La Scena Musicale

Friday, December 18, 2009

The OSR: A Successful Stand-Alone Experience in Continental Europe

By Giuseppe Pennisi

In its November iss
ue, the periodical GIG- International Arts Manager devoted two full pages to the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma (OSR), a comparatively new symphonic formation in the Italian and European landscape. The article is an important signal of the international attention received by a symphonic orchestra that started its operations only about eight years ago. Its creation was the outcome of a training course financed by the European Commission and organized by the Arts Academy, a non-profit but fully private music school. After the course, no employment was in sight for the young musicians. So the Arts Academy mastermind, the headstrong and highly experienced Maestro Francesco La Vecchia, decided to seek for funds to form an orchestra. Many thought he was a hopeless and helpless dreamer but he met another dreamer, the President of a charity. The dream became hard and solid reality.

The OSR has some important features:

a) It is the only fully private symphony orchestra in Italy and one of the very few in Continental Europe. It does not receive any State, Regional, Provincial or Municipal support – even though in 2009 it was given a € 10.000 (US$ 15.000) grant by the Ministry of Culture

b) It is financed mostly by the Fondazione Roma (a nonprofit registered charity with the mission of “the organization of social freedom”). The Fondazione Rome does not operate only or mainly in the field of music but runs a private museum and performs important activities in the fields of health, education, scientific research and aid to the under-privileged. The OSR is also helped by a few locally based small companies and by an Association of its subscribers and fans.

c) It has 90 permanent musicians (average age: 30), a budget which is less than one-fifth of that of the main symphony orchestra in the Italian capital (l’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia) and a low-priced ticket policy to attract young and old people with modest incomes (season tickets
for 30 concerts vary from € 260 to € 90 according to the category).

d) Its
music director and permanent conductor is Maestro Francesco La Vecchia, who is also principal guest conductor of the Berliner Symphoniker. La Vecchia has been music director of Opera Houses and symphony orchestras in Central Europe (Budapest), Latin America (Rio de Janeiro) and Portugal (Lisbon). He also often conducts in Shanghai's large concert hall.

In eight years, the OSR has also gained an important place in the international music scenes due to its tour of
Brazil, Russia, the UK, Spain, Germany, Poland and China. Tours are now slated for Austria and North America. More significantly, the OSR was chosen by the Austrian Government as the Italian symphony to participate in the May 31st 2009 celebrations for Haydn’s bicentenary. As many of our readers may know, the Austrian Ministry of Culture and the Committee for the Celebrations of Haydn’s Bicentenary had a brilliant idea: on May 31st, the day of the composer’s death, 20 symphony orchestras and/or Opera Houses performed one of his greatest and best known oratorios Die Schöpfung (The Creation). Because of different time-zones, Die Schöpfung day started in New Zealand and ended in Honolulu. An earnest radio listener could enjoy the different performances over 24 hours and appreciate the difference in conducting as well as in singing. Opera Houses were included because in certain countries (e.g. Germany) Die Schöpfung is also staged as a music drama: computer technology and animation are a superb support in depicting the initial chaos, the creation of the animals, of the flowers, of the lakes, of the rivers and of the mountain as well as the Garden of Eden with the passionate Adam and Eve duet. The Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, the “national” symphony, did not appreciate that the OSR was preferred and performed Die Schöpfung for its subscribers early in the Spring of 2009.

Two different
Italian economic think-tanks have recently shown interest in studying the OSR as a unique experiment of free market and liberal grants not only in Italy but also in most of Continental Europe: the Istituto Bruno Leoni-IBL (a staunchly libertarian den) and Astrid (a left-of-centre liberal association). These studies may help bring about reform of performing arts State and Regional Governments financing. GIG concluded that “All in all, one swallow does not make summer” and that “perhaps, the OSR is and will remain a stand-alone experiment of liberal economics applied to high musical culture.” A possibility would be to move, in Italy, from grants-in-aid on the basis of the proposals of the bureaucracy (as reviewed by a technical committee) to an Anglo-Saxon system of matching grants; this would promote completion and efficiency.

I have been a steady listener of OSR concerts, not only because they are set at a convenient time (5.30 p.m. on Sunday and 8.30 p.m. on Monday) in a pleasant 1,200 seat Auditorium just a few steps away from my home in Rome. They main reason is that they offer an innovative program (as compared with the Accademia di Santa Cecilia and other major orchestras in Italy): the OSR combines Nono with Schubert, Stravinsky with Bruckner, Casella with Brahms, Tchaikovsky with Mailipiero, Liszt with Shostakovich
. Until 20 years ago, such a blend was provided, in Italy, by the Italian public radio and television concerts, but these concerts were discontinued and the marvelous acoustically-perfect Roman auditorium was converted to a TV studio for mere entertainment and games. Also, I have accompanied the OSR on their February 2009 tour to Germany and Poland.

This 2009-2010 season started on October 17
th with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The program includes all of
Beethoven’s orchestral compositions to be performed in eight of the 30 concerts and also all of Bach’s Branderburg Concertos and all the suites (two concerts). The 20th Century is not forgotten: the OSR is recording all orchestral works by Martucci, Casella and Malipiero – some of them are in the 2009-2010 season – and offers two very rare and exquisite compositions by Respighi: “Poema autunnale” and “Vetrate di Chiesa.”

Finally, for a Christmas-New Year gift: a small blue and gold coffer with four Naxos CDs with all the most significant compositions of Giuseppe Marcucci (1856-1909) commemorating the centenary of his death. Nearly forgotten now, Marcucci was one of the few Italian composers specializing in symphonic music when melodrama was the main musical attraction. Toscanini had a veneration for him and in 1932 organized a series of concerts to play all his works. Wait for a review in
La Scena.

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Cette semaine à Montréal (21 à 27 déc) / This Week in Montreal (Dec. 21 - 27)

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

Visual arts: Mille Cadeaux, Galerie Maison Kasini (Until Dec. 31). In the spirit of the season, Galerie Maison Kasini presents Mille Cadeaux until the end of December, an exhibition of art and art product. Over a 1000 pieces of paintings, prints, photography, artist catalogs, greeting cards, small sculptures, drawings, collage, assemblage, sound art, artist books, ‘zines, serials, and magazines - all of which are prêt-à-partir and may be taken with you upon purchase. Hours: 11AM to 5:30PM: Wednesday through Saturday and by appointment. Belgo Building (372 Ste Catherine Ouest, Suite 408)

Théâtre : Avalanche, La troupe Avalanche (le 21, 22, 23 et 27 déc). Décembre 2009, St-Côme. Jean Gagnon et sa femme Hélène reçoivent, dans leur coquette maison champêtre, leur famille immédiate pour le réveillon cette année. Jean est fébrile. Il y a de l’hostilité dans la famille. Il compte sur ce rassemblement pour rétablir l’harmonie. Jean est un grand nostalgique. Un événement inattendu va venir prêter mains fortes à Jean et faire en sorte de réconcilier les générations… Une avalanche! Tout le village se retrouve enseveli sous un nuage blanc, réduisant ainsi les moyens de communications au minimum. L’entraide est au premier plan. Prisonnière pendant une semaine, la famille vivra malgré elle un sacré temps des fêtes unissant traditions, amour et chansons. Dame nature leur a offert leur plus beau cadeau de Noël ! Théâtre du Vieux-Terrebonne (866, rue St-Pierre) 450 492-4777

Chamber music: Allegra Chamber Music Series (Dec 21). 20h. 0-10$. Clara Schumann: Piano Trio, op.17; Robert Schumann: Sonata for violin & piano in a minor, op.105; Robert Schumann: Piano Quartet in E flat Major, op.47 for piano, violin, viola & cello, Dorothy Fieldman Fraiberg, piano; Yukari Cousineau, violin; Brian Bacon, viola; Katherine Skorzewska, cello. Redpath Hall, McGill University (845 Sherbrooke Street West) 935-3933

(Photo: Allegra Chamber Music founder Dorothy Fraiberg at home.)

Recital: (Dec 22) Noon-Hour Organ Recital Series. 12h30. Redpath Hall, McGill University (845 Sherbrooke Street West) 398-4547; Staff and Guest Series, Fabrice Marandola, percussion. 19h30. 10$. Tanna Schulich Hall, McGill University (527 Sherbrooke Street West). 398-4547; Carl Gionet, piano. 20h. Beethoven, Brahms, Britten. Salle Claude-Champagne, Université de Montréal (220, avenue Vincent-d'Indy). 343-6427

Jazz: (Dec 22) Matt Herskowitz, solo piano. 20 h 30. Upstairs Jazz Bar (1254 Rue Mackay). 931-6808

Opéra : (le 22 déc) Opéramania, projection de film, Michel Veilleux, conférencier; et Tosca, Puccini. 19h30. 8$. Fiorenza Cedolins, Marcelo Álvarez, Ruggero Raimondi, Marco Spotti, Fabio Previati; Daniel Oren, chef. B-421, Université de Montréal (220, avenue Vincent-d'Indy). 343-6427; (le 23 déc) 13h. Contes d’Hoffmann, MetOp HD, Encore. Ciné-Met Encore Montréal.

Musique de chambre : (le 23 déc) La Série des diplômés. 5$. 16h. Dvorak: Sonatine pour flûte et piano, op.100; Franck: Sonate pour flûte et piano; Boehm: Grande Polonaise, op.16, Maxime Lataille, flûte. Salle de recital, Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal (4750, avenue Henri-Julien). 873-4031

Musique d’orchestre : (le 23 déc) Université de Montréal. 19h30. Sibelius: Concerto pour violon, op.47; Brahms: Symphonie #3, op.90. Dina Gilbert, dir. d’orchestre; orchestre de 55 musiciens; Frédéric Moisan, violon. Salle Claude-Champagne, Université de Montréal (220, avenue Vincent-d'Indy). 343-6427

Danse : Casse-Noisette, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal (le 23, 26, et 27 déc). Musique de Tchaïkovski Avec l’Orchestre des Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. Suivez la petite Clara dans son voyage au pays des neiges et au royaume des bonbons. Des surprises et plus de 150 personnages extraordinaires vous y attendent. Décors somptueux, costumes chatoyants, scènes cocasses, pas de deux étincelants, couleurs et lumières féeriques… le Casse-Noisette de Fernand Nault comblera toute la famille. Émerveillement assuré! Place des Arts Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier (175, rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest) 514 842-2112

Musique d’orchestre : (le 24 déc) Les Dimanches en musique, l’Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. 14h30. 25-60$. Messiaen: Couleurs de la cité céleste; Debussy: Rhapsodie pour saxophone alto et orchestre; Stravinski: L’Oiseau de feu. Kent Nagano, chef; Branford Marsalis, saxophone alto; Olga Gross, piano. Place des Arts Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier (175, rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest). 842-2112, 842-9951

Jazz : (le 26 déc) Jan Jarczyk trio + invitée la saxophoniste soprano Monik Nordine. 20 h 30. Upstairs Jazz Bar (1254 Rue Mackay). 931-6808

Opera: (Dec 27) Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, Opera McGill and the McGill Symphony Orchestra. 19h30. 22-27$. Julian Wachner, cond. Pollack Hall, McGill University (527 Sherbrooke Street West) 398-4547

Concert du competition : (le 27 déc) Dialogues à la Chapelle, Concert des lauréats du 4e concours international de composition du Quatuor Molinari. 20h. Zhenzhen Zhang: H2O; Dae-Seob Han: Bi-serial light-sound; David Philip Hefti: In(ter)vention; Snezana Nesic: Running Thoughts, Quatuor Molinari. Chapelle Historique du Bon Pasteur (100 rue Sherbrooke Est). 527-5515

Musique pop d'orchestre : 20h. Tom Waits, Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestre. Maison de la culture Plateau Mont-Royal (465 Mont-Royal Est). 872-2266

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Monday, December 14, 2009

This Week in Toronto (December 14 - 20)

Baritone Russell Braun gives a lieder recital in celebration of Jeunesses Musicales du Canada's 60th anniversary at the Toronto French School on December 9th. Pianist is Talisa Blackman
(Photo: Joseph So)

The feast of Holiday Season music continues this week with literally dozens of concerts and events big and small, all over the GTA. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra bills its Messiah as Toronto's favourite - it probably is among the most august of Messiah traditions in Canada and likely has the highest attendance numbers. This year's version begins on Dec. 16 at Roy Thomson Hall and continues on Dec 18, 19, 20, and 21, all at 8 pm except for Sunday Dec. 20 at 3 pm. The soloists are soprano Shannon Mercer, countertenor Matthew White, tenor Colin Balzer, and baritone Tyler Duncan. Quebec conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni leads the TS forces and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. This is a massive Messiah and well worth attending if you like this work performed by huge forces. For a more intimate Messiah, I can recommend Tafelmusik's baroque Messiah. Ivar Taurins conducts the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and a quartet of soloists (soprano Ann Monoyios, mezzo Meg Bragle, tenor Benjamin Hulett, and bass Sumner Thompson). Performances from Dec. 16 to 19 7:30 pm at the Trinity-St. Paul Centre. On Dec. 20 2 pm is the ever-popular Sing Along Messiah at Massey Hall. There is something about a whole Massey Hall audience raising their collective voice to the Hallelujah Chorus that is awe-inspiring - so if you haven't experienced it before, go! This is general admission so be sure to get there early if you want a good seat!

The Nathaniel Dett Chorale offers An Indigo Christmas at the Glenn Gould Studio on Dec. 16 and 19, at 8 pm. According to the promotional material, this choral group is called "magical and transformative, their voices....will carry you on a journey through the beauty and intricacies of Afrocentric music from around the world" - I couldn't agree more. Also of note is the Via Salzburg Chamber Orchestra performing on Dec. 17 and 18 at the Glenn Gould. On the program are music of Handel, Vivaldi and Mendelssohn, plus Imant Raminsh singing Songs of Sorrow, Songs of Joy, in a work commissioned by Via Salzburg in 2003.

On December 17, soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, who received a degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Toronto before she went into a musical career, headlines a concert in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the U of T Engineering Science program. It takes place at the Hart House Theatre at 6:30 pm on Thursday. Julian Kuerti conducts the Skule Orchestra in a program of arias and orchestral pieces of Verdi, Rossini, Dvorak and Mozart. There is also a post-concert dinner. I have no idea of the ticket availability - go to for more information.

Finally, I'd like to report on a concert I attended last week, given by Canadian baritone Russell Braun, in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Jeunesses Musicales of Canada. It took place at the Toronto French School on December 9th, attended by a small group of invited guests. Also in attendance was Mr. Jacques Marquis, the Executive and Artistic Director of JMC, and Mr. Joseph Rouleau, the President of JMC. In fabulous voice, Braun sang songs by Mendelssohn, Schubert, and Ravel, all delivered with beauty of tone and depth of feeling. No wonder is he one of Canada's greatest singers today. He concluded the evening with a most heart-felt 'Avant de quitter ces lieux', Valentin's prayer from Gounod's Faust. It was a truly memorable evening.

Joseph Rouleau thanks Russell Braun after the concert and spoke a few words to the audience. (Photo: Joseph So)

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