La Scena Musicale

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cette semaine à Montréal (19 à 25 oct) / This Week in Montreal (October 19 to 25)

Musique, danse, théâtre, etarts plastiques à Montréal cette semaine
Music, dance, theatre, and fine arts in Montreal this week

Theatre: The Segal Centre opens its season with Inherit the Wind, by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee, October 18 to November 8. The play is a fictionalized retelling of the famous “Monkey Trial” of 1925 when a Tennessee school teacher challenged the state law by teaching Charles Darwin’s theories to his students. The trial, hinging on justice, knowledge, and the everlasting fight between science and religion, became one of the greatest trials of the century. —Jessica Hill

Danse : par les GBCM en célébration, l’inoubliable Roméo et Juliette de Jean-Christophe Mailhot, jusqu’au 30 octobre au Maisonneuve. —Aline Apostolska

Théâtre : De l’impossible retour de Léontine en brassière - Depuis 2000, le Groupe de poésie moderne poursuit une démarche ludique fondée sur l’exploration sonore des mots. Cette déconstruction du langage confère à la petite troupe une niche originale. L’argument de leur quatrième spectacle paraît loufoque : la vengeance d’une comédienne renvoyée, pour cause d’âgisme, d’une pièce sur le peintre Paul-Émile Borduas. Jusqu’au 31 octobre, à la salle Jean-Claude-Germain. —Marie Labrecque

Art visuel : Le nu dans l’art moderne canadien, Québec, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, jusqu’au 4 janvier 2010. —Julie Beaulieu

Orchestral music: East Meets West - The Musicians of the World Symphony Orchestra presents East Meets West on October 19 at the Salle Pierre Mercure. Guest performers from China, India, Africa, the Middle East and South America mix traditional and contemporary repertoire from their respective cultures, including The Butterfly Lovers played by MWSO’s violin solo Venus Fu. These musicians will join the MWSO under the direction of Joseph Milo to give a unique performance of Dvořák’s New World Symphony. 514-790-1245, —Hannah Rahimi

Jazz : Mar. 20 Oliver Jones Trio. Salle Astral. (20 h) —Marc Chenard

Jazz : Mer. 21 International Polish Group avec le pianiste Jan Jarczyk. Upstairs Jazz Bar. (20 h 30) —Marc Chenard

Musique d’orchestre : Les 21 et 22 octobre marqueront les débuts au podium du violoniste Maxim Vengerov, qui dirigera les solistes de l’OSM Andrew Wan et Brian Manker dans l’émouvant Double concerto pour violon et violoncelle de Brahms. 514-842-9951, —Hannah Rahimi

Jazz : Jeu. 22 * Trio de la pianiste Julie Lamontagne. Salle Astral. (20 h) [En reprise, 30 octobre, salle André-Mathieu, 475, boul. de l’Avenir (Laval). Info : 450-667-2040] * Félix Stüssi Give Me Five + J.N. Trottier (trb.) La série Les jeudis jazz. Maison de la culture Ahuntsic-Cartierville. (20 h) —Marc Chenard

Chamber music: On September 23, eXcentris reopened with two of its three theatres renovated as live performance venues allowing for an environment of innovation and cooperation between genres, styles and media. Renowned pianist Leon Fleischer inaugurated the hall. There this week: Cecilia String Quartet, Oct. 23. —Wah Keung Chan

Jazz : Sam. 24 * Jean-Nicolas Trottier Big Band. Maison culturelle et communautaire du Montréal-Nord. 328-5640. (20 h) * Projet Weather Report. Jazz bar resto Le dièse onze. (20 h 30) —Marc Chenard

World music : Rythmes irlandais par le ténor Michael Slattery - Direction Dublin et ses pubs avec la compagnie musicale La Nef, le samedi 24 octobre à 20 h. Dowland in Dublin: Lute Songs dans un pub irlandais s’annonce comme une soirée festive et conviviale, sous la direction de Sylvain Bergeron et Sean Dagher. Le ténor Michael Slattery sera de la fête et entonnera des airs issus du pur folklore du pays. La Nef propose depuis sa création en 1991 des concerts puisant tant dans la musique ancienne et nouvelle que la musique du monde. 514-523-3095, —Hannah Rahimi

Jazz : Dim. 25 * Oliver Jones avec les frères Doxas et, de Toronto, le trompettiste invité Guido Basso. Concert présenté dans le cadre de la série Power au Segal Center. 739-7944. (19 h 30) * De New York, le quintette The Story. Upstairs Jazz Bar. (20 h 30) —Marc Chenard

Chamber music: On October 25, a product of Juilliard, the American String Quartet, will be joined by the world-renowned clarinetist Richard Stoltzman in the exquisite Mozart and Brahms clarinet quintets. Pollack Hall. 514-932-6796, —Hannah Rahimi

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Monday, October 12, 2009

This Week in Toronto (October 12 - 18)

Part of the set for The Nightingale, showing the terrace on the right side of the stage. Photo taken at the May 2009 workshop lab in La Caserne, Quebec. (Photo: Viviane Paradis)

The big event for opera lovers this week is the opening of Stravinsky's The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, directed by Canadian Robert Lepage. This is a unique presentation of Stravinksy's 50 minute short opera as the centerpiece, with the addition of several short piecesinto a full evening's entertainment, albeit a rather short one of two hours including an intermission. I attended a press preview/news conference a week and a half ago at the Tanenbaum Opera Centre, where Lepage and the whole creative team (minus the puppet designer Michael Curry) were there to give the media a tantalizing glimpse of the show. A few days ago, I had my first actual experience of the show in a working rehearsal at FSC. Unfortunately, they only rehearsed the first half of the program, so no Nightingale. However, it did give me a good idea what to expect in the finished product, which promises to be a show of exceptional creativity.

The performance begins with Ragtime, an orchestral piece that shows an amazing grasp of this American musical genre by Stravinsky, who after all spent significant time in the US. This is followed by three solo vocal pieces all sung in Russian: Pribaoutki by new COC Ensemble Studio soprano Simone Osborne; Berceuses du chat by German contralto Maria Radner; and Two Poems of Konstantin Balmont, with COC Ensemble Studio soprano Teiya Kasahara. There are two terraces on each side of the stage, with the orchestra out of the pit and on the stage. During the three solo pieces, the singer is on the right terrace, while on the left terrace is a bunch of artists engaging in shadow-play, projected onto a wide screen upstage. To say that to our western eyes unfamiliar with such performance aesthetic, the result is dazzling. Shadow play (and shadow puppetry) is very popular in almost all cultures save that of western Europe. In China for example, shadow play involving puppets, often composed of several movable parts, was extremely popular in the bygone days. Lepage uses this ancient theatrical technique to great effect in the story telling. The three solos are followed by Four Russian Peasant Songs featuring the COC Women's Chorus. Various clarinet solos are inserted in between these pieces. The last piece of the first half is made up of Renard. This was previously staged by the COC Ensemble Studio in June 2008, but of course this new production is entirely different. After an intermission, the second half is the centerpiece, The Nightingale, which was not rehearsed on Friday. This promises to be a truly unique show. If you have seen a fairly recent DVD of this opera sung by Natalie Dessay, you will not recognize the Lepage production, which could not be more different. I understand the COC production is essentially sold out, but I am sure there will be some returns. Performances on Oct 17, 20, 22, 24, 30, Nov. 1, 4, and 5 at the FSC.

> Hear It: Stravinsky's The Nightingale (Naxos Music Library, available free to La SCENA Card members)

Meanwhile, the COC's Madama Butterfly continues its long run this week, with performances on Wed. Oct. 14 and Fri. Oct. 16 7:30 pm, and Sunday Oct. 18 at 2 pm.

For something a little different, Canadian soprano/pop diva Measha Brueggergosman makes a return to Toronto since her much publicized open-heart surgery in June for a concert benefiting the African Medical and Research Foundation. It takes place at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church at King and Simcoe at 5 pm. Unfortunately it conflicts with the opening of the COC Stravinsky, which is at a very odd time of 4:30 pm. If you are not going to the opera, do go to hear Measha and support a good cause. Tickets are $60 to $175, with 50% off for students with valid ID. Call (416) 961-6981.

At Roy Thomson Hall, the Toronto Symphony this week (Oct. 13 and 14, 8 pm.) offers two performances of Broadway Classics, its pops concert series. With the beloved Erich Kunzel gone, the conductor will be Steven Reineke, who was Kunzel's associate at the Cincinnati Pops. Singers are soprano Kathleen Brett, tenor Colin Ainsworth and baritone Daniel Narducci. On the program are Sound of Music, Oklahoma, My Fair Lady, and South Pacific, all chestnuts of the musical theatre.

Finally, on Sunday Oct. 18 2:30 pm, the Aldeburgh Connection presents Alfred, Lord Tennyson, at Walter Hall, University of Toronto. Tickets are $50, with student rush seats at $12. Soloists are Virgina Hatfied, Lynne McMurty, Michael Barrett, and Alexander Dobson, with Stephen Ralls and Bruce Ubukata at the piano. Aldeburgh Connection is famous for its innovative program-driven recitals, in celebration of the art of the song.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bay and ASO Bring Bruckner Back to Austin!

By Paul E. Robinson

Classical Travels
This Week in Texas

Anton Bruckner’s music has always been pretty popular in Europe, but in North America not so much. Perhaps Bruckner’s time has come. Yannick Nézet-Séguin is performing and recording all the Bruckner symphonies with his Orchestre Métropolitain in Montreal and the Dallas Symphony’s conductor Jaap van Zweden is also recording the cycle, albeit with his Dutch orchestra.

Last night, at the Long Center, the city’s new concert hall, Peter Bay and the Austin Symphony Orchestra (ASO) gave the capitol of Texas its first Bruckner performance in thirteen years – the Fourth Symphony, a work last heard here thirty-five years ago.

Fortunately for all Bruckner aficionados present, Maestro Bay and his players gave a terrific performance of the Bruckner Fourth and listeners plainly liked what they heard! Perhaps the positive reception will encourage the Austin Symphony to program more Bruckner – and soon.

Stops, Starts and Wagnerian Climaxes Challenge Orchestra and Audience
The problem with Bruckner for many listeners has always been sheer length, and a tendency on the composer’s part to stop and start with alarming regularity. Just when he gets a good thing going, they complain, he brings everything to a halt and after an interval of silence or dithering, sets off again with something completely different.

On the plus side, most listeners acknowledge that Bruckner wrote some lovely melodies, and even better, that every one of his symphonies has at least half a dozen massive and brassy Wagnerian climaxes. The ultimate challenge for many audiences is whether they can stay engaged long enough to relish those big moments when they come.

In my opinion, Bruckner’s symphonies are unique and profoundly moving essentials in orchestral literature. For all their imperfections, they remain remarkable achievements of the composer’s art and whether or not one shares Bruckner’s deeply-felt Catholic faith -this was a man who kept a daily record of the number of his prayers – they are ultimately incomparable spiritual journeys.

As do most Bruckner symphonies, the Fourth starts with a tremolo in the strings which sets up a horn solo a few bars later. Peter Bay made sure that the tremolo was not only soft, but ppp as the composer intended. Principal horn Thomas (Tom) Hale nailed his solo with complete assurance, and the performance was off to a great start.

The second movement Andante was taken at the comfortable walking tempo it ought to have and the viola and cello sections played their extended melodies with the utmost sensitivity and expression. The brass fanfares in the scherzo were fearless and thrilling. In the finale the horn playing was magnificent. Peter Bay got the best out of his players and showed great insight into how a Bruckner symphony works. All in all a great night for Bruckner.

Which of Bruckner’s Many Revisions is a Maestro to Choose?
In any discussion of Bruckner, one is inevitably compelled to deal with the question of all the different versions of the scores. Bruckner was an obsessive revisionist. He often allowed his colleagues Josef Schalk and Ferdinand Löwe to make revisions too, with the result that scholars and conductors today must wade through as many as twenty-five different published and unpublished versions of the symphonies and then decide which ones are the most authentic.

In the case of the Fourth Symphony, there are five different versions.

The Fourth symphony provides a good example of what Bruckner’s well-meaning colleagues did on his behalf. In the recapitulation of the first movement, the horn plays its melody once again over tremolo strings, but this time there is a beautiful arabesque around the melody played by the flute. It is a magical moment in the symphony. In the Schalk-Löwe revision, that flute is doubled by muted first violins. This version is lovely too, but quite without the simplicity and intimacy of Bruckner’s original conception.

Bay and ASO Score with Bruckner Society Edition
David Mead’s notes in the ASO program book state that Maestro Peter Bay opted for the Bruckner Society’s edition, and that he is using editor Leopold “Nowak’s version of the (Bruckner) version of 1878-80″, but that is not quite accurate. Bruckner revised this 1878-80 version in 1886 for a performance conducted by Seidl in New York, and it is this later version that Nowak used for the Bruckner Society’s edition of the work.

This 1886 revision, with one notable exception, is not radically different from Bruckner’s first definitive version of 1880. Notwithstanding the many minor changes in orchestration in the later version, there is one alteration of major significance.

The horn melody which opens the first movement, returns in the final bars of the symphony played by trombone and tuba. Unfortunately, this melody in the final bars is not heard in some versions, because it is drowned out by the other brass instruments. In the 1886 version, Bruckner reinforced trombone and tuba with the third and fourth horns, to help the melody come through more clearly.

Obviously, this change is key to understanding the compositional unity of the symphony. The composer was evidently concerned that the melody be heard; consequently, the conductor must strive to realize his intent. Kudos to Maestro Bay for his choice of this edition, and for his execution of Bruckner’s intentions in this performance.

Readers interested in learning more about the problems of the various Bruckner editions are referred to the following: Hans-Hubert Schönzeler: “Bruckner.” New York: Vienna House, 1978; Deryck Cooke: ‘The Bruckner Problem Simplified’ in “Vindications.” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Chee-Yun Opens Concert with Mendelssohn Violin Concerto
The concert began with a performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto featuring Korean-born violinist Chee-Yun who is now Professor of Violin at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas.

Although Chee-Yun played the familiar Violin Concerto with technical ease and beautiful tone, it was a soft-edged performance, somewhat lacking in personality. The ASO’s accompaniment was, to my mind, excessively deferential.

It’s all very well and admirable to keep the orchestra soft enough to enable the soloist to be heard, but there are times when the interplay between soloist and orchestra requires the orchestra to be more assertive. The melody in the slow movement, for example, is lovely but what is needed here is a ‘chamber music’, rather than an ‘accompanied solo’ texture.

This year is the 200th anniversary of Mendelssohn’s birth and next month (Nov. 20/21) the ASO will continue their tribute to the composer with the incidental music for Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

> Recommended Listen: Bruckner's Fourth Symphony, Klaus Tennstedt, London Phil (Naxos Music Library, available free to La SCENA Card members)

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

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