La Scena Musicale

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: May 31 (Verrett, Farrenc)

1931 - Shirley Verrett, New Orleans, U.S.A.; opera and recital soprano

Wiki entry
Home Page

Shirley Verrett sings "Pace, pace mio Dio" from Verdi's La Forza del Destino (Orchestre Philarmonique des Pays de la Loire, Marc Soustroc conductor, 1989)

1804 - Louise Farrenc, Paris, France; composer

Wiki entry
Women of Note
Why Did Her Music Fade?

Louise Farrenc - Piano Quintet (Charity concert in Berneck, Switzerland)

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: May 30 (London, Oliveros)

1920 - George London, Montreal, Canada; concert and opera bass-baritone

Wiki entry
Biography & pictures

George London (Scarpia) and Maria Callas (Tosca) in Act 2 of Puccini's Tosca (1956 Telecast. New York. Dimitri Mitropoulos conductor)

1930 - Pauline Oliveros, Houston, U.S.A.; accordionist and composer

Wiki entry
Biography and more

Pauline Oliveros On Deep Listening

Pauline Oliveros plays at Cal State, Sacramento

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: May 29 (Albéniz, Korngold)

1860 - Isaac Albéniz, Camprodon (Catalania), Spain; pianist and composer

Wiki entry
Life and Music

Leyenda (Asturias) played by Andres Segovia

Malagueña played by Edgardo Roffé (2003)

1897 - Erich Korngold, Brünn, Moravia (today, Brno, The Czech Republic); composer

Wiki entry
Unofficial website

Hilary Hahn plays Korngold Violin Concerto in D major, 3rd mvt. (Deutsche Symphonie Orchestra, cond. Kent Nagano)

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Winners of the Montreal International Music Competition 2008 (Piano Edition)

After following the excitement the past week at home in Toronto, I decided to drive the six hours to Montreal to witness the event live. I am glad I did. The atmosphere in the Theatre Maisonneuve was simply electric this evening, with an excellent house, certainly better attended than the Chant 2007 finals last year. Tonight was the second of two nights of finals, with three candidates performing.

First up was Elizabeth Schumann (USA), playing Chopin piano concerto no. 1. A stylish pianist, Schumann does not possess the big technique like some of the other finalists - she wins points through elegant and poetic playing, her forte. On this particular evening, she unfortunately had an off-night. I found her playing lacked the depth of tone that one has come to expect at this level of competition. It didn't generate much excitement. The most damaging moment occured in the third movement, when a memory lapse caused her to come to a dead stop. Conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni had to wait for her to re-start. A memory lapse can happen to any artist, but at a competitive situation, it is truly unfortunate. Incidentally, at the semi-finals, Ms. Schumann had a disastrous experience in the Schumann-Liszt Widmung. With only 90 seconds to go before the end of her program, she "got stuck" at one point and it took her five or six tries to get going again. Her uninspired performance this evening is likely something Ms. Schumann would rather forget as soon as possible. Nevertheless, the audience generously applauded her.

Things picked up tremendously with the next candidate, Russian Alexandre Moutouzkine, playing the Rachmaninoff 3rd. He was everything that Schumann was not. He may not be a particularly subtle pianist, but his dazzling technique simply blows you away. Most piano aficionados would agree that Rach 3 is the Mount Everest of piano concertos, at least in terms of technical demands. Well, Mr.Moutouzkind scaled it triumphantly, as if it is childs play. He stunned the audience with his jaw-dropping, stupendous technique - the sheer power and elan of his playing has to be experienced to be believed.

I have to say I had Alexandre Moutouzkine as my first prize winner up to this point. But I made up my mind too soon. The third and final candidate of the competition was Armenian pianist Nareh Arghamanyan. At 19 she is the youngest of the competitors. From the first chord on, it was clear that she was an artist to be reckoned with. She played with an equally big technique, but her playing was not just about technique - it was also about playing the music. Her involvement was total and uncompromising. You can tell she lived and breathed the moment, not just playing it with her fingers. She played as if possessed. I swear it came from her soul. Normally I am not fond of pianists with a lot of twitchy or quirky body movements, but with Ms. Arghamanyan, one immediately senses that it is all real, there is nothing phony or fake about it. It's very much part of her music making. Her playing was as poetic and it was prodigious technically. Here we have a complete artist - at 19!

With such phenomenal displays of artistry from several of the candidates the two evenings, it didn't take the jury long to decide. By 10:45, the audience was called back to their seats. With the nine jurors seated onstage, Mr. Simon Durivage announced the winners. When he announced that the First Prize went to Ms. Arghamanyan, the hall erupted in vociferous applause. It was an entirely deserving triumph. Although I have to say I had a soft spot for Moutouzkine. I thought it might be a tie between Arghamanyan and Moutouzkine. As it turned out, Moutouzkine was tied with Japanese pianist Masataka Takada in second place. No Third Prize was awarded, the prize money of which was added to that for Second Prize and divided equally for the two Second Prize winners.

I am kind of sorry that Sara Daneshpour didn't make it to the winner's circle. She gave a very fine performance last evening, but then the Japanese Takada was equally deserving, and perhaps just that much better. Canadian Sergei Saratovsky, as the best in the comptetion, will win the $5000 Best performance for a Canadian.

There are still prizes to be awarded - The Joseph Rouleau Award, the Best Interpretation of the Imposed Piece (Fast Forward by Alexina Louie), and the People's choice Award. I will hazard a guess - a strong candidate for the People's Choice Award may well be Alexandre Moutouzkine. We will find out on Thursday, during the Gala Concert. Stay tuned!

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Today's Birthdays in Music: May 28 (Fischer-Dieskau, Souliotis)

1925 - Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Berlin, Germany; lieder and opera baritone

Wiki entry
Biography & pictures

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, accompanied by Sviatoslav Richter, sings Schubert's "Fischerweise" (1978)

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Barak) and Inge Borkh (Die Frau) in Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten (1963)

1943 - Elena Souliotis, Athens, Greece; opera soprano

Wiki entry

Elena Souliotis sings "Ben io t'invenni" from Verdi's Nabucco (Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, 1965)

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: May 27 (Champagne, Halévy, Musgrave)

1891 - Claude Champagne, Montreal, Canada; composer, educator


1799 - Jacques Halévy, Paris, France; opera composer (La Juive)

Wiki entry

Neil Shicoff sings "Raquel, quand du Seigneur" from La Juive

1928 - Thea Musgrave, Edinburgh, Scotland; composer


Thea Musgrave: Voices of Power and Protest (world premiere)

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Bramwell Tovey’s Rally Speech

This past Saturday, May 24th, 2008 saw a significant protest against the dumbing down of CBC Radio II on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery. The event saw many musical performances, as well as many speeches by som eof Canada's most important classical music figures. One of the most eloquent and thoughtful speeches was given by VSO conductor Bramwell Tovey reprinted below:

To whom it may concern:

I write to you as the longest-serving music director of a major Canadian orchestra, having served in that position with the Winnipeg Symphony (from 1989 to 2001)and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestras (from 2000 onwards.) Additionally, I was principal guest conductor of the Calgary Philharmonic from 1995-1998 and co-founder of the Winnipeg New Music Festival. I am also Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl and Founder and Conductor (since 2004) of the New York Philharmonic’s annual Summertime Classics festival at Lincoln Centre in New York.

CBC Radio 2 is in dire straits. Loyal listeners are abandoning ship. On Easter Sunday a performance of J.S.Bach’s B minor Mass by a European ensemble was followed by a song from Johnny Cash. Such a lurch of programming would guarantee failure at any box office in the real world. This style of programming forms the core of the new schedules on CBC Radio 2 and is the result of a surfeit of management consultants.

Protesting financial problems, the CBC has abandoned its own 70 year old radio orchestra, an institution born of the need to promote Canadian talent and new music. Exactly a week later the network managed to find the cash to print a self-congratulatory full page ad in the Globe and Mail, extolling itself in partnership with major record companies, none of whom in fact, contribute one cent to the corporation.

Distinguished hosts have been dismissed without regard for the long standing relationships they enjoyed with listeners across the country. Great broadcasters like Manitoba born Eric Friesen who was poached by CBC from a public radio station in the US, and Howard Dyck, distinguished host of Saturday Afternoon at the Opera for 20 years.

These are broadcasters whose knowledge base and dulcet tones guaranteed a welcome into Canadian homes across the country. They were unceremoniously ditched with announcements laced in Orwellian doublespeak about ‘new pursuits’ and ‘tremendous service’. Canadians do not enjoy being treated like fools and everyone knows what’s going on. An ageist agenda that allegedly favours 35-50 year olds is being pursued. CBC became a laughing stock within the music business as it emerged that all kinds of inappropriate people were being pursued by the corporation to take over Saturday Afternoon At The Opera from Howard Dyck.

Lifting management-consultant speak, CBC Radio managers have talked of ‘phase one’, and with no realization of irony, ‘phase two’ as if such unexplained jargon could placate the increasingly disgruntled public. Constantly interrupting programmes (four times an hour in some cases) with self-promoting advertisements, the network mantra is chanted “Everywhere music takes you”. As a distinguished opera singer said to me recently, “It takes me to the off button.”

The changes on the network have amounted to a dereliction of duty on the part of the CBC. It is as if the CRTC, the House of Commons and above all, the Canadian public were not owed deference in what amounts to a wholescale change of emphasis in the way public money is spent. New policy was decided unilaterally by a handful of bureacrats at CBC Radio 2 after a derisory set of focus groups and ‘consultations’.

In seeking to control the debate about Radio 2 programming the network has ruthlessly censored its own blogsites. In May 2007 I submitted a comment to a blog about changes at Saturday Afternoon at the Opera. I received numerous telephone calls and then an email from a senior CBC manager:

“Let’s talk further about what we’re trying to achieve. I’d still be more than happy to post most of what you wrote, but do need to edit out one line, and want your approval to do that before I get Jowi [the supposed editor of the blog] to post. We’re not trying to censor you.” (sic)

Various websites, including on Facebook have blossomed since it was more widely realized that CBC was incapable of listening to criticism.

CBC is a public broacaster with obligations to Canadians that are clearly laid out in the corporation’s mandate. The lack of public debate has been appalling. I am delighted that the Heritage Committee has decided to hold hearings across Canada. I have accepted the invitation to speak next Thursday.

Given the present government’s significant commitment to young artist training that was announced today, the CBC’s decision to programme classical music between 10 am and 3 pm seems particularly churlish. The VSO, for example, performs to 50,000 children every year and is about to open a state of the art music school in downtown Vancouver. Yet none of these children will hear any classical music on Radio 2 since classical music will only be on the airwaves between 10am and 3pm.

Perhaps CBC Radio needs more airwaves on FM to fulfil its national obligations. CBC Radio certainly needs new direction with an ear to public opinion and a vision that does not discard its traditional powerbase. Classical music is very healthy in our country and CBC simply isn’t aware of this.

My youngest daughter is 7 years old. She has been learning the cello at the Vancouver Academy of Music for two years. A little while ago she played “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” at a family party. Her tiny hands pressed gallantly on the strings as her bow found the sounding point on the instrument and she entered the world of self-expression afforded by the language of music. She dreams of playing in our local youth orchestra. As things currently stand, CBC Radio 2 couldn’t care less about her.

Yours truly,

Bramwell Tovey O.M., LLD, FRAM, FRCMT


Today's Birthdays in Music: May 26 (Stratas, Bolcom)

1938 - Teresa Stratas, Toronto, Canada; opera soprano

Wiki entry

Teresa Stratas and Placido Domingo: "Libiam ne' lieti calici" from Verdi's La Traviata (1983 film, directed by Franco Zeffirelli)

Teresa Stratas sings "Alabama Song" from Kurt Weill's The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (Metropolitan Opera production, 1978)

1938 - William Bolcom, Seattle, Washington; composer and pianist

Wiki entry
Biography & pictures

"Serpent's Kiss Rag" from The Garden of Eden by William Bolcom (Georgi Slavchev, pianist; Moscow 2007)

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Montreal International Music Competition announces 6 Finalists

The finalists have been announced for the 2008 Montreal International Music Competition in piano. From left to right in the photo, the finalists are
  • Masataka Takada / Japan (May 26)
  • Elizabeth Schumann / USA (May 27)
  • Sergei Saratovsky / Canada (May 26)
  • Alexandre Moutouzkine / Russia (May 27)
  • Sara Daneshpour / USA (May 26)
  • Nareh Arghamanyan / Armenia (May 27)

The finals will be held over two sessions on May 26 and 27, 2008 at 7:30 p.m. at Theatre Maisonneuve in Montreal, and broadcast live on Espace-musique and CBC Radio 2 and webcast on their respective websites.

On the web
> Montreal International Music Competition
> Espace-musique
> CBC Radio 2

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Is there really too much classical music

The title in Arthur Kaptainis's column in Saturday's Montreal Gazette, Too much classical music, not enough audience, is misleading because the article only talks about too much classical music. I was thinking that my fellow classical music writer was going to launch into a discourse on the lack of music audiences in the concert hall (which may or may not be true), but instead, it was a lament on how many good events are scheduled at the same time, and how it is difficult for a music critic to cover them all. The title was probably created by an overzealous editor, so please don't blame Kaptainis.

While reading the column, I was hoping that Kaptainis would give a plug to the La Scena Musicale calendar. Each month our print calendar publishes over 500-600 listings of concerts, radio and TV programming, so that on any given day there are about 10 concerts happening in Montreal. Our online Canadian Classical Music Calendar ( lists over 7000 listings every year across Canada. Our Toronto rival The Whole Note also publishes about 400-500 listings per month. All this proves that classical music and especially classical music performance is alive and well, and probably exceeds live performances of all other music genres combined. Food for thought also in arguing again changes to CBC Radio 2.

Our online Canadian Classical Music Calendar is the most complete searchable events calendar of its kind in Canada. If you don't already have your event listed there, please don't hesitate to submit your event. It's free.

Over the summer, we are also working on getting our Arts calendar into our searchable database in time for the September back-to-school. If you are interesting in helping, send an email to info[at]


Today's Birthday in Music: May 25 (Sills)

1929 - Beverly Sills, New York, U.S.A.; opera soprano

Wiki entry
Beverly Sills online

Beverly Sills sings:

"Contro un cor che accende amore" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia (1976)

"Spargi d'amaro pianto" from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor (Live telecast 1971)

Portuguese Folk Song: "Tell Me Why" at her Farewell Performance (1980)

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