La Scena Musicale

Saturday, March 13, 2010

German quartet wowed in Toronto

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

The Hugo Wolf Quartett made its Toronto debut with Music Toronto at the Jane Mallett Theatre on March 11.

And this string quartet from Germany can play.

Made up of violinists Sebastian Gürtler, Régis Bringolf, violist Gertrud Weinmeister, and cellist Florian Berner, the quartet, founded at the Vienna Conservatory in 1993, opened the concert with Mozart’s String Quartet No. 21 in D major, K. 575, Prussian No. 1. Their articulation was clear and their sound pure and simple, with little or no vibrato. Gürtler’s phrasing was expressive without excess, and he was matched with an impeccable blend from the rest of the ensemble. It was Mozart as it should be, which always sounds easier than it actually is.

Immediately following Mozart, the quartet leaped 120 years forward with Webern’s Five Movements for Sting Quartet, Op. 5. Here, the players fed off each other’s sporadic squeaks and shrills with precision and taste. The auditorium was driven with an eerie suspense that lasted through each and every nuance, climax, and dead silence.

The showpiece of the program was Schubert’s Quartet in D minor, D. 810, better known as Death and the Maiden. From the fiendishly driven opening Allegro, the quartet displayed a superb sense of tension that was both urgent and paced. The cello, prominently featured throughout this piece, was played beautifully by Berner, who delivered some haunting solos and sweet melodies. Weinmeister on the viola was poised, her tone warm and sombre. Bringolf countered with perfect intensity and Gürtler kept the quartet in check in a gripping performance that was full of energy and excitement.

The piece ended with a unison “Wow” from the audience.

Returning to stage for an encore, the Hugo Wolf Quartett played the third movement of Janacek’s String Quartet No. 2, Intimate Letters with outpouring emotion, leaving a trail of poignancy lingering in the brisk evening air.

This quartet was at times rigid but never dull. Their stellar sound and wonderful presence make them well worth hearing live. A return engagement in the near future is most welcome.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rach 3 Rocks with Nissman and the Austin Symphony!

Last week, at the Long Center for the Performing Arts, Peter Bay and the Austin Symphony presented an all-Russian program: Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, followed by the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3, and closing with the Shostakovich Symphony No. 5, the Russian composer’s most popular symphony.

As always, Maestro Bay had prepared well and interpreted the music with assurance and without exaggeration of any kind.

In the opening piece, Vocalise, Bay went for a nuanced, understated beauty that suited this slight work very well. Personally, I would like to hear more expansive phrasing in some sections, but then I may be biased by my own current research on that most rhapsodic of conductors, Leopold

Standing Ovation for Nissman’s Illuminating Rachmaninov!'

The Rachmaninov Third Piano Concerto (Rach 3), performed on this occasion by soloist Barbara Nissman (photo: right), has become a calling card for piano virtuosi or would-be virtuosi from the days of one of the greatest, Vladimir Horowitz. It is a concerto guaranteed to bring down the house with its generous number of good tunes, its fearsome technical demands and its big finish.

But over the years we have learned that, while crucial, impeccable technique is not nearly sufficient for success with this piece. Finally, with Nissman, we got a performance that went deeper and illuminated more of the composer’s vision than any I have heard in a long time.

In Rach 3, many soloists settle for merely playing the notes accurately, in itself a formidable challenge. The great ones go further, as did Nissman, to make the music fresh and original, leaving listeners with a sense of having heard it for the first time.

In Nissman’s performance, this was especially true of the playful sections. Yes, the famously “sourpuss” Sergei Rachmaninov did indeed have a playful side. True, he wrote dark pieces such as The Isle of the Dead, but he wasn’t always morbidly depressed.

The third movement of Rach 3 has a
scherzando section; it is here that we discern whether pianists are interpretive artists or merely technicians. Nissman played this section as it was surely meant to be played, in an improvisatory fashion, capturing all the sparkle and fun. It is not ‘Marx Brothers funny’ but it is witty and light-hearted. To capture the true spirit of this section is to add another dimension altogether to this great work, and Nissman did just that.

In the big peroration at the end of the concerto – clearly modeled after the ending of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 – Nissman played with both power and exuberance. There is a lot going on here with tempi and dynamics changing in almost every bar. Conductor and soloist had not quite managed to reach complete consensus; nonetheless, this was joyous music-making.

Ginastera-Nissman Collaboration Has Deep Roots

The Austin audience, clearly moved by Nissman’s performance, demanded an encore. She obliged us with music by a composer with whom she is closely identified.

Nissman first met Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera (photo: right) when she was a student at the University of Michigan. She went on to become one of his foremost interpreters and his Piano Sonata No. 3 Op. 55 is dedicated to her.

On this occasion Nissman played two of Ginastera’s Danzas Argentinas Op. 2. The first of these is a lovely song with simulated guitar accompaniment and the second, a celebration of the Argentinian gaucho or cowboy in a virtuoso piece bursting with Latin dance rhythms - both great encore pieces - which Nissman played with the utmost panache and authority.

Shostakovich Fifth Symphony Music or Politics?

Scholars still argue over the meaning of the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony - the last work on the program - particularly the final section with its triumphant, major key fanfares. Many, at the time of its writing (1937), took this music at face value, concluding that
Shostakovich was forced to compose this kind of ‘programmed propaganda” music under threat from the Soviet authorities.

Shostakovich, since the premiere of his opera
Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in 1934, had been branded as a composer with ‘formalist’ tendencies, meaning that instead of writing music to celebrate the worker’s revolution, he was composing difficult and depressing music.

Before the premiere of the Fifth Symphony, Shostakovich himself had suppressed his Fourth Symphony, one of his most forward-looking and uncompromising works, realizing that if it saw the light of day, he would probably be signing his own death warrant.

Taking into consideration the history of the Fourth Symphony, and the political climate in Stalin’s Soviet Union at the time, the Fifth Symphony is thought to have been an attempt by Shostakovich to win favor by writing music which could be more easily understood by the masses and which left its listeners with a positive message. But there is more to it than that.

This assessment was expounded in Testimony: the Memoirs of Shostakovich (1979), a manuscript compiled by
Solomon Volkov, and smuggled out of the Soviet Union. In Volkov’s words:
“I think that it is clear to everyone what happens in the Fifth. The rejoicing is forced, created under a threat, as in Boris Godunov. It’s as if someone were beating you with a stick and saying, ‘ your business is rejoicing, your business is rejoicing, and you rise, shakily and go marching off muttering ‘Our business is rejoicing, our business is rejoicing.’ ”

The veracity of Volkov’s argument is still in dispute in some quarters, but there can be no doubt that in spite of its largely accessible style, the Fifth Symphony is a piece that contains many pages of struggle and despair. The question remains whether all this angst is alleviated in the end in accordance with socialist principles, or something else.

Timeless Power & Beauty: Bay and ASO Get it Right!

Shostakovich composed the Fifth Symphony well over 60 years ago; Stalin is long dead; and since 1989, the Soviet Union has collapsed and been consigned to the dustbin of history.

Most of us today enjoy Shostakovich’s ’s Fifth Symphony purely as music, and are unconcerned about its meaning. One may argue that it is music composed in a context, to be sure, but it endures because of its beauty, its range of feeling and its power to excite us.

My sense was that Peter Bay approached the music in this spirit; that is, pay attention to getting the notes right and the ‘music’ will emerge as the composer intended.

The Austin Symphony performed very well indeed. From the opening bars, the string phrases were precise and played without exaggeration. The dynamic marking here is only forte, after all, and the effect has a distinctly baroque character. The real drama in the piece is yet to come.

Bay followed the composer’s tempo instructions at the beginning of the last movement admirably. Shostakovich was very precise about wanting the movement to start rather slowly, then gradually accelerate over nearly thirty pages of score. It is very difficult for a conductor to make these tempo increases seamless, and the ideal result can only be achieved through sufficient rehearsal and performance.

Bay got it right. Compare, for example, Leonard Bernstein, a famous interpreter of the Shostakovich Fifth, who, in his classic first recording with the New York Philharmonic, starts with a very fast tempo and then has nowhere to go, having completely ignored the composer’s explicit intentions at the beginning of the movement.

Whether Peter Bay and the Austin Symphony played the final bars of the symphony as heroic or tragic is for the listener to judge, but there is no doubt that they played them loud. The Dell Hall in the Long Center has admirable clarity, but the players have to dig a little deeper to get enough sound out in the big climaxes. For once, timpanist Tony Edwards got the big sound I have been hoping to hear in this hall.

For Those Wanting More…

Barbara Nissman has recorded all of Ginastera’s piano music (Pierian 0005/6 2CD set) including the encores she played in Austin. She is working on a book about Prokofiev’s piano music and has recorded all nine Prokofiev sonatas (Newport Classic NCD60092/3/4 reissued by Pierian as PIR0007/8/9 3CD set). Bartok enthusiasts might want to check out Nissman’s Bartók and the Piano: a Performer’s View (Scarecrow Press).

While in Austin Nissman gave a Master Class at UT and a recital of works by Bach, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov and Ginastera, in a private home. The highlight of the recital for me was Nissman’s superb rendition of Prokofiev’s rarely-played Piano Sonata No. 6.

For a complete Nissman discography visit her

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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Monday, March 8, 2010

Cette semaine à Montréal (8 à 13 mars) / This Week in Montreal (March 8 - 13)

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

Arts visuels : Le verre selon Tiffany. La couleur en fusion » Montréal, Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, du 12 février au 2 mai 2010

Danse : Dès le 4 et jusqu’au 21, Tangente y va d’une programmation tous azimuts avec, notamment Caroline Dubois, Andrew Turner et Isabel  Mohn. Du 5 au 20, Paula de Vasconcelos revient séduire avec sa danse-théâtre en racontant l’histoire de la découverte de la route des Indes dans Boa Goa tandis qu’Isabelle Van Grimde présente Bodies to Bodies, une œuvre ouverte pour danseurs et musiciens, à l’Agora du 9 au 13. – Fabienne Cabado

Théâtre : Excuse-moi - L’auteur de la télésérie Aveux n’a plus besoin de prouver sa maîtrise du suspense, son don pour faire vivre avec sensibilité les personnages de gens ordinaires qui cachent de douloureux secrets. Dans cette nouvelle pièce attendue, Serge Boucher ramène le protagoniste de 24 Poses et Là, François, confronté ici à deux épisodes charnières de la vie de ses parents. » Du 17 février au 27 mars, au Théâtre Jean-Duceppe – Marie Labreque

Théâtre : Lipsynch - L’événement incontournable de la saison, que cette visite du magicien du théâtre Robert Lepage. Par la quête des origines d’un orphelin, cette création collective fouille la voix humaine sous ses diverses incarnations. Peaufiné depuis cinq ans, ce spectacle-fleuve à la (dé)mesure du créateur de La Trilogie des dragons propose tout un défi aux spectateurs : neuf histoires entremêlées, racontées en autant d’heures  ! » Du 27 février au 14 mars, au Théâtre Denise-Pelletier – Marie Labreque [Voir la critique ici]

Theatre: The Centaur follows up with The Comedy of Errors, a co-production with the National Arts Centre. Inspired by Montreal’s crazed festival season, the play provides a modern look at one of Shakespeare’s earliest and most comedic plays. It tells the story of a family divided by business. Two sets of twins, separated for 33 years, suddenly find themselves in the bustling city of Ephesus. Needless to say, mass confusion and hilarious accidents ensue, including mistaken identities, infidelities and wrongful beatings. Yet, the family is reunited through love in the end, and establishes a richer and deeper bond than ever before. The Comedy of Errors runs from March 2nd to the 28th. – Jessica Hill

Theatre: In March at the Segal, a co-production with Théâtre du Rideau-Vert brings us Old Wicked Songs, the story of a young American piano prodigy and his teacher. The young virtuoso, hoping to re-ignite his artistic spark, ventures to Vienna. However, he ends up colliding with his Viennese music teacher instead. Separated by their experiences, their ideas and their generations, it is their mutual love for music that becomes the one bond strong enough to bridge the gap. Robert Schumann’s songs are woven throughout the play as past and present confront each other through these two men. – Jessica Hill

Theatre: Infinitheatre presents Fatherland during the month of March. It tells the story of a quiet Westmount family that finds its sheltered world shattered one Sunday morning. A young boy is busy writing an essay about Saddam Hussein’s two sons and the aftermath of the American invasion, when his uncle lets slip to his father that he owes money to a mobster and that the mobster is on his way over to collect. Outrage, desperation and tumult arise, leading the boy to draw parallels between Saddam’s sons and his own father and uncle: brothers trapped in an opulent house while a mortal enemy draws near. Fatherland explores the power of blood ties and the mutual debt owed between sons and fathers. – Jessica Hill

Théâtre : Les États-Unis vus par... - En quatre ans et huit pièces, le Théâtre de l’Opsis a exploré, généralement avec bonheur, le vaste territoire de la dramaturgie états-unienne. La compagnie conclut son « cycle américain » en donnant la parole à des auteurs d’ici. Michel Marc Bouchard, François Archambault et Richard Séguin sont au nombre des dramaturges et auteurs-compositeurs qui livreront leur vision, à travers textes ou chansons, de notre fascinant voisin du Sud. » Du 23 février au 13 mars, au Théâtre Prospero – Marie Labreque

Jazz : Mer. 10 » Nous perçons les oreilles (duo Jean Derome et Joane Hétu) suivi de 33 * 45 * 78 (duo Martin Tétreault, tourne-disques, et Bernard Schick, projections). Spectacle présenté dans le cadre de la série Musiques topographiques, organisée par les Productions SuperMusique. Institut Gœthe, 418, rue Sherbrooke Ouest. 20 h

Jazz : Jeu. 11 » Quartette du guitariste Simon Legault. Maison de la culture Marie-Uguay [872-2044] En reprise le ven. 19 à l’église Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs [765-7150]. Ces deux spectacles sont à 20 h.

Musique de chambre : Le jeudi 11 mars à 20 h, le Trio Reiner, un des nouveaux ensembles les plus dynamiques au pays, présente un programme d’œuvres de Joseph Suk, Robert Schumann et Antonin Dvořák. Composé du pianiste Paul Stewart, du violoniste Jonathan Crow et de la violoncelliste Élisabeth Dolin, le trio est reconnu pour ses brillantes interprétations et son jeu d’ensemble impressionnant. Chapelle historique du bon-pasteur. 514-872-5338 – Renée Banville

Jazz : Jeu. 11 » Ensemble Fortin-Léveillée-Donato-Nasturica. L’Astral. 20 h

Jazz : Ven. 12 et sam. 13 » Le quartette du saxo ténor Joel Miller avec invité spécial de New York, le batteur Matt Wilson. Upstairs Jazz Bar. 20 h 30

Musique ancienne : La Nef et les Voix Humaines en concert; musique élisabéthaine pour Broken Consort. La compagnie de création et de production La Nef est connue dans le milieu de la musique ancienne pour ses concerts de qualité, permettant de faire découvrir toute la richesse et la subtilité des musiques anciennes, baroques ou Renaissance. Le samedi 13 mars à 20 h, à la chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, le luthiste Sylvain Bergeron accueillera les deux gambistes Margaret Little et Susie Napper du duo Les Voix humaines pour un concert unique visitant une époque charnière de la musique anglaise. Dans une formation originale et trop rarement entendue, le Broken Consort mêle instruments à cordes pincées, frottées et flûte traversière et sera accompagné de la soprano Catherine Webster. Au programme : des pièces de Dowland, Morley et Byrd ainsi que des ballades élisabéthaines. – Isabelle Soraru

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Maestra Keri-Lynn Wilson

By Wah Keung Chan

[Pour la version française, cliquez ici]

Conducting a great orchestra is like driving a Mercedes,” said the 42-year-old Keri-Lynn Wilson, the most prominent Canadian female conductor today. “When you get behind the wheel, it just feels right.” Wilson’s path from orchestra member to conductor came by chance. “I was just watching the Juilliard conducting class, and somebody asked me: ‘Oh, are you going to audition to conduct at Juilliard?’ I said, ‘No, no, no, I’m just watching’,’’ she related. That night, Wilson thought “What a great idea!” She prepared for the next 6 months and passed the audition.

Preparing for the audition meant lots of studying. There are written exams in music history and theory, every instrument, and every composer and their repertoire. There are also practical exams like reducing a score on the piano, sight-reading and ear training. A select few then get to conduct the Juilliard orchestra for a final test to narrow hundreds of applicants to two. That first time in front of her colleagues, Wilson conducted The Rite of Spring and Beethoven’s Symphony No 8. “I was nervous, but not nervous enough. Any conductor has a lot of courage. There’s something in you that is strong, that comes from preparation and knowledge. If you know a score, you’re that much more prepared. But what is unfamiliar to the young conductor are the gestures, the physical interpretation. Mentally you might have it, but it has to come out physically,” she remarked.

It wasn’t really a Cinderella story. Wilson explained, “I had had 12 years of sitting under the nose of a conductor in the orchestra; that’s a lot of knowledge already, watching and absorbing different styles.” Her passion for music started when she was three. Growing up in a musical family (her father was a violin teacher and the conductor of the Winnipeg Youth Orchestra), Wilson studied piano with her grandmother and “a bit of singing”, unsuccessfully, with her grandfather, before starting the violin with her father and eventually taking up the flute. Music was constantly heard in the house, and for Wilson, who was obsessed with music, it was a blessing. “Music was a part of my entire being and I couldn’t live without it,” she said.
Wilson kept up all three instruments throughout high school, and she was influenced by her uncle, cellist Eric Wilson, a star student of Leonard Rose’s at Juilliard. “I wanted to be just like him; going to Juilliard was the coolest thing,” said Wilson. At age 13, she studied for two weeks at Juilliard with flutist Julius Baker, who gave her encouragement. When she went back to audition for Juilliard for university studies, Baker remembered her and she was accepted.

Wilson’s first five years at Juilliard were packed. “I played under great conductors and I just loved the orchestral life of the musician. I loved the sound of the orchestra. Above all, the orchestral repertoire for a flutist is much more interesting than anything you can do as a soloist. I loved the Mahler, Brahms and Beethoven symphonies,” she explained. In her last year, Wilson slowly veered away from the flute: there were courses in Wagner and Verdi operas, and she accompanied singers on the piano.

The way Wilson dealt with her first feelings of nerves in front of the Juilliard orchestra has served the maestra well every time she meets a new orchestra. “What’s familiar is the unfamiliar. It makes the first encounter with a new group always exciting; there’s a bit of the unknown. I feel a little anxious; if you’re afraid, you’re in the wrong profession. In the first two minutes of music making, they are judging you on your musicianship. It’s an art that we’re doing and so there should be no reason why women can’t do it as well as men. It’s just something that’s coming from knowledge and emotional communication,” she said.

Wilson thrives on bringing that knowledge to her work. Her four years studying conducting taught her to analyse and study an orchestral score thoroughly. “When I started conducting I spoke two languages, and now I speak five. Now I know so much more about the composers, their lives—I’ve studied historically what’s going on. And doing a lot of operas, I can say I’ve read all the Pushkin, I’ve read all the Dostoevsky, everything that the operas stemmed from. It’s so important to just have all that knowledge,” she stated.

At Juilliard, Wilson studied with Otto Werner Mueller. She also spent a summer in Europe watching the maestros, including Claudio Abbado, work. Wilson observed that the German style is very clear and everything that you do connects exactly with the music. There is no sort of frivolous or extraneous movements that wouldn’t be exactly what the music indicated. “The Abbado [Italian] approach is much more fluid and spontaneous in his gestures. I think if you put together the German and Italian Schools, it makes for an interesting combination,” she said. “I like to be very clear and expressive. Everything I do physically is directly connected to your heart and mind.” There is also something quite Canadian in her conducting approach, which is based on diplomacy. “I like to make music together,” said Wilson. “I don’t like to dictate. I like to praise, and criticize during encouragement.” Being a woman, Wilson claims, has nothing to do with it. Wilson is adamant, “It’s 100% based on personality, even women can be tyrants.”

When Wilson talks about her favourite repertoire, the list of Shostakovich, Mahler, Brahms, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Puccini, Verdi, Wagner, Strauss, shows that she a big romantic at heart. “I’m more extroverted and expressive.” Naturally, Wilson is equally at home in opera as the symphonic rep. When we spoke, she was studying Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame for the first time as a replacement for Tel Aviv Opera in June.

“Before I even open the score of course I read Pushkin’s story, both in English and in Russian. Then I’ll see what Tchaikovsky was trying in his life; then you open the music and I’ll go through the entire libretto and know every word and its meaning. I do speak Russian, but at the same time there are words that I might not know so I sit with my best friend who is Russian. And then I markup my score, I do my analysis, and then put the words and the notes together and see what Tchaikovsky was looking for. Then I study it constantly so it becomes a part of your blood. Hopefully when it comes time to the first rehearsal I’ll know it cold.” Wilson also finds it important to listen to old and new recordings, especially operas to be aware of the traditions “because the breathing, cadenzas or flourishes are not necessarily in the score.”
Simon Boccanegra and Verdi
As part of the Montreal Opera’s 30th season, Wilson will conduct Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, a story set in 14th Century Genoa, Italy, about the rise and fall of the city’s chief magistrate. “I love Verdi, especially late Verdi,” Wilson said. “It’s an opera that’s not done very much because of its convoluted, ridiculous storyline, and it doesn’t have the show-stopping tunes you’ll find in La Traviata or Rigoletto.” Verdi started writing Boccanegra in his middle period but revised it in his later period. “We think of Verdi’s operas and he pretty much follows the formula handed down from the Bellini-style operas with stop and go points where we all get up on our feet and applaud. But then we have Boccanegra and Otello, where he avoided this stopping. It’s more through-composed; he would write orchestral interludes [between scenes] instead. It was just much more continual music, which dramatically is stronger. There is rarely applause stopping the action, because he uses the carpet of the orchestra underneath these dramatic, transition moments. It’s much more Wagnerian in that sense.

When Wilson talks about the high points of the opera, you feel her enthusiasm. “For the audience it’s probably the finale of Act 1 where you have the entire chorus at its fullest, the orchestra is playing up a storm and then it comes to a halt with Boccanegra’s big concertate aria. From the slow movement, you go into a fast, virtuosic ending and it’s fun to conduct. I love the last act when Boccanegra is dying, Fiesco tries to comfort him and they reach peace together in a gorgeous duet, which is extraordinary for the darkness and its very rich harmonic colours. The way it ends is also very beautiful, and unoperatically quiet.” Wilson is also drawn to Boccanegra’s character, “He is a dream for a singer because he has so many different things going on emotionally in his life—his affections for his daughter, his devotion to his country, his hatred and all the things that come up in his life that make him a very complex and extraordinary figure.”

Wilson’s schedule shows lots of guest conducting appearances in operas and symphonies around the globe. Right now she’s happy with not having an orchestra of her own as she hasn’t had the right offer from the right orchestra that fits her personal life, as her marriage to Metropolitan Opera General Manager Peter Gelb keeps her hub in New York. You wouldn’t find a website for the maestra because she likes to keep her personal life private. “I’m in a profession where you can’t have any inhibitions when it comes to being very expressive in communicating the emotion in music. At the same time, I would rather read a book with candlelight.”

March 13, 17, 20, 22, 25, 2010
› ‑SHOSTAKOVICH: SYMPHONY NO. 5, Orchestre Métropolitain
Jan. 27, 29, 30, 31, 2011


Maestra Keri-Lynn Wilson

Par Wah Keung Chan

[For the English version, click here]
Diriger un grand orchestre, c’est comme prendre le volant d’une Mercedes : on roule dans le confort le plus absolu », déclare Keri-Lynn Wilson, la plus connue des chefs d’orchestre de sexe féminin au Canada. Et comment est-elle arrivée sur le podium ? Par hasard. « J’observais le cours de direction d’orchestre à Juilliard quand quelqu’un m’a demandé si j’allais me présenter à une audition », raconte-t-elle. Elle a répondu non, elle ne faisait que regarder, mais un peu plus tard, elle s’est dit que ce serait vraiment une bonne idée. Elle a consacré les six mois suivants à se préparer à cette fameuse audition.

Cette préparation lui a demandé énormément de travail. Il fallait passer des examens écrits en histoire et théorie de la musique, connaître chaque instrument, chaque compositeur, tout le répertoire. Il fallait aussi se préparer à des examens pratiques sur la transcription, la lecture à vue, le solfège. Quelques candidats sont ensuite choisis pour diriger l’orchestre de Juilliard, dernier test qui permettra de sélectionner deux heureux élus sur les centaines qui se présentent. Pour cette première expérience, Mme Wilson a dirigé le Sacre du printemps et la Symphonie no 8 de Beethoven. « Bien sûr, j’étais nerveuse, se remémore la musicienne de 42 ans, mais pas tant que ça. Les chefs d’orchestre sont des gens très téméraires. Ils ont une force qui leur vient de leur énergie, de leur travail de préparation et de leur savoir. Quand on connaît sa partition, on se sent bien. Ce que les jeunes chefs connaissent moins bien, c’est la gestuelle, l’interprétation physique; même s’ils ont tout compris dans leur tête, il faut que ça sorte physiquement.

Personne ne dira que Keri-Lynn Wilson est partie de rien. « J’avais déjà passé 12 ans sous la férule d’un chef d’orchestre. Cela représente tout un bagage de connaissances, d’observation et d’initiation à différents styles. Mais je me suis tout de même sentie bizarre. » Ce qui n’est pas bizarre, en revanche, c’est sa passion pour la musique, qui a commencé quand elle n’avait que trois ans. Issue d’une famille mélomane (son père était professeur de violon et chef de l’Orchestre des jeunes de Winnipeg), Mme Wilson a étudié le piano avec sa grand-mère et un peu le chant, sans succès, auprès de son grand-père, avant de se mettre au violon avec son père, puis de se tourner vers la flûte. La maison résonnait toujours de sonorités, et pour une fille aussi passionnée de musique, c’était merveilleux. « J’étais musicienne dans chaque fibre de mon être, dit-elle, je ne pouvais m’en passer. »

Keri-Lynn Wilson a continué de jouer de ces trois instruments tout le long de ses études secondaires et elle a subi l’influence de son oncle, le violoncelliste Eric Wilson, qui était le plus brillant des étudiants de Leonard Rose à Juilliard. « Je l’idolâtrais : étudier à Juilliard, rien de plus cool ! » À 13 ans, elle a étudié la flûte pendant deux semaines à Juilliard avec le flûtiste Julius Baker, qui l’a encouragée. Quand est venu le temps d’auditionner à Juilliard, Baker l’a reconnue et on l’a acceptée.

Elle a travaillé d’arrache-pied pendant ses cinq premières années à Juilliard. « J’ai joué avec de grands chefs et j’adorais la vie du musicien d’orchestre. Le son de l’orchestre me plaît énormément. En plus, le répertoire pour les flûtistes d’orchestre est bien plus intéressant que celui des solistes. J’aimais beaucoup les symphonies de Mahler, de Brahms, de Beethoven. » Pendant sa dernière année, elle a quelque peu délaissé la flûte, puisqu’elle est devenue accompagnatrice au piano pour des chanteurs qui participaient aux cours sur les opéras de Wagner et de Verdi.

Le moyen qu’elle a pris pour calmer ses nerfs la première fois qu’elle a dirigé l’orchestre de Juilliard lui sert encore chaque fois qu’elle rencontre un nouvel orchestre. « Ce qu’on connaît, c’est ce qu’on ne connaît pas, explique la maestra. Et la première rencontre avec un nouveau groupe est toujours excitante, à cause de ce qu’on ne connaît pas. Je ressens un peu de nervosité, mais si j’avais peur, ça voudrait dire que je me suis trompée de vocation. Cela ne prend que deux minutes aux musiciens pour juger des aptitudes musicales du nouveau chef. Nous faisons de l’art, et les femmes peuvent réussir autant que les hommes. Tout dépend du savoir qu’on détient et de sa façon de transmettre les émotions. »

Keri-Lynn Wilson aime puiser dans ce savoir pour son travail. Les quatre années qu’elle a consacrées à l’étude de la direction d’orchestre lui ont appris à analyser les partitions et à les analyser à fond. « Au début de ma carrière, je parlais deux langues; maintenant j’en parle cinq. À présent, j’en sais beaucoup plus sur les compositeurs, sur leur vie, sur l’histoire de leur époque. Et maintenant que je dirige beaucoup d’opéras, je peux dire que j’ai lu tout Pouchkine, tout Dostoïevski, tout ce qui a inspiré les opéras. Ce sont des connaissances capitales à avoir. »

À Juilliard, Mme Wilson a étudié auprès d’Otto Werner Mueller. Elle a également passé un été en Europe à observer les maestros, dont Claudio Abbado, au travail. Elle a constaté que le style allemand est très clair et que chaque geste est exactement accordé à la musique. Il n’y a aucun mouvement frivole ou superflu qui n’aurait rien à voir avec la musique. « La façon de faire d’Abbado est beaucoup plus fluide et spontanée. Mais si on pouvait rassembler les écoles allemande et italienne, cela pourrait donner un mélange intéressant, ajoute-t-elle. Je veux être à la fois claire et expressive. Tout ce que je fais sur le plan physique est directement raccordé au cœur et à l’esprit. » Sa façon d’aborder la direction d’orchestre pourrait être caractérisée de typiquement canadienne, puisqu’elle est fondée sur la diplomatie. « J’aime qu’on fasse de la musique ensemble, dit-elle. Je n’aime pas donner des ordres, mais je préfère distribuer les éloges et combiner mes critiques à des encouragements. » Ce n’est pas parce qu’elle est une femme mais, elle en est sûre, c’est une question de personnalité. « Il existe des tyrans chez les femmes aussi ! »

Quand Mme Wilson parle de son répertoire de prédilection, les noms de Chostakovitch, Mahler, Brahms, Beethoven, Tchaïkovski, Mozart, Puccini, Verdi, Wagner et Strauss évoquent une âme plutôt romantique : « Je suis passablement extrovertie et expressive ». Bien entendu, elle se sent aussi à l’aise dans le répertoire lyrique que symphonique. Au moment de notre entretien, elle étudiait la Dame de Pique de Tchaïkovski pour la première fois, en vue d’un remplacement à l’opéra de Tel-Aviv au mois de juin.

« Avant même de jeter un œil sur la partition, j’ai lu l’œuvre de Pouchkine en anglais et en russe. J’étudierai la vie de Tchaïkovski à cette époque-là. Puis je lirai le livret dans tous les sens pour m’en imprégner. Je parle russe, mais il y a des mots que je ne connais pas, alors je ferai appel à ma meilleure amie, qui est russe. Ensuite, je passe à travers la partition avec mon crayon, je l’analyse, puis je réunis les mots et les notes pour essayer de discerner les intentions de Tchaïkovski. J’étudie sans relâche. Dès la première répétition, je devrais connaître l’œuvre de bout en bout. » Mme Wilson tient également à écouter les enregistrements anciens ou nouveaux pour s’exposer à différentes traditions « puisque, surtout dans le cas de l’opéra, les respirations, les cadences ou les ornements ne sont pas nécessairement indiqués dans la partition ».

Simon Boccanegra et Verdi
Pendant la 30e saison de l’Opéra de Montréal, maestra Wilson dirigera Simon Boccanegra, qui raconte le destin glorieux et tragique du doge de Gênes au 14e siècle. « J’adore Verdi, surtout ses œuvres tardives, souligne-t-elle. C’est un opéra qu’on ne monte pas très souvent à cause de son histoire rocambolesque et parce qu’on n’y retrouve pas les grands airs à la Traviata ou à la Rigoletto. » Verdi avait commencé à travailler sur Boccanegra pendant ses années de maturité, mais il a retouché la partition sur le tard. « Les opéras de Verdi suivent plus ou moins la recette héritée de Bellini, avec ses moments forts qui déchaînent des tonnerres d’applaudissements. Et pourtant, dans Boccanegra et dans Otello, il évite ces temps d’arrêt. La composition est plus fouillée, avec des interludes orchestraux. La musique se poursuit sur un élan continu qui lui donne un effet dramatique plus fort. On a rarement le temps d’applaudir au milieu du déroulement de l’action, parce que les transitions dramatiques sont soutenues par l’orchestre. C’est une façon de faire plus wagnérienne. »
Quand Mme Wilson parle des points culminants de l’opéra, son enthousiasme est palpable. « Pour l’auditoire, c’est probablement la finale du 1er acte avec le chœur au grand complet, l’orchestre qui joue frénétiquement, et tout cela s’arrête brusquement sur le grand air de Boccanegra. On passe d’un mouvement lent à une finale d’une vitesse folle, et c’est emballant à diriger. J’aime le dernier acte, l’agonie de Boccanegra, quand Fiesco essaie de le réconforter et qu’ils font la paix dans un magnifique duo, plein de tonalités sombres et de couleurs harmoniques très riches. La fin est magnifique et très douce, ce qui est rare à l’opéra. » Mme Wilson est également attirée par la personnalité de Boccanegra. « C’est un rôle de rêve, parce qu’il se passe toutes sortes de choses sur le plan émotif : l’amour paternel, l’amour de la patrie, la haine, et toutes ces choses qui font de lui un personnage extraordinairement complexe. »

Le calendrier de Mme Wilson est rempli d’engagements à titre de chef invitée dans des maisons d’opéra et de concert du monde entier. Pour le moment, elle n’est pas mécontente de ne pas avoir d’orchestre attitré, car elle n’a pas encore reçu d’offre qui convienne à sa vie, qui se déroule à New York depuis son mariage avec Peter Gelb, directeur général du Metropolitan Opera. Elle n’a pas non plus de site Web parce qu’elle préfère rester discrète sur sa vie privée. « Dans ma profession, il ne faut pas se gêner pour étaler ses sentiments dans la musique. Mais en fait, j’aimerais mieux lire un livre à la lueur d’une chan­delle ! »
Opéra de Montréal
13, 17, 20, 22, 25 mars 2010
Orchestre Métropolitain
27, 29, 30, 31 janvier 2011


Sunday, March 7, 2010

This Week in Toronto (March 8 - 14)

Baritone Nathan Gunn (Photo: Dario Acosta)

The big news for voice fans this week is the first Toronto appearance of American baritone Nathan Gunn, in town on Wednesday, March 10 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall as part of its Vocal Series. Mr. Gunn is the archetypal "bari-hunk", a term invented some years ago by person unknown to describe baritones who are as pleasing to the eye as to the ear. There is a long tradition of singers of this ilk, from Lawrence Tibbett in the 1930's to Sherrill Milnes in the 1970's - hunky baritones with great voices. But there seems to be many more of them today, undoubtedly a reflection of the public favoring singers who look good on stage. In addition to Nathan Gunn, baritone poster boys today include the New Zealander Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Italian Luca Pisaroni, Uruguayan Erwin Schrott, American Jason Hardy, and Canada's own Dan Okulitch. There are many more, but these ones come to mind readily. They all have beautiful voices and are convincing actors onstage. With Mr. Gunn in town for a recital at Roy Thomson Hall, we'll get to judge for ourselves. I first heard him thirteen years ago, as Orestes in the famous Francesca Zambello production of Iphigenie en Tauride in Glimmerglass, arguably the show that propelled him to fame. He is singing better than ever. On the program are songs by Schubert, Charles Ives and American spirituals, accompanied by his wife Julie Gunn.

On the subject of voice, a worthwhile concert to attend is one given by Canadian soprano Yannick Muriel Noah. Several years ago, she was plucked out of the COC Ensemble to fill in for an indisposed soprano as Tosca. Critics and audience were impressed with her huge, gleaming lirico-spinto. She has since sung La Wally at Klagenfurt in Austria, and was Cio-Cio-San in COC's Madama Butterfly last fall. This spring, she returns to Klagenfurt as Aida. Noah will be giving a recital of songs and arias by Weill, Strauss, Verdi, and Puccini, with Liz Upchurch at the piano. It takes place on Saturday March 13, 8 pm at the Runnymede United Church, 432 Runnymede Road. Tickets are $25 ($20 for students and arts workers) and can be purchased as her website

On Sunday March 14 2:30 pm at Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building at the U of Toronto Faculty of Music, the Aldeburgh Connection presents Hugo Wolf: Mighty Miniaturist. Soloists are soprano Monica Whicher, tenor Michael Colvin, and baritone Brett Polegato, with Stephen Ralls and Bruce Ubukata at the piano. As usual, there will be tea at intermission! I have attended a few of their concerts in the past and they are never less than delightful.

Elsewhere, the Canadian Opera Company free noon hour concert series presents The Composer and His Music, on Thursday March 11, at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, with student soloists from the University of Toronto Opera Division under the music directorship of Sandra Horst. It is an eclectic - and highly interesting - program with arias and ensembles from Nixon in China, Hamlet, Leoncavallo's Boheme, Rigoletto, Gloriana, Ghosts of Versailles, Don Pasquale, Madama Butterfly, and Candide. Remember to show up a good 45 minutes early to ensure a seat. On Tuesday, March 9 is another noon hour concert - 18 year old pianist Suren Barry plays music by Bach, Beethoven, and Debussy.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents Enigma Variations on March 11 at 3 pm and March 13 at 8 pm, with soloist Lars Vogt playing the Grieg Piano Concerto in A minor. Also on the program are Elgar's Enigma Variations, Sibelius Suite from King Kristian II and Magnus Lindberg's Chorale. Robin Ticciati conducts.

Tafelmusik, Canada's premiere baroque orchestra, presents Bach in Leipzig, with Jeanne Lamon directing the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chorus in a program of Bach and Telemann. Performances on March 10, 7:30 pm, March 11, 12, and 13 at 8 pm, at the Trinity-St. Paul's Centre.

Finally, a bit of very sad news. The great British tenor Philip Langridge passed away from cancer this week at the age of 70. He carried on the tradition of English tenors in the mode of Peter Pears, championing the music of Benjamin Britten - he was a supremely moving Peter Grimes - as well as a wide ranging repertoire from Mozart to Janacek to Stravinsky. When I first heard the news two days ago, it just didn't seem possible - after all, he was singing as recently as December and January as the Witch in the Met's revival of Hansel und Gretel! He is survived by his widow, mezzo-soprano Ann Murray and four children. As a remembrance, here is a link to his most moving rendition of Comfort Ye from Handel's Messiah on Youtube -

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Two Different Productions of Elektra Enthuse Italian Provincial Opera Houses

by Giuseppe Pennisi

Generally, Strauss-Hofmannsthal’s “tragedy for music” Elektra is normally performed in comparatively small opera houses in Germany and in a few Central European countries. Most administrators and musical directors are scared by the thought of assembling a 115-piece orchestra, five Wagnerian singers, a large number of soloists in smaller roles and keeping the audience enthralled in their seats for nearly two hours of extreme tension and emotion.

Well, this season two different productions of Elektra can be seen in Italian Provincial theatres. They are quite successful and surprisingly attract also a new and younger audience, and they are likely to be revived next season.

Italy has many beautiful theatres, smaller than the main Opera Houses (at 500-900 seats) but very elegant and with a perfect acoustics. They are one of the outcomes of the complicated Italian historical development: until less than 150 years ago, the country was fragmented in a variety of small Kingdoms, Gran-Duchies, Counties and other small independent States; like in Germany, each was proud to have its own princely theatre. In addition, in the Italian unification movement and in the romanticism period, Italy opera had the function otherwise played by literature. On the top of the royal or princely theatres, a number of Opera Houses were built, and owned, by the palchettisti, the rich bourgeoisie that had individual boxes; comparatively small towns like Spoleto and Piacenza have two very separate theatres: one (generally smaller) for the aristocrats and other (somewhat larger) for the bourgeoisie. Many of these theatres are labeled, in the legislation, teatri di tradizione; they receive only limited financing by the central Government – most of the funds are channeled to the 13 national fondazioni liriche in major towns – and are supported by local authorities and private sponsors. Co-productions are necessarily quite frequent.

Of the two Elektras, one is a co-production of the theatres of Bolzano, Ferrara, Modena and Piacenza but Reggio Emilia and Ravenna may join in. The other is a production of Catania’s Massimo Bellini – the Italian theatre known for the best acoustics in Europe – but there are rumors that it may travel in Sicily and elsewhere in Italy next season. From these productions there are lessons to be drawn also for smaller Houses in North America – those that normally shy away from Elektra.

From the musical standpoint both productions are presented unabridged – a real rarity. In 1909, at its première in Dresden, a few verses of the text (and the relevant music) were cut because their explicit sexual references were considered unbecoming. Indeed as late as 1968, in the Golden Encyclopedia of Music, Normal Lloyd calls even the 'abridged' text “too lurid.” Although the sense of what is or is not prude has changed over the decades, it was only two years ago in a small Austrian festival that Elektra was performed unabridged for the first time. Although the unabridged is far from lurid, its sexually explicit text is essential to fully understand the Freudian overtones of the tragedy and the dazzling excitement of musical forces that goes beyond Wagnerian lines.

Situating an orchestra much larger than the theatre’s pit was solved in imaginative manner in both cases. In the Bolzano-Ferrara-Modena-Piacenza production, under Gustav Kuhn's baton, two highly professional orchestras were amalgamated: the Haydn Orchestra of Trento and Bolzano and the Orchestra of Emilia-Romagna. With a strength of 115, the orchestra was not in the pit but on the stage, on the steps of a semi-circular auditorium (looking like a Greek theatre) with each element or group of elements visible to the audience; tragedy was staged right at the front of the stage on two levels: Elektra's claustrophobic room at the lower level and the empty Royal Palace at the upper level.

In the Catania production, under the baton of Will Humburg, the orchestra is also on the stage (the “Massimo Bellini” regular orchestra is strengthened by musicians on contract for this very opera in order to reach 114), but it is also in some of the boxes. The action is in the front stage, the orchestra pit and other boxes. In both productions, the audience has the feeling of being part of the plot.

Maestros Kuhn and Humburg have different temperaments – the former more passionate and the latter, tragically dryer. The cast of both productions is mostly German and young. Interestingly, in the Bolzano-Ferrara-Modena-Piacenza production, the role of Kytamnestra is sung, for the first time in history, by an Italia (Anna Maria Chiuri) and in Catania by Gabriele Schnaut who for several years had sang Elektra.

The Playbill

Elektra in Bolzano, Ferrara Modena, Piacenza

Elektra Anna Katharina Behnke, Elena Popovskaya
Klytamnestra Mihaela Binder Ungureanu, Anna Maria Chiuri
Chrysothemis Maida Hundeling, Michela Sburlati
Aegisth Richard Decker
Orest Thomas Gazheli, Wieland Satter
Der Pfleger des Orest, L`aio di Oreste Igor Bakan
Die Vertaute Elisa Maffi
Die Schlepptragerin L`ancella dello strascico Charlotte Soumiere
Ein Junger Diener Un giovane servo Arnold Bezuyen
Ein Alter Diener Vito Maria Brunetti
Die Auseherin La sorvegliante Martina Bortolotti
Magden: Jolena Bodrazic, Monika Wackerle , Anita Ahsef, Jae Hee Kim, Lara Martins

Stage direction Manfred Schweigkofler
Costumes Hans-Martin Scholder
Sets Michele Olcese
Lighting Andrej Hajdinjak
Chorus Master Corrado Casati
Orchestra Haydn of Bolzano and Trento
Orchestra of Emilia Romagna

ELEKTRA in Catania

Conductor WILL HUMBURG Stage Direction GABRIELE RECH
Sets and lighting Giuseppe Di Iorio
Costumes Sandra Meurer
Chorus Master Tiziana Carlini

KLYTÄEMNESTRA Gabriele Schnaut, Renèe Morloc

ELEKTRA Janice Baird, Jayne Casselman

CHRYSOTHEMIS Elena Nebera, Elizabeth Hagedorn

AEGISTH Roman Sadnik

OREST Stefan Adam


DIE VERTRAUTE Graziella Alessi
EIN JUNGER DIENER Mariano Brischetto
EIN ALTER DIENER Giuseppe Esposito
I MAGD Marlene Lichtenberg
II MAGD Monica Minarelli
III MAGD Antonella Fioretti
IV MAGD Vitalija Blinstrubyte
V MAGD Manuela Cucuccio

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