin works played by Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto. Symphonies No. 1 and 2 will be on April 14 at 8 pm and April 15 at 2 pm at Roy Thomson Hall. Also on the program is Humoresques Nos. 1 & 2 for violin and orchestra. Symphonies No. 3 and 4 will be performed on Saturday April 17 at 7:30 pm, together with Cantique and Devotion, as well as Finlandia. The Sibelius Festival Chorus and the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra will be performing the Finlandia alongside the TSO. This is a "Casual Concert" so there will be a live band after the show in the lobby. I have attended some of these in the past and they are fun, although the change of musical styles took some getting used to. Symphony 5, 6 and 7 will be performed Wednesday and Thursday of next week (April 21 and 22). On April 16 at 7:30 pm, at the George Weston Recital Hall, the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra under French Canadian conductor Alain Trudel will be offering a mixed program that includes The Haydn "London" Symphony, Sibelius' Finlandia, Tchaikovsky violin concerto, and Britten's The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra Op. 34. For more information and tickets, go to

The Toronto Philharmonia presents Swiss pianist Teo Gheorghiu in Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2. Also on the program is Brahms Symphony No. 1 conducted by Kerry Stratton. This concert takes place at the acoustically friendly George Weston Hall, on April 15 8 pm. For more information, go to

On the vocal front, there are several interesting concerts this week. The presentation by Native Earth and An Indie(n) Rights Reserve of Giiwedin continues on April 13 and April 15 at the Theatre Passe Muraille. I attended opening night last Thursday, and I was impressed by this piece co-composed by Spy Denomme-Welch and Catherine Magown. With rather basic sets and a very limited orchestra, they managed to put together a work remarkable for its emotional power and eloquence. I found myself moved by it at the end of the evening. The music is evocative of many styles and totally accessible, in fact with plenty of melodies. Kudos go to conductor Gregory Oh who worked wonders with an orchestra of four - violin, cello, archlute and harpsichord! But the greatest accolades go to the committed, passionate and enthusiastic cast, led by First Nations mezzo Marion Newman, who successfully brought to life Noodin-Kwe, the fictional and symbolic 150 year old native woman fighting for her land. Yes, I believe those were real tears on her face at the end of the final scene. Also deserving of mention is bass baritone Jesse Clark as the French Canadian Indian Agent Jean. I would be remiss if I don't mention the excellent quartet of women - Catharin Carew, Nicole Joy-Fraser, Jessica Lloyd, and Neema Bickersteth - who took on multiple roles, some of them animals! Lawrence Cotton was a deliciously over-the-top Dr. Carlton. Unfortunately the tenor James McLennan (The Minister) was ill and only mimed the role, with the voice very capably supplied by Martin Houtman. It was interesting to see the composers going against operatic convention by making the tenor the bad guy! Director Maria Lamont is to be commended for her deft staging of the piece, one that is rather heavy on storyline, especially in the second act. I particularly liked the ingenious ways of her using the columns of light to suggest a forest, and then again in its final destruction. This show runs to April 24 and is well worth attending.

On April 15 noon, the Canadian Opera Company Vocal Series at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre presents Pergolesi's delightful La Serva Padrona. This short opera is a staple of opera schools and rarely finds its way to the mainstage. The singers are members of the COC Ensemble Studio. Remember to show up 45 minutes early to ensure a seat. Last but not least, Canadian soprano Monica Whicher, who is on the faculty of the Royal Conservatory of Music, gives a recital on Sunday April 18 at 1 pm in Mazzoleni Hall of the RCM. Joining her will be mezzo Frances Pappas and pianist Liz Upchurch.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Claudio Abbado's Grand Tour with his Mozart Orchestra

by Giuseppe Pennisi

Music is the best medicine to cure cancer according to Maestro Claudio Abbado. Doctors removed much of his stomach and he can only eat small amounts at a time.“I found a new life, without a stomach,” he states. “I think differently. My senses are different.” His music-making has also changed: “I hear more lines now; I hear sounds I never heard before.”

Unfortunately, the therapy has weakened him: it’s now a special occasion when Maestro Abbado conducts. At 77, Abbado has mostly turned away from the kind of grand institutions he once led — La Scala, the Vienna State Opera, the Berlin Philharmonic. He pours his energies mainly into a few bursts of concerts, preferably with “his own” orchestra, the Bologna-based Mozart Orchestra. Now on a grand tour, which started in Reggio Emilia in March and continued in Rome (three concerts produced by the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia as a part of the subscription series) and, after a pause in April, the orchestra will proceed to Milan, Ravenna (as opening event for the 2010 Festival), Paris and Ferrara.

Abbado has turned away the distractions of modern conducting, like administration, dealing with unions and constant travel. He plays the music he wants with the musicians he chooses. Altogether he conducts about 30 concerts a season, dividing his time between homes in Bologna and Sardinia, where in the garden at his villa he has put in 9,000 plants. As a payment for his early June Milan La Scala concerts, he asked that the city plant 9,000 trees in the brick-and-mortar town. The Milan City Council is obliging … and following through on the contract.

The Mozart Orchestra was conceived by Carlo Maria Badini (a former La Scala Superintendent) as a special project of the Philharmonic Academy of Bologna, thanks to a decisive contribution from the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio of Bologna (the Bologna Savings Bank Foundation). The Orchestra, like the OSR (see La Scena in November 2009), is a very rare example of a privately funded symphonic formation in Italy. It has 40 permanent instrumentalists (versus 90 in the OSR); this means that for works requiring larger forces (i.e. those by Mahler, Bruckner, Strauss and Nono), the Mozart Orchestra needs to contract extra-musicians or to join another ensemble–in June in Milan it will join with the Filarmonici della Scala. Maestro Abbado became Artistic Director of the Orchestra, and improved its profile by inviting such internationally-renowned instrumentalists as Giuliano Carmignola, Danusha Waskiewicz, Wolfram Christ, Enrico Bronzi, Mario Brunello, Alois Posch, Jacques Zoon, Alessandro Carbonare and Alessio Allegrini.

The Orchestra is a truly international ensemble with young musicians from all over Europe (Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Austria, Holland, Norway, Finland, Hungary and Russia). It made its debut on November 4, 2004 at the Manzoni Theatre in Bologna with Abbado at the helm. Since then other great conductors such as John Eliot Gardiner, Ottavio Dantone, Trevor Pinnock and Frans Brüggen have led the orchestra. On 25 October 2008 at Pala Dozza in Bologna, the Orchestra Mozart played a memorable performance of 
Te Deum by Berlioz, together with the Cherubini Youth Orchestra, the Italian Youth Orchestra, the Choir of the Municipal Theatre of Bologna and the Giuseppe Verdi Symphony Choir of Milan. The impressive choir of treble voices was made up of more than six hundred children. On 13 June 2009, after the Abruzzo devastating earthquake, at the Auditorium of the Guardia di Finanza (Finance Police) School in Coppito (AQ), Abbado and the Mozart Orchestra dedicated a concert to the people of Abruzzo affected by the disaster. At the same time, they also promoted the “Mozart Orchestra for Abruzzo”, Una Casa per la Musica (A house for music) initiative, to raise funds for the creation of a structure in which all the musical organizations of L’Aquila can resume their activities immediately.

On March 28
th, in the packed 3000 seats Sala Santa Cecilia in Rome, the orchestra performed the “Italiana” Symphony by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, the Mozart Violin Concert K. 216, the “Jupiter” Mozart Symphony K. 551 and, at the insisting request for “encore”, a real bonus, Beethoven’s “Egmont” Ouverture. The four different pieces have a unity; they are a bridge from the elegant XVIII Century – the two Mozart’s composition are like Brussels antique lace – to the XIX Century Romanticism – delicate and intimate in the Mendelssohn-Bartoldy “Italiana” (where places and situation are filtered through memory) and stormy and passionate in Beethoven’s “Egmont”.

Abbado’s baton kept a tight but flowing beat as his left hand, at the end of a thin wrist, went its own way, deftly sculpturing phrases and so often asking for less, less, less. Mr. Abbado moves with the deliberateness of someone conserving his strength. He conducted without a score. The audience erupted in real accolades.

However, there was a flaw: the violinist Giuliano Carmignola, a specialist more of baroque than of late XVIII Century, did not sound up to the level of the Orchestra.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Lang Lang and Schleswig-Holstein Orchestra Wow Toronto

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

If the performance quality of a group of young musicians making their North American debut tour is any indication, classical music is in good hands. On April 6, a near sold-out Roy Thomson Hall erupted for conductor Christoph Eschenbach and the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra in a program that would appeal to any classical music novice.

Founded by Leonard Bernstein, the Germany-based Schleswig-Holstein trains in the 19th-century Salzau Castle north of Hamburg. It consists of musicians under the age of 27 handpicked through a rigorous auditioning process.

Opening the program with Prokofiev’s Symphony # 1 (the Classical Symphony), Eschenbach, who conducted by memory, got the most out of the players in every quip and quirk. Although the orchestra was not always in synch, the symphony came across fresh and dynamic. The vivace finale was incredibly fast and precise, it was stunning.

The main draw of the night was Mozart’s Piano Concerto # 17 in G major, featuring 28-year-old pianist Lang Lang. It was Eschenbach who gave Lang his now-legendary debut at the Ravinia Festival in 1999.

Lang is a powerhouse. He likes to show off his impeccable skills and does so with drama and flair. In this dreamy and bubbly Mozart concerto, Lang romanced each and every note and rest, soaking up the sound, eyes closed, while his left hand conducted above the keys. It was Mozart with a bit of a Chopin treatment in the styling of phrasings. However, with little use of the pedal, the sound was crystal crisp, the turns articulated clearly, and his soft melodies just about killed it.

The standing crowd insisted on an encore and received Chopin’s Aeolian Harp Etude, Op. 25, No. 1 after many bows from Lang. He played through the massive web of arpeggiated chords in one breath and with total control — it was beyond words.

After intermission, Eschenbach and the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra gave a riveting performance of Beethoven’s Symphony # 7. The orchestra excelled here, especially in the famous slow movement markedallegretto. Eschenbach took the tempo at adagio and produced a solemn effect that is in perfect contrast to the subsequent presto and allegro con bio.

For encore, they played the overture of Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus to more standing applause, causing one man to shout, “Sit down!”

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cette semaine à Montréal (7 à 17 avril) / This Week in Montreal (April 7 - 17)

Musique / Music

 Canadian trumpet virtuoso Guy Few (pictured to the left) joins the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal on April 7 to perform a concerto for trumpet and orchestra by the renowned and recently deceased Jacques Hétu. Under the baton of assistant conductor Nathan Brock, the orchestra performs works that include Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 1 and Smetana’s The Moldau. 514-842-2112,  — Hannah Rahimi
The Trio Fibonacci presents its final concert of the season on April 9 at the Chapelle Saint-Louis. Audiences can experience the wide range of compositions for string trio with a varied programme that begins with Haydn and concludes with Beethoven’s Archduke Trio. Also included are two contemporary works: Jean Lesage’s Chopinade for cello and piano, marking  Chopin’s 200th anniversary, and the Albertan composer Allan Gordon Bell’s Phénomènes. 514-270-7382,  — Hannah Rahimi
Le dernier concert de l’Ensemble Magellan, dans le cadre de sa résidence à la Chapelle, aura lieu le dimanche 11 avril à 15 h 30. Composé du violoniste Olivier Thouin, de l’altiste Yukari Cousineau, du violoncelliste Yégor Dyachkov et du pianiste Jean Saulnier, le quatuor nous propose des œuvres de Mozart, Brahms et Cléo Palacio-Quintin. 514-872-5338  — Renée Banville
The Matsu Také Ensemble, the only ensemble of traditional Japanese chamber music in Montreal, presents Le souffle du bambou at Le Rendez-Vous du Thé on April 15. The ensemble performs Zen Buddhist works on traditional instruments, including founders Michel Dubeau and Bruno Deschênes on the shakuhachi, a bamboo flute. For $36.95, audiences also have the choice of having dinner during the concert. 514-384-5695,  — Hannah Rahimi
L’Ensemble de la Société de musique contemporaine du Québec s’associe au Chœur du Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal pour présenter Les Vêpres de la Vierge de Gilles Tremblay. On entendra en plus une création de Serge Provost en hommage au compositeur. Ces œuvres contemporaines côtoient des œuvres polyphoniques sacrées du XVIe siècle. Avec la soprano Sophie Martin et Jean-Willy Kurtz à l’orgue positif. Sous la direction de Walter Boudreau et Christopher Jackson. Jeudi 15 avril à 18 h. Église de l’Immaculée Conception, 514-843-9305,  — Renée Banville
Un forum réunira diverses personnalités du milieu musical pour discuter des « musiques du monde ». Le premier volet, le jeudi 15 avril à 19 h 30, est consacré aux définitions de ces musiques variées, des croyances et des préjugés associés, ainsi que des éléments communs que l’on peut en dégager. Y participeront : Yves Bernard, journaliste au Devoir, chroniqueur, auteur, animateur et spécialiste des musiques du monde; Ralf Boncy, chroniqueur et auteur dédié aux musiques du monde et animateur-programmateur à Espace Musique; Patrick Darby, fondateur et directeur artistique de Tracquen’art et de Cross Current Music; Monique Desroches, titulaire d’ethnomusicologie à la faculté de musique de l’Université de Montréal; Liette Gauthier, musicienne, fondatrice/directrice artistique de MMM (1990-2009) et agente culturelle à la maison de la culture Ahuntsic – Cartierville; Sophie Laurent, auteure, ethnomusicologue, productrice et réalisatrice à CBC, Radio 2. Entrée libre. 

Dans la série d’événements Musiques au bout du monde qui a lieu du 13 au 17 avril, on pourra entendre les groupes suivants : Tradición flamenca, Medjim, Labess et invitées, Cabaret hip-hop Klezmer Socalled (dans le photo à gauche) et invités, Karen Young et Michel Faubert et le Trio Stéphane Tellier. Des laissez-passer sont requis pour ces spectacles. Maison de la culture Ahuntsic-Cartierville, 514-872-8749  — Renée Banville

Ven. 2, sam. 3 » Yves Léveillée (pno) invite Eri Yamamoto (pno) de New York. Jazz club, restaurant Dièse onze. [223-3543] 20 h 30
» Le Lifelines Ensemble de Christine Jensen avec invités de Toronto, Sienna Dahlin (vx.), Dave Restivo (pno), Jim Vivian (cb.) et Alissa Falk. Upstairs Jazz Bar. [931-6808] 20 h 30
Dim. 4 » de Berlin, le Gebhard Ullman Clarinet Trio. Casa del Popolo. [284-0122] 21 h
Lun. 5 » Le trio du guitariste Steve Ragele avec Adrian Vedady (cb) et Thom Gossage (btr.) Casa del Popolo. 21 h
Mar 6 » La série hebdomadaire de musiques improvisées Les mardis Spaghetti, au Cagibi. 21 h 30 [Programmation en ligne :]
Mer. 7 » Trio Antoine Berthiaume (gtr.) Michel Donato (cb.) et Pierre Tanguay (btr.). Maison de la culture du Plateau-Mont-Royal. [872-5266] 20 h
» La série hebdomadaire de musiques improvisées Mercredismusics. La Casa Obscura. [Programmation en ligne :} 21 h
Jeu. 8 » Le trio du contrebassiste Rémi-Jean Leblanc, Upstairs Jazz Bar. [931-6808] 20 h 30
» Normand Guilbeault (Artiste du mois au Dièse onze. 20 h 30 (En rappel les 15 et 22 avec invités différents à chaque semaine.)
Ven. 9 » Le quartette du saxophoniste ténor Al McLean. Dièse onze. 20 h 30
Ven. 9, sam. 10 » De New York, le trio du pianiste John Stetch. Upstairs Jazz Bar. 20 h 30
Sam. 10 » Trio Yannick Rieu, Adrian Vedady et John Fraboni. Dièse onze. 20 h 30
Mar. 13 » Lancement du disque du guitariste Stéfane Carreau (anciennement du duo Bet & Stef). Upstairs Jazz Bar.
Mer. 14, jeu. 15 » Le trio de contrebasses de Jean-Rémi Leblanc. Upstairs Jazz Bar. 20 h 30
Ven 16 » Quartette du contrebassiste Dave Watts, avec Julie Lamontagne (pno), Dave Mossing (trpt.) et Richard Irwin (btr.) Dièse onze. 20 h 30
Ven. 16, sam. 17 » Le quartette du bassiste Fraser Hollins avec Joel Miller (saxo ténor) et invités spéciaux de New York, le batteur Brian Blade et le pianiste John Cowherd. Upstairs Jazz Bar. Spectacles à 19 h 30 et 22 h 30. (Réservations recommandées.)
Sam. 17 » Trio des guitaristes Thomas Carbou, Jocelyn Tellier et Joe Grass. Dièse onze. 20 h 30
— Marc Chénard

Arts visuels / Visual Arts
DHC/ART jusqu’au 9 mai : La cinéaste, photographe et vidéaste finlandaise Eija-Liisa Ahtila, reconnue pour ses récits complexes à écrans multiples, est en vedette au DHC/ART. INT. STAGE-DAY (INT.SCÈNE-JOUR), dont le titre fait directement référence aux indications spatiotemporelles apparaissant en tête de chaque scène d’un scénario, est la plus grande exposition de l’artiste présentée à l’extérieur de l’Europe.
Le Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal expose actuellement trois artistes canadiens : Marcel Dzama, artiste multidisciplinaire originaire de Winnipeg qui vit à New York depuis 2004; l’artiste montréalais Etienne Zack; et Luanne Martineau, née à Saskatoon, professeure adjointe en théorie et dessin à l’Université de Victoria (Colombie-Britannique).
Aux mille tours (Of Many Turns) est la plus grande exposition solo de Marcel Dzama jamais présentée dans un musée. Son plus récent travail mise sur des thèmes qui lui sont chers et qui caractérisent son œuvre : la nostalgie, les débuts du modernisme, les rapports entre l’ironie et le cynisme, la politique et la subjectivité.
Après avoir brièvement fréquenté l’Université Concordia, l’artiste montréalais Etienne Zack a étudié au Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design de Vancouver. Lauréat national du Concours de peinture canadienne RBC en 2005, il a aussi été lauréat du prix Pierre-Ayot en 2008, année où son travail s’est vu présenté au Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal dans le cadre de la Triennale québécoise. L’exposition Etienne Zack rend hommage à son œuvre réalisée au cours des six dernières années. Outre la présentation d’une vingtaine de tableaux, l’exposition présente deux nouvelles œuvres créées spécialement pour cet événement.
Le processus créatif de Luanne Martineau, qui s’inscrit dans la lignée des artistes féminines et féministes des années 1960, s’appuie sur l’utilisation des techniques d’artisanat et l’exploration des matériaux traditionnels, à l’image de ses étonnantes sculptures de feutre et de laine dont la complexité visuelle et matérielle rend impossible une description juste et adéquate.
Musée d’art contemporain, jusqu’au 25 avril 2010.
— Julie Beaulieu

Festival Vue sur la relève. Depuis 15 ans, cet événement propose un panorama d’une composante essentielle de notre culture : la nouvelle génération d’artistes. Plusieurs jeunes créateurs issus de diverses disciplines (chanson, théâtre, cirque, danse) s’y produisent dans une cinquantaine de spectacles. Le festival comporte même un volet international, accueillant des artistes canadiens, français, américains ou originaires des îles de la Réunion et de la Guadeloupe. Du 1er au 17 avril, au Lion d’Or, National, Divan Orange, Cabaret La Tulipe et à la Maison de la culture Frontenac
La Fin. La plus récente création du Nouveau Théâtre Expérimental s’intéresse à un sujet fort actuel dans notre monde en mutation : notre obsession pour l’apocalypse et, plus généralement, la fin des choses. Avec Alexis Martin et Daniel Brière aux commandes de ce spectacle à sketches, l’intelligence et l’humour devraient être au rendez-vous. Du 30 mars au 24 avril, à l’Espace libre
Trans(e). Deux éléments allument notre intérêt ici : le thème de l’œuvre, la transexualité, rarement exploré sur nos scènes, et son créateur, Christian Lapointe (Limbes), qui pratique un théâtre exigeant très remarqué ces dernières années. L’auteur, metteur en scène et interprète qualifie sa pièce de « tragédie “futuriste” sous forme de poème incantatoire ». Intriguant. Du 6 au 10 avril, à la salle Jean-Claude-Germain du Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui
— Marie Labreque

Red Noses, the D.B. Clarke Theatre’s offering, has been called the funniest play about the Black Plague ever written. We follow a priest in 14th century France who is convinced that God wants him to help people through laughter rather than through prayers and sermons. He assembles a bizarre troupe of clowns, including a blind juggler, a mute poet, two one-legged dancers and a stand-up comedian with a serious speech impediment, and travels through plague-affected villages attempting to make people laugh. Red Noses runs from April 15th to the 18th.
— Jessica Hill

Danse / Dance
Le 1er marque le commencement d’un mois très chargé dans les salles du réseau Accès Culture où de nombreux spectacles sont gratuits. Ce jour-là, Mélanie Demers et Laïla Dialo redonnent le percutant Sauver sa peau, Katy Ward et Thea Patterson reviennent avec Man and Mouse, inspiré de Steinbeck, Sonya Stefan et Yves St-Pierre reprennent leur savoureux panorama sur divers styles de danse dans Sonya et Yves (aussi les 26 et 27) et Les Printemps de la danse donnent leur coup d’envoi. On y verra des extraits du drôlissime Duet for one plus digressions d’Andrew Turner, du trio post-féministe humoristique The Shallow End d’Erin Flynn ainsi que Sax Addict où Yaëlle Azoulay ne dévoile que les jambes de ses danseurs de gigue. Ce programme sera représenté aussi les 8, 9, 10 et 21. Élodie Lombardo démystifie la mort les 7, 9 et 10 en réunissant humour et drame dans le remuant Ganas de vivir, Ismaël Mouaraki passe par le hip-hop contemporain le 9 pour évoquer l’évolution de l’humanité dans Futur proche.
Hors réseau, le mois est aussi très riche. Avec El 12, Myriam Allard et Hedi «el moro» Graja actualisent le flamenco avec audace à la Cinquième Salle jusqu’au 13. Le 6, Aline Apostolska poursuit ses grands entretiens avec Hélène Blackburn à l’Agora tandis que Virginie Brunelle y va de Foutrement, une étude sur l’adultère, au Théâtre La Chapelle du 6 au 10. Du 7 au 11, les Brésiliens de Grupo Corpo investissent le Théâtre Maisonneuve avec deux œuvres aussi dynamiques que contrastées et l’Usine C nous donne à découvrir la danse-théâtre du Nature Theater of Oklahoma du 15 au 17.
— Fabienne Cabado

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Sunday, April 4, 2010

This Week in Toronto (April 5 - 11)

Image from Giiwedin, a First Nations opera by Spy Denomme-Welch and Catherine Magowan

My first choice this week is the premiere of Giiwedin, a First Nations opera by Spy Donomme-Welch and Catherine Magowan. It tells the story of Noodin-Kwe, a 150 year old native woman fighting for her land. I wrote the cover story in the new issue of The Music Scene, which you can access at It stars First Nations mezzo-soprano Marion Newman in the role of Noodin-Kwe. The preview is on April 6, 8 pm at the Theatre Passe Muraille. The show opens on April 8, 8 pm. Performances continue to April 24. For details and ticket information, go to The composers are being interviewed by Alexa Petrenko at 3 pm, on Alexa's Oasis, at the New Classical 96.3 FM. You can listen online!

On the piano front, the big news this week is the appearance of Lang Lang with the Schleswig Holstein Festival Orchestra and Christoph Eschenbach at the Roy Thomson Hall on Tuesday, 8 pm. Lang Lang is playing Mozart Piano Concerto No. 17, an interesting change from his usual repertoire lately. Also on the program is Prokofiev Symphony No. 1 and Beethoven Symphony No. 7. Tickets are hard to come by, so act fast! On April 11 at the rather odd time of 3 pm at Koerner Hall of the Royal Conservatory of Music, Louis Lortie plays a program of Chopin. Last time I heard him was at Roy Thomson Hall playing the Ravel Piano Concerto. Any appearance by Lortie is an eagerly anticipated event. On April 7 at noon, at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, pianist Linda Ippolito gives a recital, Frites with Salsa, a program of Latin music. On the program are pieces by Poulenc and Ginastera - a most interesting combination! Remember to show up 45 minutes in advance for a seat at this free event.

On April 7, 6 pm Tafelmusik presents Forces of Nature, with works by Vivaldi, Rameau, Haydn, Telemann and others, with Jeanne Lamon at Trinity St. Paul's Centre. Additional performances on April 8, 9, 10, 11. Go to for details.

On April 8, 8 pm, Music Toronto presents the Tokyo String Quartet in three Beethoven string quartets (Quartets in F Op. 95; in E flat Op. 74; and in C Major Op. 59 No.3) at the St. Lawrence Centre. For information, go to

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents Bach's B Minor Mass on April 8 and 10 at Roy Thomson Hall. Noted conductor Helmuth Rilling leads a quartet of soloists (soprano Emily Hindrichs, mezzo Ingeborg Danz, tenor Lawrence Wiliford, and baritone Andrew Foster-Williams) together with the University of Toronto Macmillan Singers. This magnificent oratorio is not to be missed.

On April 9 2 pm at the Glenn Gould Studio, Sinfonia Toronto presents Favourite Fireworks! - an eclectic program of orchestral pieces by Mozart, Saint Saens, Waxman, Schmidt, Piazzolla and Shostakovich featuring violinist Xiaohan Guo and pianist Heather Schmidt. Finally, the Off Centre Music Salon under the co-directorship of Inna and Boris Zarankin presents Klezmer On the Roof! - a program of "Jewish Music", with soprano Joni Henson, mezzo Annamaria Popescu, accordionist Joseph Macerollo and the David Buchbinder Ensemble. For details and tickets, go to


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Toronto Summer Music Festival Announces its Fifth Anniversary 2010 Programme

Photo: Agnes Grossmann, Artistic Director, Toronto Summer Music Academy and Festival

I just received an exciting press release from Toronto Summer Musical Festival. Now in its Fifth Season, this festival fills a big void in Toronto's music scene. With the absence of a summer home for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and with both the National Ballet of Canada and the Canadian Opera Company in hiatus, there is a dearth of classical music activities in town. Thanks to TSMF, Torontonians don't have to travel for their music fix. I'm sorry to say that, for the second year in a row, there won't be any staged opera from TSMF. But my disappointment is assuaged by the presence of the great German baritone Matthias Goerne, who is making one of his infrequent visits to our city. He is giving a recital with pianist Andreas Haefliger on July 27. The last time I heard Goerne in Toronto was April 2004, during the sad winter and spring of SARS in Toronto. Many artists, fearing an epidemic, cancelled their appearances at the time. But to his great credit, Matthias Goerne fulfilled his obligations and showed up at Roy Thomson Hall. He sang beautifully a program of Mahler with the symphony, if memory serves. Incidentally, Goerne is giving a public masterclass on July 26, 7 - 10 pm in Walter Hall - not to be missed!

Other vocal delights this summer include an evening of German lieder with three of Canada's brightest singers- tenor Colin Ainsworth, soprano Lesley Ann Bradley and baritone Peter McGillivray. Another interesting concert is a TSMF-commissioned piece, Song of the Earth, by Canadian composer Glenn Buhr. Soloists are Romanian alto Roxana Constantinescu and tenor Gordon Gietz. This is paired with Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde (chamber version). This takes place on August 7th.

For more information, go to

See below for the complete press release:


“…a virtual oasis in the musical desert of the Toronto summer.”
—The Globe and Mail

2010 marks the fifth annual TORONTO SUMMER MUSIC FESTIVAL (TSMF), and Artistic Director Agnes Grossmann is delighted to unveil her plans for this year’s edition devoted to the theme Songs of the Earth. The Festival takes place in downtown Toronto from July 20 to August 13, and features an array of Canadian and international stars including Matthias Goerne, Andreas Haefliger, Anton Kuerti, Menahem Pressler, Connie Shih and Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi; top flight international chamber ensembles the Pacifica String Quartet, the Vienna Piano Trio, the Gryphon Trio and the Penderecki String Quartet; and four imaginative concert programmes that combinemusic with an added dimension: the Bunraku Bay Puppet Troupe from the United States together with Japan’s Imada Puppet Troupe; The Art of Time Ensemble with musical transformations based on Korngold-inspired themes; a tribute to the legendary choreographer, the late Pina Bausch, with a film of her ballet set to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring projected as duo-pianists Anagnoson and Kinton perform the composer’s chamber version of this volcanic dance score; and the Gryphon Trio with James Campbell performing Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time against the backdrop of evocative paintings by Stephen Hutchings. Another highlight of the Festival will be a performance of Mahler’s masterpiece, Song of the Earth in the Schoenberg/Rhien chamber version. Landmark anniversaries of composers Schumann, Chopin and Mahler will be celebrated in concert programmes throughout the four-week Festival, which includes the world-premiere of a new Mahler-inspired work by Glenn Buhr.
“As the Toronto Summer Music Festival enters its fifth season, I am truly thrilled with the opportunity to share these 13 concerts inspired by the theme Songs of the Earth. With Mahler’s eponymous masterpiece as my cue, I have selected music that celebrates the beauties of the earth and reflects the profound love that many of the featured composers felt for nature. I am sure that audiences will find these concerts fascinating, engaging and thought-provoking,” says Agnes Grossmann.

Toronto Summer Music Festival at a Glance
Honouring two of the most inspiring piano-composers of the Romantic era
July 20, 8 pm at Koerner Hall
Anton Kuerti, piano
Master pianist and 2007 Schumann prize-winner Anton Kuerti launches the 2010 festival with a solo homage to Schumann’s 200th anniversary. Praised as “one of the truly great pianists of this century” (CD Review, London), Kuerti’s past three Festival appearances have sold out. His gala performance in the superb acoustics of Koerner Hall on a brand new Hamburg Steinway includes Schumann’s Novelettes, Op. 21, Sonata No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op. 11, the Fantasy in C major, Op. 17, and the Toccata in C major, Op. 7. July 27, 8 pm at Koerner Hall
Masters of Song — Matthias Goerne, baritone and Andreas Haefliger, piano
6:45 pm: pre-concert talk with Dr. Ryan McClelland
Known as “perhaps the greatest Lieder singer of our day,” (Chicago Sun-Times), baritone Matthias Goerne makes his highly anticipated Festival debut. He is joined by his long-time collaborator, the superb pianist Andreas Haefliger in a programme of Lieder including Schumann’s Three Songs to texts by Heinrich Heine, Liederkreis, Op. 24, and Brahms Lieder, Op. 32. Haefliger also performs the Three Intermezzi, Op. 117 — among the best-loved of Brahms’ music for solo piano. August 3, 8 pm at MacMillan Theatre
Piano Legends — André Laplante, piano
6:45 pm: pre-concert talk with Don Anderson
One of the great Romantic pianists of our time, André Laplante returns to the Festival to pay tribute to the Chopin bicentenary. He performs the rarely-heard chamber version of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11 with string quartet. Franz Liszt’s Book 2 Pilgrimages (Italy), which was inspired by timeless masterpieces of painting, sculpture and poetry by Raphael, Michelangelo, Petrarch and Dante, completes the programme.
August 10, 8 pm at Walter Hall
Romantic Duo — Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi, cello and Connie Shih, piano
6:45 pm: pre-concert talk with Dr. Robin Elliott
Japan’s revered cellist Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi returns to share the stage with the Canadian-born,
Germany-based young pianist, Connie Shih. The programme features virtuoso Romantic cello
sonatas by Mendelssohn and Chopin and is completed by folk-flavoured selections including
Schumann’s Five Pieces in Folk Style, Op. 102 and Chopin’s Introduction and Polonaise brillante in C major, Op. 3.
Wednesday concert:
August 4, 8:00 pm at MacMillan Theatre
An Evening of German Art Song — Colin Ainsworth, tenor; Leslie Ann Bradley, soprano;
Peter McGillivray, baritone This celebration of German art song features three of Toronto’s most remarkable and accomplished young Lied-singers. The programme includes some of the most beautiful songs by Robert Schumann, and shows the evolution of German art song into the 20th century through Hugo Wolf and Richard Strauss.
Thursday series: MUSIC PLUS SERIES
Music experienced through multi-disciplinary forms
July 22, 8:00 pm at MacMillan Theatre
Music & Theatre — Buraku Bay Puppet Troupe and Imada Puppet Troupe
6:45 pm: pre-concert talk with Martin Holman
Bunraku [boon-rah-koo]: a vivid, sophisticated style of puppet theatre that originated in Japan more than 300 years ago. TSMF is thrilled to present the Toronto premiere of the only American troupe that performs traditional Japanese Bunraku puppetry. The Bunraku Bay Puppet Troupe is joined by its Ina Valley, Japanbased mentors, the Imada Puppet Troupe, which was founded in 1704. Using half life-size puppets and accompanied by chanted narration and music played on traditional instruments, the two companies perform a series of delightful, inspiring short plays. Chicago Weekly praised the Bunraku Bay Troupe’s “wonder in craftsmanship and coordination,” remarking, “the entrance was enough to send chills down everyone’s spines ....”
July 29, 8:00 pm at Walter Hall
Musical Transformations — Erich Korngold: Source and Inspiration
Andrew Burashko and Art of Time Ensemble
6:45 pm: pre-concert talk with Andrew Burashko
Andrew Burashko and the Art of Time Ensemble performances have earned the reputation for being among Toronto’s most engaging concert experiences, with programs that are thought-provoking and compelling. TSMF is proud to present Art of Time’s programme inspired by Erich Korngold, the father of the classic Hollywood film score. Korngold’s Suite, Op. 23 for Two Violins, Cello and Piano anchors the evening. A performance of six contemporary songs inspired by Korngold’s Suite are performed by their composers, the singer-songwriters Martin Tielli, “who paints aural pictures from the heart” (Chart Attack), John Southworth, who is “delightfully eccentric, and seems to have emerged out of a time vacuum,” (New York Press), and Danny Michel, “one of this country’s most undiscovered musical treasures.” (Toronto Star).
August 5, 8:00 pm at Walter Hall
Music & Dance — James Anagnoson, piano and Leslie Kinton, piano
This performance is presented in memory of choreographer Pina Bausch (1940–2009)
6:45 pm: pre-concert talk with Michael Crabb
The dynamic combination of dance on film with live music promises an unforgettable experience.
The Festival honours the celebrated modern choreographer Pina Bausch, who died in 2009, with a film of her thrilling ballet set to Stravinsky’s 1912 landmark composition The Rite of Spring that forever changed the way we listen to music. Festival favourites, the piano duo Anagnoson and Kinton perform the composer’s four-hand piano transcription of the score. The programme includes cornerstones of the two-piano repertoire: Brahms’s Haydn Variations and the spectacular Suite No. 2 by Rachmaninoff.
August 12, 8:00 pm at MacMillan Theatre
Music & Painting — Gryphon Trio with James Campbell, clarinet
6:45 pm: pre-concert talk with Stephen Hutchings
One of Canada’s pre-eminent chamber ensembles, the Gryphon Trio returns to the Festival following four previous sold-out concerts. In the grand finale to the 2010 Festival, they are joined by clarinetist James Campbell to perform Olivier Messiaen’s prophetic Quartet for the End of Time. Paintings by artist Stephen Hutchings, inspired by Messiaen’s music, will be projected above them. The Trio closes the Festival with a final song of the earth, Schumann’s Piano Trio No. 2 in F major, Op. 80.
Friday concert
July 30, 8 pm at Walter Hall
New Compositions — Penderecki String Quartet
6:45 pm: pre-concert talk with Dr. Glenn Buhr
Canada’s renowned Penderecki String Quartet continuously pushes the envelope of their musical
medium with repertoire that ranges from Brahms and Britten to collaborations with a wide spectrum of contemporary musicians from trip-hop performer DJ Spooky to Chinese pipa player, Ching Wong. For this concert, the Quartet performs works by four emerging composers who are in residence at this year’s Toronto Summer Music Academy. The programme also includes Quartet No. 4 by Academy composition coach, Glenn Buhr.
Concerts created around the music of Gustav Mahler
July 24, 8:00 pm at Walter Hall
Mahler & Friends — Vienna Piano Trio with Sharon Wei, viola
6:45 pm: pre-concert talk with Dr. Robin Elliott
The Vienna Piano Trio, hailed by BBC Music Magazine for performances that are “quite simply,
stunning,” presents a programme of early works by composers who enjoyed close ties. Arnold
Schoenberg’s love poem Transfigured Night is paired with Piano Trio, Op. 3 by Alexander Zemlinsky and Mahler’s one-movement Piano Quartet in A minor.
July 31, 8:00 pm at MacMillan Theatre
Mahler’s Heroes and Admirer —Pacifica String Quartet with Menahem Pressler, piano
6:45 pm: pre-concert talk with Dr. Colin Eatock
Profound experience joins hands with youthful passion in this concert, as revered pianist Menahem Pressler – who toured the world for more than 50 years as a member of the illustrious Beaux Arts Trio – teams up with the brilliant young artists of the Grammy Award-winning Pacifica String Quartet. They salute the Mahler anniversary with music by two of the composers he most admired – Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 6 in B flat major, Op. 18, No.6, and Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op. 44. The String Quartet No. 3 in F major, Op. 73 by Shostakovich — a composer who was deeply influenced by Mahler — completes this programme.
August 7, 8:00 pm at MacMillan Theatre
Song of the Earth — Roxana Constantinescu, mezzo-soprano, Gordon Gietz, tenor
TSM Festival Ensemble
6:45 pm: pre-concert talk with Dr. Jürgen Thym
The stunning Romanian alto Roxana Constantinescu and the outstanding tenor Gordon Gietz are
the featured artists in Song of the Earth, a TSMF-commissioned vocal work by the prominent
Canadian composer Glenn Buhr. It is paired with a chamber version of Mahler’s monumental Das Lied von der Erde, the work that provided the thematic anchor for the entire 2010 festival.
Public Master Classes Rewarding behind-the-scenes experiences, master classes offer insight into the development of exceptional musicians. Observers may attend and listen as top artists pass along their musical expertise to artists in the Toronto Summer Music Academy. $20 per master class.
Vienna Piano Trio —Friday July 23, 3:00 - 6:00 pm at Edward Johnson Building, Room 330
Matthias Goerne — Monday July 26, 7:00 - 10:00 pm at Walter Hall
Menahem Pressler — Sunday August 1, 10:00 am - 1:00 pm at Walter Hall
Pacifica String Quartet — Sunday, August 1, 2:30 - 5:30 pm at Walter Hall
Janos Starker — Sunday, August 8, 11:00 am - 1:00 pm at Remenyi House of Music
Rising Stars In Concert — FREE!
Wednesday, July 28, 7:30 pm at Walter Hall
The Festival is proud to present excellent up-and-coming musicians in a FREE concert as they
interpret some of the most moving and challenging pieces in the repertoire.
Emerging Artists in Concert at Walter Hall — FREE!
Wednesdays at 12:30 pm on July 21, July 28, August 4 and August 11
Fridays at 7:30 pm on July 23, August 6, August 13
Saturday July 31 at 2:00 pm
TSMF offers a series of FREE concerts featuring emerging artists at the threshold of their
professional careers. These exceptional musicians study with Festival performers in master classes at the Toronto Summer Music Academy.
Toronto Summer Music Festival 2010
July 20 Anton Kuerti, piano
July 22 Bunraku Bay Puppet Troupe and Imada Puppet Troupe
July 24 Vienna Piano Trio
July 27 Matthias Goerne and Andreas Haefliger
July 29 Andrew Burashko and The Art of Time Ensemble
July 30 Penderecki String Quartet
July 31 Pacifica String Quartet and Menahem Pressler, piano
August 3 André Laplante, piano
August 4 Peter McGillivray, baritone, Colin Ainsworth, tenor and Leslie Ann Bradley, soprano August 5 James Anagnoson and Leslie Kinton, piano duo / Pina Bausch film
August 7 Roxana Constantinescu, alto, Gordon Gietz, tenor and TSM Festival Ensemble
August 10 Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi, cello and Connie Shih, piano
August 12 Gryphon Trio and James Campbell, clarinet
Festival passes ($130 - $345) and single tickets ($30 - $75) are available at or by calling (416) 408-0208.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

This Week in Toronto (March 29 - April 4)

Yefim Bronfman (Photo: Dario Acosta)

This being Easter Week, the music scene is heavy on sacred works, in venues large and small. A good choice is Toronto Mendelssohn Choir's Sacred Music for a Sacred Place, on Good Friday, April 2, 7:30 pm at St. Paul's Basilica. Noel Edison conducts a program of more contemporary sacred pieces by Arvo Part, Eric Whitacre, Pavel Lukaszewski and Timothy Corliss. Rick Phillips presents a pre-concert chat at 6:50 pm. For ticket information, go to

If you aren't into religious music, here's the antithesis of Sacred Music - the Toronto Symphony Orchestra has TSO Goes Vegas: A Jackpot of Vegas Hits! Three shows, on March 31, 8 pm and again on April 1 at 2 pm and 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall.Taken directly from the TSO website, "Jack Everly returns with a jackpot of hip Vegas hits, include Luck Be a Lady, Big Spender, Viva Las Vegas, My Way, and Lady is a Tramp. He is joined by a cast of showgirls and high rollers, including stars from Broadway and the Vegas Strip, and Mr. Showmanship himself, Martin Preston, as the legendary Liberace. It's Vegas, Baby - Symphony Style!" Gotta hand it to the TSO for innovative programming!

Tafelmusik continues with its Enchantress program starring Quebec soprano Karina Gauvin singing selections from Handel's Alcina. It moves to the George Weston Recital Hall for a single performance on March 30, 8 pm.

Pianist Yefim Bronfman is making a welcome return to Toronto on April 1 8 pm, this time in a recital at the new Koerner Hall of the Royal Conservatory of Music. On the program are Beethoven's 32 Variations, plus sonatas by Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Schumann.

The Esprit Orchestra presents an all-Canadian concert, A 'aventure! on March 31, 8 pm at the Jane Mallett Theatre. On the program are music by Evangelista,Gougeon, and Schafer, with Robert Aitken on the flute and Erika Raum on the violin. Alex Pauk conducts.

Finally, a brief report on an interesting event - Sir Ernest MacMillan Memorial Foundation Orchestral Conducting Award for 2010 is presently being chosen March 29, Monday afternoon 3:15 - 6:00 pm at the MacMillan Theatre, Edward Johnson Building, University of Toronto. The three finalists are Ghassan Alaboud (Montreal), Genevieve Leclair (Montreal) and Matthew Otto (Toronto). They will rehearse with the University of Toronto Symphony Orchestra for between 30 and 45 minutes in selections from Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14. Jury panel members are Victor Feldbrill, Tania Miller, Alain Trudel and David Briskin (chair). At 6:15 pm, the Tokai String Quartet, winners of the 2004 MacMillan Award in Chamber Music, will be performing Britten and MacMillan while the jury deliberates. After the winner is announced, there will be a reception open to the public. Admission is free but donations welcome.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Auspicious Concert Launch for Wish Opera

Wish Opera Launch Concert Programme Cover

Curtain call - (l. to r.) Vania Chan, Tonia Cianciulli, Sabatino Vacca, Deirdre Kelly, Sinead Sugrue, Jennifer Fina, Theodore Baerg

Auspicious Concert Launch for Wish Opera

Joseph K. So

Saturday March 27, 8 pm, Sandra Faire and Ivan Fecan Theatre, York University
Ermanno Mauro, tenor; Theodore Baerg, baritone; Ambur Braid, soprano; Jennifer Fina, mezzo; Sinead Sugrue, soprano; Vanvia Chan, soprano
Orchestra conducted by Sabatino Vacca
Deirdre Kelly, Emcee

Don Giovanni Overture - Orchestra
"Non mi dir" Don Giovanni, Ambur Braid
"Non piu mesta" La Cenerentola, Jennifer Fina
"Largo al factotum" Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Theodore Baerg
"Dunge io son" Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Jennifer Fina and Theodore Baerg
"Qui la voce" I Puritani, Sinead Sugrue
"Ch'ella mi creda" La fanciulla del West, Ermanno Mauro
"Soud le dome epais" Lakme, Jennifer Fina, Vania Chan
"Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" Land of Smiles, Sinead Sugrue, Ermanno Mauro
West Side Story Medley - Orchestra
Olympia's Aria Les contes d'Hoffmann, Vania Chan
"O zittre nicht" Die Zauberfloete, Ambur Braid
"Ah fors'e lui...Sempre libera" La Traviata, Sinead Sugrue
"Di provenza" La Traviata, Theodore Baerg
"Vesti la giubba" I Pagliacci, Ermanno Mauro
"Soave sia il vento" Cosi fan tutte, Sinead Sugrue, Jennifer Fina, Theodore Baerg

The mission of the newly minted Wish Opera is to create "a modern vision of opera by fusing the existing beauty of operatic sound with contemporary fashion and design. As its Executive Director Tonia Cianciulli said to the audience at the beginning of the performance last evening, this new initiative has been a dream of hers for a long time. It came to fruition in two launch concerts at the intimate surroundings of the Sandra Faire and Ivan Fecan Theatre on the York University campus this week.

I saw the second show, on Saturday. It starred a mixture of emerging singers and experience veterans, in a varied program from the opera, operetta, and musical theater genres. In addition to the orchestra, the stage was tastefully decorated with contemporary furniture and art work on the two sides, serving as staging areas for the soloists. The six women - four singers plus Cianciulli and Emcee Deirdre Kelly - appeared in a succession of smashing high fashion gowns. All four female singers sang a challenging repertoire, each brought to the stage her unique gift of a beautiful voice and lovely stage presence. There were many highlights, but I particularly enjoyed Sinead Sugrue in "Ah fors'e lui...Sempre libera", Ambur Braid in "O zittre nicht" and the crystalline tones of soubrette Vania Chan in Olympia's Aria. Jennifer Fina also impressed with her rich timbre and wide range in "Non piu mesta".

The two men of the evening are veterans of the opera stage. Tenor Ermanno Mauro proved that at the grand age of 71, he can still produce a powerful and vital sound and plenty of dramatic intensity, bringing the house down with his "Vesti la giubba." Deputizing for an indisposed James Westman, Theodore Baerg was his ebullient self in a vocally suave and dramatically vivid "Largo al factotum". The evening ended with the trio from Cosi, "Soave sia il vento", a symbolic send-off of Wish Opera to a smooth voyage into the future. Given the current economic climate and the ever-diminishing government support to the arts, any private endeavor like Wish Opera deserves the support of opera and art lovers in Toronto. This new company is planning to stage Mozart's Don Giovanni in two performances on June 24 and 26. Stay tuned!


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Review: Spanish Maestro Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos Returns to Toronto

Conductor Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos (Photo courtesy of Columbia Artists Management)

Review: Spanish Maestro Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos returns to Toronto

Joseph K. So

We are in an era of the "youth movement" in conducting, witness the ascent of wunderkinder the likes of Gustavo Dudamel, Yannick Nezet-Seguin and Philippe Jordan, just to name a few. Yet, conductors are like fine wine - they get better with age, or if they are great to begin with, the best ones have staying power. This is certainly true with Spaniard Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos. Born in Burgos, Spain in 1933 and trained in Spain and Germany, de Burgos at 76 is an elder statesman among conductors, having led many of the great orchestras of the world, including a stint as the chief conductor of the Montreal Symphony in the pre-Charles Dutoit era. Colourful and flamboyant are oft-used adjectives to describe the conducting style of de Burgos - it seems that he is incapable of making ugly sounds. Among conductors, his fluid and graceful movements make him a joy to watch. Despite the aforementioned youth movement, de Burgos is still around and going strong, his energy and charisma in full display this evening, the first of his two performances with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

The first half of the evening’s program consisted of two Spanish pieces – Joaquin Turina’s La Oracion del torero, Op. 34, and the famous Concierto de Aranjuez by Rodrigo. Originally composed in 1925 for string quartet, it was later adapted for string orchestra and is one of Turina's most popular pieces. de Burgos gave a masterful reading of the score, bringing out the lush, Debussy-like lyricism of the work. This was followed by arguably the most popular piece of the evening - Concierto de Aranjuez. The appearance of Pepe Romero elicited quite a stir from the large audience. Pepe Romero is of course a member of the legendary Romero family that dominated classical guitar for generations. I recall my undergrad days attending many Angel Romero’s concerts on campus, hearing him play many pieces including the Concierto de Aranjuez. The magical second movement remains one of the most evocative in all of classical repertoire. There is no denying that the large Roy Thomson Hall isn’t an ideal venue for the guitar, an instrument that requires a more intimate space. The soloist was discreetly miked, and de Burgos held down the orchestra for him. A beloved figure, the audience was very supportive of Romero, although I feel that at 66, he has lost a bit of the fleetness in his fingers, more noticeable in the first movement, which came across as rather choppy and tentative. The long second movement with it exquisite lyricism went considerably better. With such wondrous music, it's hard to criticize! The audience clearly loved him and gave him a standing ovation.

The centerpiece of the evening was Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, which took up all of the second half. This piece is considered by many to be the composer's signature work. It certainly is a staple in the standard repertoire. The composer revised it several times between 1830 and 1855. In the 1855 version, Berlioz was supposedly under the influence of opium, through which he saw visions which inspired the central themes of the work. This massive work with its five moments can be challenging for any conductor, but de Burgos held it together beautifully, bringing out fully the lyricism without sacrificing the intensity inherent in the score. He was rewarded with sustained ovations at the end. All in all, a most enjoyable evening of music-making.

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Strauss's Don Quixote Brought to Life by Bay and Austin Symphony

What a revolutionary idea it was to provide surtitles (“translated or transcribed lyrics/dialogue projected above a stage or displayed on a screen”) in the opera house! All of a sudden, people actually understood what was going on. An art form that had been forbidding and impenetrable for millions was transformed into something welcoming and meaningful. Shame on the Karajans and Levines who, for whatever reason, delayed that monumental breakthrough in communication.

I believe the concert hall could use the same communication overhaul afforded the opera house. To my mind, vocal works should always have surtitles; most often, they do not. To take it a step further, as conductor Peter Bay demonstrated in Austin with StraussDon Quixote this week, many purely orchestral works could also benefit enormously from surtitles.

Richard Strauss’s great tone poem Don Quixote, like most of his orchestral music, has a story or programme attached. The work is based on episodes from Don Quixote, the classic novel by Miguel de Cervantes. Curiously, in his notes for this Austin Symphony concert at the Long Center, David Mead never once mentioned Cervantes.

A Verbal Match for Musical Humour

Much of the enjoyment of Don Quixote springs from an understanding of the episode that is being depicted at any given moment. Strauss complicates Cervantes’ scenarios by casting his tone poem in the form of a theme or themes and variations, with each variation flowing into the next without pause. The listener is hard put to know which episode from the Cervantes’ novel is being portrayed at any given time.

Peter Bay solved this problem by using surtitles, a practice frequently used in performances of this piece, but never, in my experience, this effectively. The surtitles, on this occasion, gave the audience far more than a simple headline for each variation/episode. In a few carefully chosen words and at just the right moments (setups followed by punchlines), they also revealed much of the humour present in the music. Audience members clearly loved the process since they readily laughed in all the right places - a phenomenon I had never before witnessed in performances of Don Quixote.

Again, the programme book erred in failing to mention the person responsible for this brilliant contribution to our understanding. In fact, the text for the surtitles was written by Maestro Peter Bay. Technical operation (assuring that text and music meshed perfectly) was by Susan Threadgill of the Austin Lyric Opera. The work of this pair was so good that it could be used as a model for other orchestras and other works in the repertoire.

The Austin Symphony was substantially enlarged for this performance of Don Quixote, with many more strings, including no fewer than eight double basses - additions which made a huge difference in the depth and timbre of the string sound. The entire orchestra played superbly and the solo parts, taken by section leaders, were equally good. Violist Bruce Williams made a colorful Sancho Panza and the extraordinarily gifted young cellist, Douglas Harvey, (photo: right) played Don Quixote with his usual impeccable technical command and beautiful tone. In short, this performance of Stauss’s brilliant tone poem was entirely worthy of the imaginative effort that went into the surtitles.

Harvey’s Dying Don Quixote not Altogether Credible

I do have one small quibble, however; it seemed to me that the expression of the final section of the piece was a little on the formal side for what should be one of the most poignant moments in the classical repertoire.

Strauss was a master of writing deeply moving orchestral and operatic epilogues and in Don Quixote he has given us one of the best of them. These epilogues are often nostalgic reflections on lives lived and loves lost and in this case, of a life lived in fantasy and delusion.

We can all relate to Strauss’s themes to some degree and so we see and hear in Don Quixote’s music the sobering recognition of what could have been and will never be. Strauss indicates in the score that this music is to be played expressively, quietly, for the most part, and with the tempo getting slower and slower as the moment of death approaches.

I suspect that when Douglas Harvey returns to this piece later in his life, this section will mean more to him and he will give the music a more personal character. What is needed is a slower tempo, to be sure, but also a more inward quality perhaps achieved through a greater use of tonal colors and more flexibility in the phrasing.

As always, of course, there is a fine line between genuine depth of feeling and tasteless sentimentality. For example, Strauss himself cautioned cellists performing this piece against drawing out the final glissando inordinately. Like any great masterpiece, however, Don Quixote cannot possibly yield up all its riches in any single performance; for both performer and audience, there is always more to discover.

Maestro Peter Bay deserves credit, not only for rehearsing the ASO to such a high standard in this detailed and complex repertoire, but also for his imaginative programming.

Stories and Music from Dukas and Tchaikovsky

On the first half of the program were two other well-known works inspired by literature: Dukas The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet. Together with Strauss’ Don Quixote, these three are very successful examples of their genre and give the audience a good deal to ponder with regard to how words and ideas can be translated into music.

The Dukas piece, as Maestro Bay pointed out in his pre-performance remarks, is already a vivid memory for many as portrayed on the screen by Walt Disney, with Mickey Mouse as the hapless apprentice. For many, Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet is also familiar from classroom study, theatrical productions or screen adaptations. By contrast, Cervantes’ Don Quixote is unlikely to have been studied by many at school, at least in North America. Those listeners who are familiar with the work, probably know the highly successful Broadway musical version (Man of La Mancha), or the movie version starring Peter O’Toole as a truly memorable Don Quixote.

Overall, one might say that this evening’s programme was a ‘popular’ one. But at the same time, each of these three works is a classical masterpiece and deserves to be taken seriously. And so they were.

I have written at length about Don Quixote. The other pieces also deserve discussion. Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a tightly-constructed orchestral scherzo that builds inexorably in excitement and has a programme (or story) that is easy to follow in the music. The piece is also notable for the brilliance of its orchestration. Bay and the ASO gave us a very good performance, albeit a tad too careful to be as exciting as it can be.

The same could be said of Romeo and Juliet. The performance was disciplined and well-balanced where it could have been intense and passionate. The final timpani roll was uneven and the punctuating chords half-hearted and anti-climactic. In my experience, the sustained power desired here is best accomplished by using two sets of timpani.

Paul E. Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar, and Sir Georg Solti: His Life and Music, both available at

Photo: Maestro Peter Bay and Austin Symphony rehearsal by Marita