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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 13, No. 3


by Michael Vincent / November 18, 2007

Is There a Tenor in the House?

Vancouver audiences were in for a bit of a surprise hearing Ben Heppner’s Saturday, October 20th performance of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius at the Orpheum Theatre. Backed by conductor Bramwell Tovey and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO), Heppner set off fine and well for the opening sections of the performance. As he sang his heart out in one of the most demanding tenor roles in all of the 19th century repertoire, to the surprise of the audience, he began flubbing a few notes here and there, and was obviously straining his signature tone. After the first intermission, Heppner decided to pack it in, and left for the hospital for treatment for a bad case of the flu. Amidst the ensuing panic, Tovey was approached by one of the leading soloists Sarah Fryer, who suggested that her husband, Peter Butterfield, who was sitting in the audience blissfully unaware of the situation, was a tenor who had once sung the lead role. Tovey proceeded to pull the unassuming tenor from his balcony seat. It had been nearly two decades since Butterfield had last sung the part, but he felt he could rise to the occasion if it meant the show would go on; the audience was not disappointed.

Vancouver Symphony marketing director Alan Gove, described the situation: “He spent 15 minutes with Bramwell warming up his voice and talking about whatever elements they could get to in the score. He was pretty calm backstage. He really showed his true colours Saturday night. The audience was totally with him and wanted him to succeed under what were extraordinarily difficult circumstances. They gave him a thunderous, screaming ovation.”

The VSO subscripted American tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, who flew to Vancouver on Sunday night to perform the final show on Monday night, after singing with the New York Philharmonic on Saturday. Griffey had performed Gerontius in the past and will be singing it again in November with the Sao Paulo Orchestra in Brazil.

Ben Heppner subsequently withdrew from his scheduled performances at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Oct. 25 and 26 in the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Sibelius Unbound” festival. Heppner was to sing a set of Sibelius’ Swedish-language art songs in orchestrations by John Estacio.

Heppner’s manager told Playbill Arts that the Canadian tenor is now recovering at home in Toronto and that he still plans to perform with Salonen on Nov. 5 and 10, when they bring “Sibelius Unbound” to the Salle Pleyel in Paris and the Barbican Centre in London. Heppner’s next scheduled show is on Nov. 1 in Berlin, where he will sing Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff and the Berlin Philharmonic under the baton of Simon Rattle. MV

Glenn Gould’s Little Secret

When Glenn Gould died 25 years ago, he left a mess of papers, notebooks, empty pill bottles and records in his Toronto apartment. Friends were stunned to find, hidden inside these papers, a secret letter written by Gould referencing an adulterous love affair with the wife of the great American composer and conductor Lukas Foss. “I am deeply in love with a certain beautiful girl. I asked her to marry me, but she turned me down but I still love her more than anything in the world and every minute I can spend with her is pure heaven . . .”

Gould was an intensely private man, a trait which lead to rumors surrounding the possibility that Gould was asexual, or homosexual. Michael Clackson of the Toronto Star reports, “Gould was so paranoid about exposing his private life, he would cut off any colleagues or friends who discussed it and once fired a cleaning lady for gossiping about him.”

It is only now that we can finally say Gould was in fact seeing German-American painter Cornelia Foss, who, at the height of the affair, left her husband and moved to Toronto with her two children to move in with Gould. Just one year before the move, Gould had asked her to marry him. “I think there were a lot of misconceptions about Glenn and it was partly because he was so very private,” Foss said. “But I assure you, he was an extremely heterosexual man. Our relationship was, among other things, quite sexual.”

Clackson speculated Gould’s attempt at domesticity “may have marked the most intense chapter in Gould’s lifelong struggle with his demons. His phobias and pill-popping for a number of maladies, many of them imaginary, likely contributed to his early death on Oct. 4, 1982, nine days after his 50th birthday.” MV

Mahler Mysteriously Reappears as Graffiti in Toronto

The Corktown area of Toronto has been plagued with a rash of “Gustav Mahler” graffiti tags spray-painted on various buildings and infrastructure.

The mystery ‘Mahler tagger’ has hit the Queen Street Bridge, the walls of factories, lofts, the Ontario Design Centre and, most recently, vandalised the front of the Jimmie Simpson Recreational Centre in South Central Toronto.

No one has been able to understand why the tagger has been spray-painting the composer’s name in large capital letters on clear white surfaces. The graffiti is crudely written in permanent spray-paint in red lettering without the use of stencils, depictions of the composer’s likeness, or any musical notation.

The graffiti began appearing around Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and was first reported on local Toronto blogs, and on the blog of the music critic Alex Ross. “The Rest is Noise”. One particular blogger says: “I have seen the name GUSTAV MAHLER angrily spray-painted in red, almost always on the pristine white walls of some random building, all over this city. Each letter is about a foot tall, meaning you can’t miss it. No one would be stupid enough to spray-paint his own name all over the city, not when it’s in the midst of a near-fascist crackdown on graffiti. Someone is clearly trying to frame Gustav Mahler.”

The tagger’s true identity has remained a mystery, but authorities are actively looking for tips which might lead to the culprit. According to comments published on the Torontoist, many of the tags have already been removed. MV

LA SCENA musicale Distribution

distribution NEWS

Nous désirons informer nos lecteurs d’un changement important dans la distribution de La Scena Musicale. En septembre 2007, La Scène Musicale a lancé une grande campagne d’abonnements en vue de diversifier ses sources de financement et de pouvoir continuer d’améliorer les services, déjà salués par plusieurs prix, qu’elle rend aux lecteurs ainsi qu’à la communauté de la musique et des arts. Cela signifie que la plupart des exemplaires seront livrés directement à certains foyers pour encourager les abonnements. Pour poursuivre notre mission de promotion et d’éducation en musique et dans les arts, une partie des exemplaires continueront d’être distribués dans les écoles de musique et d’art et à des endroits clés pour rejoindre les musiciens et les étudiants en musique. Dans les faits, cela veut dire que la plupart des exemplaires de LSM s’envoleront dès la première semaine de chaque mois; les exemplaires restants seront disponibles dans les kiosques de quartier. Nous vous invitons à continuer de nous appuyer en vous abonnant pour être assuré de ne pas manquer votre numéro mensuel de LSM.

We wish to inform our readers of a significant change in the distribution of La Scena Musicale. In September 2007, La Scène Musicale began a major subscription campaign with the goal of diversifying sources of revenue in order to help continue and improve the award-winning services we have provided to readers and the music and arts community. This means that the majority of copies will be distributed directly to selected homes to incite subscriptions. To continue our mission of actively promoting music and arts education, a percentage of copies will still be distributed at music and arts schools and key venues to reach musicians and music students. Effectively, this means that most of the copies of LSM will have been picked up by the 7th of each month; the balance of the copies can be purchased at local newsstands. We invite you to continue supporting LSM by purchasing a subscription and ensuring that you do not miss out on your monthly LSM.

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