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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 13, No. 4 December 2007


December 13, 2007

Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s new appointment

Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin was recently appointed the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s (LPO) principal guest conductor. On the heels of being named Rotterdam Philharmonic’s new music director, the news came as a surprise to many.

The young 32 year-old wunderkind, who still serves as artistic director of the Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal, apparently impressed the powers-that-be during his LPO conducting debut with his “outstanding musicality, knowledge and technique,” according to LPO chief executive and artistic director Timothy Walker.

Yannick’s performance was “impressive,” described Walker, and anyone who witnessed his “debut with the London Philharmonic Orchestra will understand the motivation for this appointment.” Nézet-Séguin’s genius “lies in his ability to move players to exceptional performance and to communicate a strength and vitality of vision to the listener that is totally engrossing.” MV

Pianist Alfred Brendel to retire

Alfred Brendel, one of the world’s greatest piano virtuosos, announced in late November he will be retiring from the concert stage at the age of 77. To close his extraordinary 60-year career, he plans to give his final concert in Vienna on December 18, 2008 with a performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto # 9 in E flat K271 (“Jeune homme”). The location of Brendel’s final farewell is befitting, as his significance towards the central European piano tradition of the Austro-German repertoire is unmistakable. Also befitting is Brendel’s choice not to close his career with a farewell tour. According to his spokesman: “It has always been Mr Brendel’s intention to stop performing while still at the peak of his powers, and he makes this decision while continuing to attract capacity audiences throughout the world. He dislikes the idea of farewell tours.”

Brendel, who was the first to record Beethoven’s complete piano works, is also an accomplished poet and essayist, and plans to concentrate the rest of his life on his literary career. However, he will continue to lead the occasional masterclass, and has also committed to continue teaching promising pianists such as Till Fellner, Paul Lewis, Imogen Cooper, and Kit Armstrong. MV

Paris Opera Strike

The Opéra National de Paris has been hit to the tune of 2.2 million Euros in losses due to labor actions in France in the last month. Labour unrest at the opera house is part of the waves of walkouts that have crippled the transportation, hospital, education and other sectors of the French economy over the past two months. National unions are protesting President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan to reform long established social pension plans that workers unions have previously negotiated.

On November 14, 18 and 24, stagehands, scenery and lighting workers from the CGT union walked out of the theatre, forcing the cancellation of all matinee and evening performance of The Nutcracker by the Paris Opera Ballet. The concert on the 19th did go through, but only with a single décor, and without costumes.

Out of the theatre’s scheduled seven Tosca performances, four have been cancelled, and the remaining three being presented in costume but with no décor. The October 27th production of the La Traviata at Opera Garnier was also cancelled.

The union FO released a statement, quoted by AFP, saying that its members were taking care that the upcoming new production of Wagner’s Tannhäuser — directed by Robert Carsen, conducted by Seiji Ozawa and opening Dec. 6 at the Bastille — would not be in danger of rehearsal cancellations. MV

Ottawa City Council Sets deadline for concert hall

City staff in Ottawa has recommended that if the deadline of November 30 given to the Ottawa Chamber Music Society does not yield some good news, the city should consider withdrawing its pledge of $6 million for a new concert hall. The Chamber Music Society is spearheading the project, which would see a $33 million, 925-seat hall at the corner of Elgin and Gloucester streets. In addition to the city’s pledge, the society has received $6.5 million from the Ontario government, is awaiting word from the federal government on a $10-million request, and has independently raised close to $5 million in donations and pledges. The OCMS has asked the city for an extension of this deadline, claiming this will allow them to secure federal funding as well as a title sponsor, which would contribute roughly $6.5 million for its name on the midsize hall. The society has called on the community to show its support for the project, which would be operated by the OCMS (although over 30 Ottawa arts groups have already shown their support, saying they would regularly host concerts at the venue).

KUDOS for La Scena Musicale and Editor Wah Keung Chan!

La Scena Musicale and La SCENA founding publisher and editor Wah Keung Chan will be honoured in Montreal by Vanier College, one of his alma maters; the CEGEP is dedicating its 10th Annual Big Band Benefit Concert (April 14, 2008) to the publisher/editor for his work in promoting music through La Scena Musicale. The Vanier Stage Band, under its director Jocelyn Couture, will perform along with many special guest performers. 514-744-7500

BPO discloses Nazi Past

The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, led by conductor Simon Rattle, has admitted their past association with the Nazis in a concert commemorating works banned as “degenerate” by Hitler. Featured in the concerts accompanying an exhibition, the truth emerged showing 1938 Nazi propaganda denouncing Stravinsky and others blacklisted for being Jewish or enemies of the regime. It also showed the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, paying the orchestra to maintain their roles as musicians, instead of joining the wartime effort. “The solution offered by Goebbels meant material and financial security for the orchestra,” noted Misha Aster, author of The Berlin Philharmonic and the Third Reich. “That naturally meant a major compromise.”

The orchestra’s 125th anniversary concert of works condemned by the Nazi regime ended triumphantly with a particularly emotional rendition of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. MV

Maurice Béjart: 1927-2007

Legendary French choreographer Maurice Béjart passed away on November 22nd after being hospitalized the week before due to heart and kidney complications. He made his mark in the dance world by eagerly offering ballet to a much wider and newer audience. His output consists of a remarkable number of creations (roughly 220), covering a variety of styles and influences. In 1987, he founded the Béjart Ballet Lausanne in Switzerland, one of the most successful dance companies in the world. Béjart was 80 years old and leaves behind a legacy of remarkable growth for the world of dance. His last creation, Round the World in 80 Minutes, will be premiered in Lausanne on December 20th.

Toronto art auction fetches $19 million

The Vancouver-based Heffel Fine Art Auction House found huge success at Toronto’s Park Hyatt Hotel on November 23rd as five Canadian paintings were sold for over $1 million each. Group of Seven member Lawren Harris’s Grey Day, North Shore, Lake Superior was the evening’s top buy at $1,782,500, while works by other legends of Canadian art history, David Milne and Tom Thomson, also reached seven figures. The grand total of the sales from the auction was the second highest in Canadian history, as Heffel set that record in May with a $22.8-million auction. Other well-known Canadian artists that fared well include Emily Carr, Jean-Paul Riopelle, as well as other Group of Seven members J.E.H. MacDonald and A.Y. Jackson (22 and 10 works sold, respectively). The second-highest sell of the day was Milne’s Snow Patches, Boston Corners, NY at $1,437,500, which is over three times the previous record for a Milne work. The auction represents another major success in a remarkable year for Canadian art and art auctions. As David Heffel, president of the auction house, stated, “Tonight’s sale shows that the Canadian art market continues strong.” Heffel went on to cite the international competition for the Canadian works and said the evening was “frenetically paced.”

Controversy over federal government’s plans for Portrait Gallery of Canada

Governmental plans to set up a national portrait gallery in the nation’s capital have shifted several times; the latest turn in the saga sees the federal government issuing an invitation to nine major cities across the country (Halifax, Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa-Gatineau, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver) to compete for the prize of being home to the national gallery. Library and Archives Canada has developed the collection, which features works that span back to the 1880s, with the intent of honouring important personalities that have been central to Canada’s development. The collection is currently in Ottawa, out of the view of the public, in a building operated by Library and Archives Canada. Those objecting to this latest announcement, made in early November, include the mayor of Charlottetown, who claims that his city be allowed to compete for the distinction, complaints that this a cost-cutting measure by the Conservatives to distance themselves from investing in the arts, and the sentiments of many Canadians that such a national treasure trove should remain in the capital city. The project began under Jean Chrétien’s Liberals in 2001, and by 2006, $11 million had been spent on the portrait gallery. At that time, the Conservatives cited rising costs and a reduction in cultural spending and the project was put on hiatus. An announcement of the winning city is expected before the summer of 2008.

Saskatchewan theatre director returns home to head Persephone in Saskatoon

Del Surjik, born in North Battleford, has been named the new artistic director of Persephone Theatre in Saskatoon, a city where he clearly has deep roots in the theatre community. Educated at the University of Saskatchewan, Surjik was the first recipient of a BFA in theatre at the school and helped to found the city’s Saskatoon Soaps company as well as the Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan Festival. Having lived in Vancouver since 1989, where he has been artistic director of the independent Pi Theatre Company for the last 10 years, Surjik is clearly thrilled to be returning home to what he describes as “the plum artistic director position in the country right now.” The 47-year-old director won an intensive national competition for the job that saw 35 applicants; in spite of the grueling selection process, the committee’s choice was unanimous. The appointment comes at an ideal time, as Persephone is entering a new era in its 32-year history; a new building, years in the making, is opening soon on the city’s riverbank. Former artistic director Tibor Feheregyhazi, who passed away in July after battling prostate cancer, heralded the new facility as “the most ambitious production in the history of Persephone Theatre”. Surjik said of his predecessor, “I look forward to building on his legacy and taking us to a very exciting future, which is what I’m sure he wanted.”

New Arts Facility in St. Catharines ?

The city of St. Catharines, Ontario, is investigating the possibility of building a new performing arts centre downtown. The proposed project would be in conjunction with Brock University’s School for Fine and Performing Arts, which is currently desperately short of space. City councilors and other officials all agree that there is a legitimate need for the centre, and, naturally, the university is enthusiastic about the possibility of freeing up badly-needed space on campus, while raising its arts profile through a new facility. “Right now, the only fine art centre in St. Catharines is at Brock, so it’s understandable that we would be partners in this discussion,” said Jack Lightstone, President and Vice-Chancellor of Brock University. “We’re not going to operate competing centres for the arts so ideally there has to be some sort of partnership.” On November 19th, city councilors approved grants to 18 groups and individuals, totaling $121,000. Rebecca Cann, St. Catharines cultural planning supervisor, claims that this money will help develop talent for the proposed centre.

(c) La Scena Musicale