La Scena Musicale

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chant 2009 Finals (Day 2 May 26)

left to right: Angela Meade, soprano; Yannick-Muriel Noah, soprano; Andrew Garland, baritone
Photo: Joseph So
Tonight was the second of two evenings of the MIMC Finals. Four competitors -

Jennifer Borghi, mezzo-soprano (Italy)

Borghi has a modest-sized high mezzo of pleasant timbre. She began with "Or la tromba" from Handel's Rinaldo, showing good coloratura, although she did not sound entirely comfortable in this repertoire. This was followed by "Erbarme dich" from St. Matthew Passion, a really moving piece that requires solid legato and smoothness of vocal production. Borghi's tone, while quite lovely, lacked sufficient legato and her phrasing was choppy. I think oratorio and baroque does not show off her voice very well. Her third piece, Air des lettres from Werther was easily her best moment - she has just the right instincts for Charlotte. The voice was freer here, and her attention to the text and her expression were exemplary. She ended with the Composer's Aria from Ariadne, an extremely popular choice for high mezzos in competitions. She sang it very well, but overall, I found her a bit subdued and low voltage. She didn't really connect with the audience. She received polite applause, although she did get a very good hand for the Ariadne at the end.

Seil Kim, tenor (Korea)

I remember Kim from the last Montreal vocal competition. I thought he sang beautifully but missed the finals. I recalled a quality tenore di grazia, used with taste. So it was good to have him back. He opened with "Comfort Ye...Every valley" from Messiah. I have heard this probably a hundred times if not more in performance from Jon Vickers on down, so I confess it is hard to get too excited. Kim sang it well, with plangent tone and excellent English. But his voice sounded smaller than I remembered, and it didn't make the impact it should, even in the modest sized Theatre Maisonneuve. His coloratura, while quite good, is aspirated. Dies Bildnis from Die Zauberfloete went very well - his best singing of the evening. He sang it with attractive tone, his most successful piece. Then he went off stage for an unusually long time and came back with a bottle of water, the only contestant in the two evenings that used water. His aria from Iphigenie en Tauride had its moments, but it was also marred by a very tight top. And his final piece, Kuda, Kuda from Eugene Onegin was a bit of a disappointment. I expected him to be really good in this. His singing lacked that plaintive quality one has come to expect in Lenski's aria, and again his top was very tight, distorting the line.

Andrew Garland, baritone (USA)

If the first half was a little underwhelming, things picked up decidedly with the appearance of Andrew Garland. His is a lyric baritone of very good quality, well schooled, and he communicates very well. His Rinaldo aria was authoritatively sung, making a big, robust sound. He received the first bravos of the evening. I was impressed with his long breath-line. Yeletsky's aria from Pique Dame, another very popular choice in singing competitions, was gorgeously sung. For me, the monologue from Billy Budd was his best moment - I liked his acting and his total commitment to the character. He will make a very good Billy. Interesting that he made Ich bin der Welt from Ruckert Lieder his final choice, instead of something flashy. If the countertenor Costanzo was unable to sing a high pianissimo, Garland had pianissimos galore, and overall, his execution of this piece was far superior. The orchestra, especially the horns, always played better, and Trudel was able to get the right balance from the orchestra. Overall, an excellent performance. This guy is the total package.

Angela Meade, soprano (USA)

What can I say about Meade? When you have a young singer picked by the Met to step in to replace an indisposed Sondra Radvanovsky, you know she has got to be special. Meade has a great voice, excellent technical control, from impressive fortes down to the smallest high pianissimos, she has it all. She began with D'Oreste d'Ajace from Idomeneo. Very impressive singing, although those staccato runs at the end were not as wonderful as I expected them to be. Her Beim Schlafengehen from Four Last Songs - a real test piece - was impressive, but I missed that ethereal entrance of the voice after the violin solo. Her third piece was "Casta Diva" from Norma. It takes guts - ok, chutzpah - to sing this in a competition! Meade has the legato and the rock solid intonation to do it justice, only the forte top notes were a little steely. This piece allows her to show off her piano singing, and the final note was extremely impressive. It elicited the first big salvo of bravos from the audience. She saved her best for last - Pace, pace - a truly fabulous piece of singing, absolutely perfect technical control. A big woman, she has found the art of stillness and the economy of gestures. Again, the last note she held on seemingly forever. And for that she received a standing ovation, the only one of the evening.

The jury panel retired to deliberate for about 30 minutes, and returned with the following three winners -

First Prize - Angela Meade
Second Prize - Yannick-Muriel Noah
Third Prize- Andrew Garland

Like most others in the audience, I played the game of picking my own winners. I had the same top three singers on my list, although in a slightly different order. Tomorrow is the press conference where we will get to meet the jury members. I hope to have more to report afterwards.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Chant 2009 Finals Day 1 (Monday May 25)

Tonight was the first of two evenings of MIMC Chant 2009 Finals. There are eight candidates in total, and tonight we heard four. Having attended everyone of the MIMC vocal competitions since 2002, I think this one is arguably the highest in terms of overall quality of the voices. Just to make it into the final 8 is already a recognition of true excellence. The candidates this evening were ( in order of appearance)

Anthony Roth Costanzo, countertenor (USA) His program was long - aria from Giulio Cesare, a Ruckert Lieder, and back to back arias from Rodelinda. One of the most impressive things about Costanzo's countertenor is the smoothness of his delivery and his seamless registers - the voice is even from top to bottom. When required by the music to dip into what is normally considered chest voice in a man, there is no harshness to his tone or any abrupt change of gear. His sound is as "natural" as any I have heard from a countertenor. His voice is surprisingly large for such a slight person, and there is lots of power in reserve. But his best singing is in the quiet moments. There is a plaintive quality to his sound that is at its best in soft, quiet music, and he chose just the right repertoire to show it off, particularly Mahler's "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen". The tempo chosen by conductor Alain Trudel was a little too slow, even for this famously slow piece. If I were to nitpick, Costanzo was a little reluctant to sing high pianissimi, which is absolutely necessary in the Mahler. Overall, it was a very fine performance of an exceptionally beautiful countertenor voice.

Falko Hoenisch, baritone (Germany) Mr. Hoenisch has a high lyric baritone that is flexible, good in coloratura, and best in lieder. It is a fairly slender instrument as baritone voices go, but he uses it stylishly and with discerning taste. His Hugo Wolf songs were wonderfully sung, and the most successful part of his program. Unfortunately, he ran into some problems with his next piece, an aria from I Puritani. I have to say Bellini doesn't really suit him stylistically. He lacks the fullness of tone necessary in the bel canto repertoire. He also ran into some technical difficulties, turning raspy in a couple of places. Perhaps it unnerved him, as by his third aria from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette, he was holding back and sounded small. The same could be said about "Why do the nations" from Messiah. The top simply did not bloom. Perhaps he did not pace himself properly, or maybe he simply had an off night, but overall, I felt he sang better in the semi-finals.

Sidney Outlaw, baritone (USA) Mr. Outlaw is also a high baritone. The voice is compact-sized, pleasant and warm in timbre - perhaps not so fantastic in terms of beauty of tone, but the way he uses it is very impressive - this guy is an artist. He communicates the text and the moods of a piece of music exceptionally well - this guy likes drama! Sometimes it can come across as a little stentorian, but his strength of conviction is such that he convinces you, and as we all know, judges look for a singer with something to say to the audience. Technically he is very secure, especially in the high register - top notes hold no terror for him. While he is best in the very dramatic pieces, he also shows that he can sing quietly, as in Fritz's aria from Die tote Stadt. This aria is a surefire audience favourite and Outlaw sang it beautifully. Overall, his performance was wonderful tonight, and he was rewarded with vociferous applause.

Yannick-Muriel Noah (Canada) Unlike previous years, there is only a single Canadian in the finals this time. Since she has been connected with the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto the last three or so years, I am very familiar with her voice. And what an exceptional instrument it is! Spinto sopranos don't grow on trees, and Noah is a genuine lirico-spinto, one that is large, rich, gleaming, with plenty of power in reserve yet capable of delicacy. She opened her program with "Hear Ye, Israel" from Elijah. She sang this long and demanding aria with gleaming tone. But she has a tendency to suppress her consonants in English - I have to say I had difficulty understanding what she was singing. Her second piece is Jenufa's aria. While it is a rather unusual choice in a competition, her timbre is ideal. The abrupt ending took the audience by surprise - I personally don't think this is a particularly good choice. Her third piece was "Vissi d'arte" from Tosca. Now, it must be said that Noah covered Tosca at the Canadian Opera last season, and when the Tosca, Hungarian Ezster Sumegi, became indisposed, Noah stepped in and sang two performances that absolutely wowed everyone. The quiet, descending musical line in the opening phrase was very beautifully rendered, and in the two and a half minute aria, she sang it with passion, power and delicacy. She reserved her best for the end - "Ritorna vincitor" from Aida. Her voice, with it rich, luscious timbre, is ideal. She has all the chiaroscuro one would want. Perhaps a little longer breathline here and there would have been nicer, but overall, it was a magnificent piece of singing.

There you have it - a marvelous evening. For me, the outstanding singers tonight were Sidney Outlaw and Yannick Muriel Noah. I would place both of them in the winners circle, possibly with the countertenor Costanzo a dark horse.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Concours de Montréal (CMIM) 5e journée - demi-finale II

CMIM – Samedi 24 mai,

Dernière journée de l’épreuve demi-finale. Une journée chargée (10 candidats) et riche en émotions. Chez les femmes, les sopranos Angela Meade et Yannick-Muriel Noah ont particulièrement dominé. Deux sopranos à la voix puissante et à la technique infaillible, produisant un pianissimo étonnamment bien contrôlé dans l’aigu. Impressionnant, tout ce qu’Angela Meade peut faire avec sa voix, ce qu’elle a particulièrement démontré dans l’extrait de Il Trovatore de Verdi. Quant à Yannick-Muriel Noah, elle module admirablement sa voix au timbre chaud, spécialement dans l’extrait de La Forza del destino.

Chez les hommes, le baryton Falko Hönish a démontré sa versatilité, sa compréhension du texte et du style en présentant un programme très varié. D’abord Mozart, Wagner et Bach. Suivent le très court La Grenouillère de Poulenc et Black Max de William Bolcom, dans lesquels il se révèle un vrai comédien et conteur. Il termine sa prestation par Erlkönig de Schubert, en interprétant de façon explicite les voix du père et du fils. Voilà ce qu’on peut appeler toute une palette de couleurs! Vient ensuite le baryton Sidney Outlaw qui a obtenu en 2006 une 1re place aux auditions du Metropolitan Opera. On ne sera pas surpris de découvrir un chanteur solide qui possède une voix riche et puissante, habilement modulée. Son programme consistant comprenait entre autres deux Mozart, l’un en italien et l’autre en allemand. On retient surtout du troisième baryton, Andrew Garland, une belle voix au registre large qui chante avec facilité jusque dans l’aigu. Son talent de comédien a bien fait rire l’auditoire. Dernier candidat à se produire, le ténor Seil Kim a souffert d’un problème de santé en après-midi et sa prestation a dû être reportée à la fin. On sentait chez lui une certaine prudence, mais il se rendit au bout de son programme sans difficulté apparente. Ceux qui l’ont entendu en quart de finale savent qu’il peut faire encore mieux.

Les délibérations du jury on duré moins d’une heure. Le président, M. André Bourbeau, est venu le présenter à la salle et a donné les noms des 8 finalistes par ordre alphabétique : Jennifer Borghi, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Andrew Garland, Falko Hönish, Seil Kim, Angela Meade, Yannick-Muriel Noah et Sidney Outlaw.

L'ordre de passage:

Lundi le 25 mai à 19 h 30 :

1. Anthony Roth Costanzo
2. Falko Hönish
3. Sidney Outlaw
4. Yannick-Muriel Noah

Mardi le 26 mai à 19 h 30 :

1. Jennifer Borghi
2. Seil Kim
3. Andrew Garland
4. Angela Mead

Pour savoir plus :

L’épreuve finale avec l’Orchestre Métropolitain, sous la direction d’Alain Trudel, aura lieu lundi 25 mai et mardi 26 mai à 19 h au Théâtre Maisonneuve et sera diffusé en direct. Pour information :

Dimanche 24 mai : Deux classes de maître ont lieu à la Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, en après-midi et en soirée. Pour information : (514) 872-5338

- Renée Banville

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Concours de Montréal (CMIM) 4e journée - demi-finale I

CMIM – Vendredi 22 mai,

L’épreuve demi-finale du CMIM a débuté en présence d’une salle presque remplie. Six candidats se partageaient la soirée. Deux hommes : le contre-ténor américain Anthony Roth Costanzo, le baryton canadien Stephen Hegedus et quatre femmes : les trois sopranos canadiennes Pascale Beaudin, Charlotte Corwin, Mariane Lemieux et Catrin Aur Davies du Royaume-Uni.

Anthony Roth Costanzo avait étonné et séduit en quart de finale avec sa voix magnifiquement contrôlée au timbre émouvant. Il a récidivé en interprétant un Handel expressif, dont il manie les vocalises avec une facilité déconcertante, et un touchant Gluck qui convient mieux à une voix de contre-ténor que Mahler et Debussy. La sobriété et la classe marquent la prestation du baryton Stephen Hegedus. Possédant une très belle voix aux intonations toujours justes malgré les difficultés du Handel, il termine avec un Bizet très expressif.

Du côté des femmes, Pascale Beaudin a dominé la soirée en montrant beaucoup de souplesse et de dextérité dans le Haydn et le Strauss. Son excellente technique lui permet de tout chanter sans difficulté apparente et sa prononciation de l’italien et de l’allemand est excellente. La Regata vénéziana de Rossini était très expressive mais un peu longue. Quant à Charlotte Corwin, l’opéra lui va comme un gant et on aura sûrement du plaisir à l’entendre éventuellement en Violetta.

Peu à dire sur les deux autres sopranos : Mariane Lemieux et Catrin Aur Davies. On sent les difficultés chez la première qui ne semble pas prête à affronter un concours aussi important et la seconde a été très décevante. Que le jury les ait préférées à une Christina Tannous qui avait ébloui le public en quart de finale par la qualité de sa performance, c’est à n’y rien comprendre. Mais chaque concours comporte son lot de mystères…

Soirée intéressante en définitive, malgré la redondance dans les choix musicaux (Handel et Strauss). Le public pourra juger par lui-même à partir du 25 mai. Les séances de la demi-finale seront diffusées sur Espace classique de Radio-Canada : et disponibles pendant un an. Le dimanche 24 mai à 12 h, les meilleurs moments de l’épreuve demi-finale seront présentés dans une émission spéciale. Animation : Sylvia l’Écuyer – Commentateur : Fabrizio Melano – Réalisation : Michèle Patry. En ligne sur Espace classique dès le 25 mai.

> 3e journée
> 2e journée
> 1e journée

- Renée Banville

Editor's Note: I tried to connect to the live webcast at Espace classique, but the experience proved frustrating. The picture and sound would interrupt every 3 seconds and pause for an additional 3 seconds. Consequently, I gave up for the evening. The webcast requires Microsoft's Silverlight plugin, but that doesn't seem to be the problem as the Naxos Music Library uses the same plugin and streams fine from my wifi connection. Espace classique should provide a lower bandwidth version of its webcast. - Wah Keung Chan

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Friday, May 22, 2009

CMIM - 3e journée

CMIM – Jeudi 21 mai,

Dernière journée de l’épreuve quart de finale. Un après-midi riche en surprises et en découvertes. Dès le départ, le ténor coréen Seil Kim donne le ton. Ténor lyrique d’une grande musicalité, il interprète le Lied et l’oratorio avec beaucoup de couleurs et de raffinement et nous offre ensuite un extrait de Don Giovanni très expressif.

La deuxième surprise nous vient de la soprano canadienne Christina Tannous qui éblouit l’auditoire avec une voix magnifique d’un contrôle absolu, variant les couleurs avec un égal bonheur. Les airs tziganes de Dvorak qu’elle chante en tchèque sont captivants et elle réussit si bien à soutenir l’intensité que le public retient ses applaudissements entre chacun des airs. Comédienne accomplie, elle nous offre de mémoire un Kulesha très fantaisiste, s’inventant intérieurement une histoire que l’auditoire vit avec elle, comme une pièce de théâtre aux acteurs invisibles. Une interprétation qui lui a valu une ovation.

La découverte est venue avec la dernière candidate, la soprano américaine Angela Meade. D’une stature imposante, elle possède une voix puissante, une technique impeccable et l’aisance d’une chanteuse d’expérience. Magnifique dans l’opéra, elle chante le Lied de Strauss comme si elle chantait La Marschallin dans le Rosenkavalier. Détentrice en 2007 d’un 1er Prix Opéra au Concours International de chant, Hans Gabor Belvedere et en 2008 d’un 1er Prix au Concours international de musique José Iturbi, elle a fait ses débuts au Metropolitan Opera en mars 2008 et au San Francisco Opera. Avec une telle feuille de route et une carrière si bien amorcée, on peut se demander pourquoi une chanteuse continue à entrer dans des compétitions avec des jeunes qui attendent une rampe de lancement pour leur carrière.

Les autres candidats en après-midi : La soprano Jegyung Yang (Corée du Sud) et la basse Taehyun Jun (Corée du Sud), ainsi que la soprano canadienne Maghan Stewart-McPhee complétaient le programme de l’après-midi.

En soirée, avant les délibérations des juges, on entendit le ténor coréen Kijong Wi, la soprano américaine Yannick-Muriel Noah et le baryton américain Andrew Garland.

Voici, par ordre alphabétique, la liste des 16 candidats retenus pour la demi-finale :

Pascale Beaudin (Canada), Jennifer Borghi (Italie), Charlotte Corwin (Canada), Anthony Roth Costanzo (États-Unis), Catrin Aur Davies (Royaume-Uni), Andrew Garland (États-Unis), Stephen Hegedus (Canada), Falko Hönish (Allemagne), Seil Kim (Corée du Sud), Mariane Lemieux (Canada), Angela Meade (États-Unis), Yannick-Muriel Noah (Canada), Sidney Outlaw (États-Unis), Irina Shishkova (Russie), Maghan Stewart-McPhee (Canada), Jegyung Yang (Corée du Sud).

Pour connaître l’ordre de passage des candidats :

Vendredi, 22 mai

1ère séance :

19 h 30 : Anthony Roth COSTANZO, contreténor, États-Unis
20 h: Catrin Aur DAVIES, soprano, Royaume-Uni
20 h 30 : Pascale BEAUDIN, soprano, Canada
21 h : Pause

21 h 30 : Stephen HEGEDUS, baryton-basse, Canada
22 h : Mariane LEMIEUX, soprano, Canada
22 h 30 : Charlotte CORWIN, soprano, Canada
23 h : Fin

Samedi, 23 mai

2e séance

13 h 30 : Irina SHISHKOVA, mezzo-soprano, Russie
14 h 00 : Falko HÖNISCH, baryton, Allemagne
14 h 30 : Jennifer BORGHI, mezzo-soprano, Italie
15 h : Pause

15 h 30 : Sidney OUTLAW, baryton, États-Unis
16 h : Seil KIM, ténor, Corée du Sud
16 h 30 : Jegyung YANG, soprano, Corée du Sud
17 h : Pause

3e séance :

19 h 30 : Maghan STEWART-McPHEE, soprano, Canada
20 h : Angela MEADE, soprano, États-Unis
20 h 30 : Yannick-Muriel NOAH, soprano, Canada
21 h : Andrew GARLAND, baryton, États-Unis

21 h 30 : Délibérations

> 2e journée
> 1e journée

- Renée Banville


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Thursday, May 21, 2009

CMIM - 2e journée

CMIM - Mercredi 20 mai,

À l’épreuve quart de finale cet après-midi, quatre des cinq candidats étaient canadiens. On aurait presque pu dire que c’était « l’après-midi du Canada ». C’est pourtant le tirage au sort qui en a décidé ainsi.

On entendit d’abord le baryton-basse Giles Tomkins, dont le timbre agréable est plus sombre que celui des candidats présentés hier. Vint ensuite la soprano collorature Marianne Lemieux. Malgré quelques difficultés techniques qu’elle n’a apparemment pas toutes surmontées dans le Handel, elle a chanté un très expressif et coloré Je veux vivre de Gounod qui a séduit l’auditoire. Les deux autres sopranos, Charlotte Corwin et Sharleen Joynt ont rivalisé d’aisance dans les notes aigues et ont fait preuve d’une bonne maîtrise technique.

Sur les 15 femmes de la compétition, on compte 2 mezzo-sopranos et 13 sopranos, ce qui ne surprendra personne. Par contre, les voix basses dominent chez les 13 hommes. Les voix hautes sont partagées entre 3 ténors (tous les trois de Corée) et 2 contre-ténors, ce qui constitue certes une particularité. On a présenté cet après-midi le premier ténor, Byoung Nam Hwang. Malheureusement, son très court programme permettait difficilement de se rendre compte de ses possibilités.

Les deux mezzo-sopranos, Irina Shishkova (Russie) et Jennifer Borghi (Italie) se retrouvaient dans la séance de la soirée. On y entendit aussi le baryton Sidney Outlaw (États-Unis) et le contre-ténor Lee Hee Sang (Corée du Sud). La surprise agréable de la soirée fut la prestation du baryton allemand Falko Hönish qui a interprété le Kulesha (œuvre canadienne imposée) le plus coloré et le plus original entendu depuis le début de la compétition. Un chanteur raffiné et d’une grande musicalité, présentant un programme qui justifie amplement les Prix du Lied et Prix de l’oeuvre contemporaine qu’il a remportés en 2008 au Concours international de chant IVC de ‘s-Hertogenbosch, un concours de haute réputation en Hollande.

Depuis le début de la compétition, les candidats sont magnifiquement accompagnés par les pianistes Louise-Andrée Baril, Esther Gonthier, Martin Dubé et Marie-Ève Scarfone.

On peut lire un « Récit du jour » présenté par Sylvia l’Écuyer sur le site d’Espace classique : (

> 1ère journée

- Renée Banville

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Concours Musical International de Montréal 2009 - 1ère journée

Mardi 19 mai,

C’est aujourd’hui que débutait au Centre Pierre-Péladeau le Concours Musical International de Montréal (CMIM) dédié cette année au chant. 28 candidats ont été retenus pour l’épreuve quart de finale qui a lieu du 19 au 21 mai. L’ordre de passage a été déterminé hier par tirage au sort.

Pour les deux premières des six séances, nous avons entendu quatre candidats du Canada : les sopranos Leslie-Ann Bradley et Pascale Beaudin, les barytons-basses Alexandre Sylvestre et Stephen Hegedus. Les autres candidats : le baryton Leslie John Flanagan (Australie), le contre-ténor Anthony Roth Costanzo (États-Unis), la soprano Catrin Aur Davies (Royaume-Uni), la soprano Maria De Castro de Lago (Espagne) et la soprano Elena Guseva (Russie).

Le programme comprend une œuvre canadienne imposée qui a été commandée par le Concours à Gary Kulesha, à qui on a demandé une pièce qui n’avantagerait aucune langue en particulier. M. Kulesha a décidé d’y placer les mots « Darkness comes » en plusieurs langues, donnant la liberté à chaque candidat de chanter les mots dans sa propre langue.

La journée a compté de belles surprises, et trois concurrents ont particulièrement retenu mon attention. D’abord le contre-ténor Anthony Roth Costanzo, un des plus jeunes concurrents, qui possède une voix magnifique et une technique impeccable. Le public lui a accordé une ovation tout de suite après le Handel qu’il a chanté en débutant, avec une voix bien contrôlée et une grande sobriété de gestes. Dernière concurrente de l’après-midi, la soprano canadienne Pascale Beaudin a fait une prestation éblouissante et a conquis la salle tout au long de sa performance. Interprète du rôle de Zerlina dans Don Giovanni à l’Opéra de Montréal en 2007, cette jeune chanteuse possède déjà une grande maîtrise de sa voix et un talent de comédienne indéniable. Des quatre candidats de la soirée, je retiens surtout le baryton-basse Stephen Hegedus qui possède une belle présence en scène chante avec beaucoup d’expression.

On ne peut malheureusement pas entendre les candidats de l’épreuve quart de finale sur internet comme l’an dernier. Cependant, on pourra voir et entendre l’épreuve demi-finale (22 et 23 mai) en direct sur internet. Et l’épreuve finale (25 et 26 mai) sera diffusée en direct sur Espace musique, 100,7 FM à Montréal. Pour plus d’information :

- Renée Banville

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Monday, May 18, 2009

2009 Montreal International Music Competition Begins May 19, 2009

The Quarter Final Round of the 2009 Montreal International Music Competition will begin tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. when Canadian soprano Leslie Ann Bradley takes the stage of the Centre Pierre-Péladeau. The order of the candidates was determined today at a draw at the Maison de Jeunesses Musicales du Canada.

In all, 29 candidates from 9 countries will compete. Unlike previous years, Espace Musique will only webcast the semi-finals and finals. Check back on this blog for a daily report.

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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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