REVIEW: THE VSO100 CLOSING CONCERTS AFFIRM A SPECIAL LEGACY

James Ehnes, Lucy Wang and Nicolas Wright (violin); Peter Wispelwey and Tate Zawadiuk (cello); Ben Heppner (narrator), Vancouver Symphony Orchestra/ Otto Tausk (conductor): Music of Van Der AA, R. Strauss, Schipizky, Coulthard, Bernstein, Morlock, Tchaikovsky and others, Orpheum, June 8 and 11, 2019.

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After celebrations at the beginning of the season and even bigger events including the VSO’s ‘Day of Music’ in January 2019, the closing two concerts of the VSO’s centenary year are upon us. The events also marked the successful completion of Music Director Otto Tausk’s initial season with the orchestra. His influence on programming was apparent in the first of these concerts, featuring the North American premiere of Dutch composer Michel van der AA’s akin for solo violin, solo cello and orchestra, as coupled with Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra. The second event was perhaps more important: a splendid ‘gala’ that showcased the orchestra’s history in music and visuals (narrated by the celebrated tenor Ben Heppner), with James Ehnes contributing a scintillating Tchaikovsky concerto at the end…See more.


REVIEW: KAMIO AND AKIYAMA’S VSO CONCERT MIXES GENTLENESS WITH ENERGY

Mayuko Kamio (violin), VSO/ Kazuyoshi Akiyama: Works by Respighi, Bach, Mozart and Mendelssohn, Chan Centre, May 17, 2019. 

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There has been no lack of nostalgia as the VSO closes out its 100th Anniversary season. Maestro Bramwell Tovey returned for a visit only a few weeks ago and now Kazuyoshi Akiyama, the orchestra’s Music Director from 1972 -1985, and Conductor Laureate thereafter, takes the helm. There was clearly a Japanese theme afoot – and many devoted Japanese patrons present – as his collaborator was violinist Mayuko Kamio, winner of the 1998 Yehudi Menuhin Competition and Gold Medalist in the 2007 Tchaikovsky Competition. Their collaboration in Bach and Mozart concertos yielded an abiding gentleness throughout, while Akiyama added more dramatic profile and thrust in Respighi and Mendelssohn…See more.


REVIEW: TCHAIKOVSKY AND LOUIS LORTIE’S BEETHOVEN HIGHLIGHT BRAMWELL TOVEY’S RETURN

Louis Lortie (piano), VSO/ Bramwell Tovey: Music of Debussy, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven, Orpheum, May 5, 2019.

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It is always an interesting occasion when a conductor comes back to conduct his previous orchestra. In Bramwell Tovey’s case, it has not even been a year since he completed his 18-year stint with the VSO, so one would hardly expect any appreciable difference in his art. One did sense a degree of detachment as he initially came on stage, but this didn’t last for long: his characteristic cavalcade of humorous anecdotes started off the second half, introducing himself to the audience curtly by ‘I’m Bramwell Tovey. I used to work here.’ This was Tovey’s second visit of 2019, and the orchestra played very well for him. A possible disappointment was that the scheduled world premiere of his new Concerto for Orchestra had to be postponed. It was replaced by the complete ballet music from Act II of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, music the maestro has relished since his early days and which likely provided equal, if not greater, bounty for the attendees. The highlight of this concert was the appearance of Louis Lortie, fresh off his 60th birthday concert at London’s Wigmore Hall, giving a beautifully elegant and considered treatment of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2…See more.


‘MUSICAL MAGIC’: AN INTERVIEW WITH NORWEGIAN VIOLINIST HENNING KRAGGERUD

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There are few artists that convey a greater sense of communication and discovery in the concert hall than Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud. While there is a life-enhancing glow in his appearances, one surmises that his bountiful inspiration must come from somewhere – perhaps from a tradition that stresses experimentation and an almost Renaissance diversity in musical reach. Not only is Kraggerud a beautifully fine-toned and sensitive violin soloist and chamber musician, but also a devoted educator, a play/direct specialist, a (sometimes) violist, and a composer. One might tangentially note some of the same inspiration and independence of purpose in other Norwegian artists, such as pianists Leif Ove Andsnes and Håvard Gimse, violist Lars Anders Tomter, and more recently, violinist Vilde Frang. A prime motivation for this this interview is to understand, first, where this freedom of spirit comes from – and the educational components that may have spawned it – and, second, its implications for a more innovative approach to concert performances and programming. Kraggerud’s more recent compositional projects are also discussed. This interview took place in conjunction with the violinist’s Vancouver Symphony Orchestra appearance in late February 2019, a concert highlighted by Kraggerud and Bernt Simen Lund’s new arrangement of Bach’s Goldberg Variations…See more.


REVIEW: JONATHAN DARLINGTON DIRECTS AN INSPIRED FAUST TRUE TO ITS SPIRIT

GOUNOD, FAUST: David Pomeroy (Faust), Robert Pomakov (Mephistopheles), Simone Osborne (Marguerite), Peter Barrett (Valentin), Mireille Lebel (Siebel), Emilia Boteva (Marthe Schwerlein), Scott Rumble (Wagner), Vancouver Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Jonathan Darlington (conductor), Kinza Tyrrell (director), François Racine (director), Olivier Landreville (scenic designer), Dominique Guindon (costume designer), Gerald King (lighting designer), Queen Elizabeth Theatre, April 27, 2019.

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The big production at this year’s Vancouver Opera Festival yielded a Faust desirably faithful to its original time and period. The real star of the show was Maestro Jonathan Darlington, who elicited a sensitive, alert and disciplined reading of the score from the Vancouver Opera Orchestra and provided the singers with unflagging support. Indeed, much of the color and rhythmic energy of this performance emanated from the orchestra pit. Tenor David Pomeroy’s wide range of expression gave a compelling portrait of Gounod’s antihero, completely absorbed in Faust’s turbulent and rapidly-changing psychological states. Robert Pomakov brought a formidable stage presence and stentorian bass voice to the role of Mephistopheles, while soprano Simone Osborne found considerable vocal beauty in conveying Marguerite’s innocence and fragility. Overall, this was the type of singing and orchestral playing that allowed Gounod’s irresistible melodies to flourish, and brought both the plot and the characters vividly to life…See more.


REVIEW: A WELL-SUNG AND ENTERTAINING CENERENTOLA FROM VANCOUVER OPERA

ROSSINI, LA CENERENTOLA: Simone McIntosh (Cenerentola), Charles Sy (Don Ramiro), Peter McGillvray (Don Magnifico), Tyler Simpson (Alidoro), Daniel Thielmann (Dandini), Nicole Joanne Brooks (Clorinda), Gena van Oosten (Tisbe), Vancouver Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Leslie Dala (conductor), Rachel Peake (director), Vancouver Playhouse, April 27, 2019.

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Vancouver Opera’s latest production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola is the company’s first engagement with this opera in nearly four decades and the intimate space of the Vancouver Playhouse proved to be an ideal venue. This was a particularly well executed and well-sung Cenerentola that aimed to be as lighthearted as possible, creating a fully entertaining spectacle with enough bel canto to satisfy any opera enthusiast. Mezzo-soprano Simone McIntosh was well equipped for the lead role, possessing an attractive timbre and a natural-sounding resonance across her entire range. As Don Ramiro, tenor Charles Sy was the perfect vocal complement, thanks to his smooth legato, effortless command of his upper register, and sensitive control of phrasing and nuance. The audience favorite of this production was undoubtedly the Don Magnifico of Peter McGillvray, an actor with a phenomenal gift for physical comedy. Virtually all ensembles came across as clear and well balanced, and the orchestra seldom overpowered the voices. The sparsely furnished set was attractive enough to permit the audience to immerse themselves in the characters and story while Rachel Peake’s stage direction was entertaining yet unfussy…See more.


REVIEW: PIANIST NELSON GOERNER RETURNS WITH A RECITAL OF VARIETY AND STRENGTH

Nelson Goerner (piano): Works by Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin and Brahms, Playhouse, April 7, 2019. 

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There are few finer pianists of his generation than Argentinian Nelson Goerner, and this concert gave another example of his unique elegance, insight and pianistic strength. After giving a very fine Beethoven ‘Hammerklavier’ last visit (recently released on CD to strong acclaim), it was his ‘Appassionata’ that grabbed the spotlight here, an intense, magnetic reading that flowed together all of a piece. Appealing slices of Chopin, Brahms and Schumann also showcased the variety of Goerner’s repertoire, each strongly appointed in detail and integration…See more.


REVIEW: JONATHAN AND JAN-PAUL ROOZEMAN DISPLAY THEIR SYNERGIES IN A WIDE-RANGING CELLO RECITAL

Jonathan Roozeman (cello), Jan-Paul Roozeman (piano): Works by Debussy, Schubert, Boccherini, Chopin and Sibelius, Playhouse, March 31, 2019.

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The Vancouver Recital Society’s love of young pianists has been one of their long-standing hallmarks, but there now seems to be a growing fondness for young cellists too. Last season, exciting 25-year-old French cellist Edgar Moreau appeared, and this year 20-year-old Finnish/Dutch cellist Jonathan Roozeman arrived with his pianist brother Jan-Paul to play duo works by Debussy, Schubert and Boccherini and a number of less well-known pieces. Family associations go a long way in creating subliminal communication between artists, and that was evident here: the siblings displayed both ‘togetherness’ and an appealing fresh energy in their playing. The cellist displayed impressive technical variety and tonal beauty throughout, though he understandably has room to develop in both style and character. Schubert’s ‘Arpeggione’ Sonata was the highlight of the concert…See more.


REVIEW: OTTO TAUSK LIVES UP TO HIS MOZART CHALLENGE

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra/ Otto Tausk: Last Three Symphonies of Mozart, Chan Centre, March 23, 2019.

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It is always a challenge for an orchestra to play Mozart’s last three symphonies together, and Otto Tausk and the VSO did a commendable job. With an ensemble of around 40 players, and using a harpsichord and fortepiano as alternating continuos, there was an authentic hue to the performances, even though modern instruments were used. As with Tausk’s Beethoven’s 7th last year, one noted a genuine attempt at period scale and balance, and the interaction of the divided violins ably fostered clarity of counterpoint and line. In accord with recent thinking, speeds tended to be brisk, with strong rhythmic emphasis and, sometimes, brusque sforzandi and cutting brass. The approach was purposive and clear headed, though not without colour, yielding a consistency throughout. Perhaps the conductor was a little too excitable and rhythmically insistent in the great G minor and ‘Jupiter’ to allow either their darker undercurrents or lyrical serenity to register fully, but this was an admirable effort all told…See more.


REVIEW: STERLING BEETHOVEN FROM DAVID KADOUCH

David Kadouch (piano), VSO/ Dietrich Paredes: Works by Beethoven and Mendelssohn, Orpheum, March 16, 2019.

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Following in the French footsteps of Jean Efflam Bavouzet, François-Frédéric Guy and Alexandre Tharaud, the up-and-coming 33-year-old pianist David Kadouch now arrives to perform Beethoven’s 3rd Piano Concerto. Kadouch undertook his early studies at the Nice and Paris Conservatoires, moving to the Reina Sofia School in Madrid, and ultimately won the top prize in the Beethoven Bonn Competition in 2005 and the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2009. He has released an acclaimed disc of Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues, and his very recent collaboration with Edgar Moreau in the Cello Sonatas of Franck, Poulenc & Strohl was praised strongly in Gramophone. His Beethoven with the VSO on this occasion was quite exceptional, displaying unusual emotional commitment, insight and technical aplomb, though the rest of the outing, conducted by visiting Venezuelan Dietrich Paredes, was not of the same standard…See more.


REVIEW: KRISTIAN BEZUIDENHOUT AND THE CHIAROSCURO QUARTET COMBINE FOR LOVELY MOZART AND LESS THAN SATISFYING SCHUBERT

Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano), Chiaroscuro Quartet (Alina Ibragimova and Pablo-Hernan Benedi [violins], Emilie Hörnlund [viola], Claire Thirion [cello]), Playhouse, March 10, 2019.

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This concert was a high point for enthusiasts of authentic performance. With Kristian Bezuidenhout – one of the finest exponents of Mozart on the fortepiano – contributing the famous C minor Sonata K457 and collaborating with the Chiaroscuro Quartet in the string quartet version of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12, there were riches indeed. The pianist always impressed with his considered elegance, insight and sense of interpretative space. The concerto had a lovely sense of scale and balance while mining both the work’s contemplative and operatic elements. The question mark was the Chiaroscuro Quartet’s reading of Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ which, while full of dramatic extremes, was distinctly light on Schubertian flow and sentiment and exhibited a self-consciously studied veneer throughout…See more.


REVIEW: VSO NEW MUSIC: ‘THE RESOUNDING EARTH’

The Resounding Earth, VSO/ William Rowson: Music by Brumel, Gimon, Pentland, Nobles, Morlock, Allen and Brant, Orpheum Annex, February 23, 2019.

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The VSO’s presentation of ‘The Resounding Earth’ was a worthy follow-up to the orchestra’s New Music Festival in January, and also shared some of its naturalistic focus. Jocelyn Morlock’s carefully curated programme, which included four world premieres by Canadian composers, highlighted the genre of spatial music. In such works, the composer’s instructions extend not only to the music but also to the physical placement of the instruments: spatial separation of sounds is an explicit ingredient in enhancing the work’s contrast, aura and overall communication. This concert itself had an attractive contrast in the pieces performed and yielded a fine display from a reduced VSO ensemble conducted by assistant conductor William Rowson. The event was presented as part of the VSO’s Women’s Voices initiative to promote gender equality in the arts…See more.


REVIEW: PAUL LEWIS COMPLETES HIS HAYDN-BEETHOVEN-BRAHMS SOJOURN WITH GREAT FORTITUDE

Paul Lewis, piano, Haydn-Beethoven-Brahms Project (Concert IV), Playhouse, March 3, 2019.

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Well, he made it! Paul Lewis had suffered a neck/nerve injury that forced cancellation of his scheduled appearance at Carnegie Hall, and there was considerable trepidation as the pianist now embarked on this final concert of his Haydn-Beethoven-Brahms project. Everyone was prepared for the worst, especially with the long and forbidding Diabelli Variations beckoning at the end of the programme. But not to worry: the pianist’s fortitude carried him the distance and featured some very fine playing too. If there has been one thing invariant over the four concerts, it is the quality of Lewis’s Haydn, and his Sonata No. 53 in E minor maintained the flow of insight. The Brahms Intermezzi Op. 117 also seemed to capture the composer’s ruminative, poetic side with increased natural awareness. Although not the only way to perform the work, the pianist’s Diabelli Variations turned out as an astute and cohesive exploration of telling variety and command…See more.


REVIEW: THE DANISH QUARTET’S BATTLE WITH BEETHOVEN

Danish String Quartet [Frederik Øland and Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen (violins), Asbjørn Nørgaard (viola), Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin (cello)]: Beethoven Quartets and Nordic Folk Tunes, Playhouse, February 24, 2019.

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In recent years, the young Danish Quartet has secured a very devoted international following. There is little surprise why: they exude a uniquely Scandinavian sense of discovery and charm but, more tellingly, they have a lovely warm sound, play with a natural ease and thoughtfulness and have a keen eye for beauty. This concert mixed two Beethoven quartets with another round of engaging folk tunes and suggested a most pleasurable experience. Yet it also revealed some of the limitations of the ensemble’s approach to Beethoven: namely, that in their quest to expose tonal beauty and unearth passages of deep emotional suspension, they unwittingly smooth over other sharper, more complex dimensions of the composer’s expression. The early Op. 18 No. 4 quartet was nicely realized but, as in their previous traversals of two late quartets, it was the Op. 74 (‘Harp’) which produced the red flag – extended romantically in a way that compromised the purity of the work’s line. Nonetheless, an ample selection of Nordic folk tunes did much to create positive energy, and one really had to marvel at the quartet’s skill in using (largely) vibrato-less articulation to find beautiful moments of innocent feeling alongside foot-stomping rustic rhythms…See more.


REVIEW: HENNING KRAGGERUD GIVES A CONCERT OF GREAT CHARM AND INNOVATION

Jason Ho (violin), Victor de Almeida (viola), Zoltan Rosznyai (cello), Vancouver Symphony Orchestra/ Henning Kraggerud (violin/ director): Music of Grieg, Svendsen, Kraggerud and J. S. Bach, Chan Centre, February 22, 2019.

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Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud has enviable resources to bring to any concert: wonderful talents in playing his instrument, a natural ability to undertake play/direct formats, and an imagination in introducing his own compositions into the mix. As this concert illustrated vividly, there is another attribute which also stands out: Kraggerud’s ability to convey his love of the music – his charming stories and metaphors included – in such a way that even the uninitiated can gain an entrance point into the concert experience. It was rare to see a concert so accessible and delightful yet having so little pretence or show. Naturally, proceedings started from the violinist’s homeland in the form of Grieg’s Holberg Suite, moving to Johan Svendsen’s lovely Romance. Then it was the violinist’s own compositional efforts: Postlude Two from Equinox, with the big piece being his new string orchestra arrangement of Bach’s Goldberg Variations (just released on Simax). Interestingly, the magic of this concert may have started from Kraggerud’s opening story about Grieg’s ‘little green frog’ that he apparently carried in his pocket at all times – a good luck inspiration for composing and everyday life. Somehow the metaphor stuck: there seemed to be lots of delightfully jumping green frogs in the Holberg Suite, and I’m sure I heard them in the Goldberg Variations too…See more.


REVIEW: THE ASTONISHING FILIPPO GORINI LEADS FORTH THE ‘NEXT GENERATION’ PIANISTS

Fillipo Gorini, piano: Works by Beethoven, Bartók, Stockhausen, Playhouse, February 17, 2019.

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It’s that time of year again! The Vancouver Recital Society typically assigns a segment of each concert season to showcasing the most promising young pianists on the international stage, and the parade has begun. Last season, it was Yekwon Sunwoo, George Li and Zhang Zuo; this year, Hungarian Zoltán Fejérvári has already offered idiomatic Bartok and poetic Schumann. Now it is Filippo Gorini’s turn, a young Italian who has come into the spotlight quickly, not least because Alfred Brendel was sufficiently astonished by the pianist’s account of Beethoven’s ’Diabelli Variations’ in a private recital that he offered to teach him. His subsequent recording of this work for Alpha has received very strong acclaim. The current concert equally left no doubt about the talents of this young 23-year-old winner of the 2015 Telekom-Beethoven Competition, revealing a pianist with remarkable keyboard control who can penetrate works with unusual clarity and long-term vision. Gorini seems to have a natural attraction to structurally rigorous and complex pieces, and this traversal of Beethoven, Bartók and Stockhausen managed to create the feeling that each work might be a chip off the same stone…See more.


REVIEW: CHAD HOOPES AND EIVIND GULLBERG JENSEN FIND NEW MAGIC IN THE DVORAK VIOLIN CONCERTO

Chad Hoopes, violin: VSO/ Eivind Gullberg Jensen: Music of Mozart, Dvořák and Brahms, Orpheum, February 16, 2019.

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In any concert of exclusively mainline repertoire, one typically hopes to find something new in the interpretation of at least one of the works performed but, all too often, one doesn’t. This time, however, young American violinist Chad Hoopes and visiting Norwegian conductor Eivind Gullberg Jensen managed to place a rather different stamp on the Dvořák Violin Concerto, securing an alternative type of development and colour and imbuing it with a more complex emotional palette at a measured speed. This interpretation differed notably from the more rustic, tightly-knit readings one finds in the classic Czech tradition or, for that matter, Augustin Hadelich’s exacting traversal here a few years ago…See more.


REVIEW: A COMMENDABLE BUT NOT FULLY CONSUMING BOHÈME FROM VANCOUVER OPERA

Puccini, La Bohème: Phillip Addis (Marcello), Ji-Min Park (Rodolfo), Neil Craighead (Colline), Geoffrey Schellenberg (Schaunard), J. Patrick Raftery (Benoit/Alcindoro), France Bellemare (Mimi), Sharleen Joynt (Musetta), Vancouver Opera Orchestra, Judith Yan (conductor), Vancouver Opera Chorus, Leslie Dala (director), Renaud Doucet (stage director), André Barbe (scenic designer/costume designer), Guy Simard (lighting designer), Queen Elizabeth Theatre, February 14, 2019.

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Vancouver Opera’s latest production of Puccini’s La Bohème comes at the midpoint of a season devoted to classic favorites, beginning with Lehár’s timeless operetta The Merry Widow and concluding with Gounod’s Faust and Rossini’s charming La Cenerentola. Puccini’s verismo masterpiece not only demands a well-balanced and cohesive ensemble of principal singers in three of the four acts, but also a juggling of numerous solo, choral, and instrumental groups in the famous Latin Quarter scene of the 2nd act. Conductor Judith Yan elicited an alert and precise rendering of the score from the Vancouver Opera Orchestra, providing the singers with an overall security and freedom to cultivate meaningful interplay with each other. With a few reservations, the direction was satisfying and the staging was visually impressive, allowing the viewer to connect with the motivating fabric of the characters. The major roles were generally well cast, though there were some issues in vocal matching between the leads France Bellemare (Mimi) and Ji-Min Park (Rudolfo), fine as they otherwise were. Sharleen Joyn also brought genuine seductive charm and spirit to the role of Musetta in a Bohème which, overall, turned out  less sentimental and tragic than usual…See more.


REVIEW: THE KING’S SINGERS DELIGHT WITH VIRTUOSITY AND VARIETY

The King’s Singers [Patrick Dunachie and Timothy Wayne-Wright (contertenors), Julian Gregory (tenor), Christopher Bruerton and Christopher Gabbitas (baritones), Jonathan Howard (bass)], Royal Blood: Music of King Henry VIII, Chan Centre, February 9, 2019.

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2018 marked the 50th Anniversary of The King’s Singers, and the ensemble has kept remarkably busy since their initial celebration in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge in January 2018. December saw a 14-concert North American tour, and they have moved forward with another 12-concert expedition in February 2019, of which this concert was part. This was their last stop before flying off to the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles: their three-disc album ‘GOLD’ – released for the Anniversary – was nominated in the Best Classical Compendium category. They had won two Grammys previously, and it is with regret that one has to report that they did not secure a third this time. The concert on tap was ‘Royal Blood: Music of King Henry VIII’: a variety of Elizabethan staples augmented by modern pieces by Benjamin Britten and Richard-Rodney Bennett. The second part of the concert exhibited the group’s signature delight in folk songs and pop classics. Overall, the group’s vocal precision and luminosity, set alongside its personal charm and taste for variety, carried the day and made for a most entertaining appearance…See more.


REVIEW: THE PRAZAK AND ZEMLINSKY QUARTETS COME TOGETHER FOR A SPECIAL CONCERT

Pražák and Zemlinsky String Quartets: Music of Dvorak, Schulhoff and Mendelssohn, Playhouse, January 29, 2019.

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There is something wonderfully extravagant about having two international string quartets come together for a concert, especially if they are from the Czech Republic. The Czech quartet tradition has spawned a wonderful sequence of ensembles, from the legendary Janáček and Smetana Quartets in the immediate post-war era to groups like the Pavel Haas Quartet today. On this occasion, it was the long-standing Pražák Quartet (formed in 1972) holding hands with the younger Zemlinsky Quartet (formed in 1994). The Mendelssohn Octet was naturally on tap, an enticing prospect since many enthusiasts will remember that the Janáček and Smetana Quartets recorded one of the most scintillating versions ever. The current performance was not quite at this level, but it gave off a nice authentic energy. It was equally redeeming to hear the string sextets by Dvořák and Erwin Schulhoff. The latter is a real prize and, in many respects, was the highlight of the evening…See more.


REVIEW: THE VSO100 BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS AND THE 2019 NEW MUSIC FESTIVAL

Nathalie Paulin (soprano); Vern Griffiths (percussion), VSO/ Otto Tausk; New York Polyphony and other groups, Orpheum, Christ Church Cathedral, and other venues, January 16-26, 2019.

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January started off with another bevy of VSO100 events, culminating in a massive celebration on the orchestra’s actual birthday (January 26th), which featured more than 100 free concerts in multiple venues and more than 1000 performers both young and old. The orchestra performed the closing concerts. This was a terrific success, with more people than one could possibly imagine showing up and making a day of it – 14,000 in total. It certainly revealed how many different groups the VSO could reach if it had the resources. The city has now declared this date its ‘Day of Music’. Before that, the symphony had a celebrity event with legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman, and a four-concert New Music Festival which was particularly accessible to the general public. Coupled with earlier celebrations in September, this was a massive project to bring off and VSO President Kelly Tweeddale, her administration, and the VSO’s new Music Director Otto Tausk must be congratulated on carrying everything with such aplomb…See more.


REVIEW: VISUALS OUTDO THE MUSIC IN TAFELMUSIK’S ‘CIRCLE OF CREATION’

J.S. Bach: ‘The Circle of Creation’: Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Playhouse, January 25, 2019.

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Toronto’s Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra has now become firmly identified with Alison Mackay’s multimedia productions that use visuals and a narrator to illuminate the history behind the greatest Baroque compositions. These are wonderfully educational for an audience but do require a pristine balance between the visuals/narration and the music: both must function as fully complementary. In their their first visit with these types of productions in 2016, Tafelmusik’s ‘House of Dreams’ achieved this balance admirably, and was an unqualified success in promoting this genre. The current production of ‘J.S. Bach: The Circle of Creation’, with new leader Elisa Citterio, did not fare as well. The visuals were fine – and provided an engaging story on their own – but the integrative force of Bach’s music was often lacking…See more.


REVIEW: A STRIKING VANCOUVER DEBUT FOR THE EHNES QUARTET

Ehnes Quartet (James Ehnes and Amy Schwartz-Moretti, violins; Richard O’Neill, viola; Edward Arron, cello): Music of Mozart, Janáček and Schubert, Playhouse, January 22, 2019.

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For all the Ehnes Quartet has played an integral role in the Seattle Chamber Music Society, it has taken the ensemble quite a while to cross the border and make their Vancouver debut. One could hardly be disappointed: led by the celebrated Canadian violinist James Ehnes, this is a magnificent collection of musicians who share a kindred spirit, provide enviable tonal address and variety, and see the line of the music very well. Formed in 2011, they have advanced quickly: their Onyx disc of Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ and the Sibelius quartet has already been nominated for a Gramophone award, and they have recently performed the complete cycle of Beethoven String Quartets in Seoul. Their performances of Mozart, Janáček and Schubert string quartets on this occasion added up memorably, not least because the group finds a natural enthusiasm to place beside their keen analytical strength and musicianship. Everything they attempted seemed interesting and fresh – suggesting a thirst for discovery and a real feeling for what the music is saying…See more.


FEATURED INTERVIEW

THE GREAT CANADIAN ARTISTS: AN INTERVIEW WITH MARC-ANDRÉ HAMELIN

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Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin has emerged as one of the marvels of the twenty-first century. There are few living pianists who can match his transparency of articulation, rhythmic and tonal control, and cunning virtuoso strength, and these characteristics have been resoundingly illustrated in his recordings and concert performances of a vast range of 19th and 20th century repertoire. His early – and indeed enduring – contribution lay in bringing technically-challenging works of lesser known and often forgotten composers to public attention, placing them on the world stage in the best light for others to absorb and study. In more recent years, he has brought his interpretative and technical acumen to the more mainline literature  with great success. Hamelin was born in Montreal, and originally studied at the École de Musique Vincent-d'Indy, then at Temple University in Philadelphia. The first turning point in his career was winning the Carnegie Hall International Competition for American Music in 1985. The second, in 1995, was the start of his association with Hyperion Records, which has spawned to date well over 50 esteemed recordings and established him within the world’s élite pianists.  In 2003, Hamelin became an Officer of the Order of Canada and, in 2004, a Chevalier de l'Ordre du Québec…See more.



REVIEW: MASAAKI SUZUKI AND BACH COLLEGIUM JAPAN TAKE US INTO THEIR PRIVATE WORLD

Joanne Lunn (soprano), Ryo Terakado (violin), Liliko Maeda (traverse flute), Masamitsu San’nomiya (oboe), Bach Collegium Japan/ Masaaki Suzuki (director/continuo), Works by Bach, Vivaldi, Corti, Marcello, Telemann and Handel, Chan Centre, December 9, 2018.

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After all the energetic and brightly-lit Baroque ensembles that have visited over the years, it was absolutely refreshing to witness the unselfconscious modesty and devotion in the music making of Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan. The ensemble has received great praise for its recording of the integral Bach cantatas for BIS and is now in its 28th year under Suzuki’s leadership. It has visited New York over the years, but this was its Vancouver debut. One delightful feature of this concert was the variety in the programming, running from orchestral pieces by Bach, Vivaldi, and Marcello through a Paris quartet by Telemann to two motets by Handel and Francesco Corti, sung by fresh-toned British soprano Joanne Lunn. Yet it was the group’s reverential attitude to music-making that was the real treat: Suzuki and his troupe seemed to perform each work like they were discovering a sacred precious stone, its secrets and beauties to be uncovered gently and only through the most discerning and refined exploration. There is an austerity and a purity in this approach, almost free of human interference; only beneath does one glimpse the great sensitivity and concentration of the artists…See more.


REVIEW: YEFIM BRONFMAN BRINGS LIFE-ENHANCING STRENGTH AND COHESION TO BRAHMS

Yefim Bronfman (piano), VSO/ Jun Märkl, Works by Brahms, Liszt and Richard Strauss, Orpheum, December 8, 2018.

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Yefim Bronfman performed a very fine complete set of Beethoven Piano Concertos here in 2013; he now turns to the magisterial Brahms Second. While it was the pianist’s transparent line, intelligence and fineness of touch that distinguished his Beethoven, the Brahms brought a more commanding but equally-perceptive response, fully assimilating the composer’s lyrical flow and richer sinew while always bringing out the work’s architectural strength. It would be difficult to think of a more naturally cohesive or complete interpretation. Long-time VSO visitor Jun Märkl collaborated and drew fine energy from the orchestra, adding an unusually tight-knit and colourful rendering of Liszt’s Les Preludes and Richard Strauss’s Don Juan in the second half of the concert…See more.


REVIEW: BAIBA SKRIDE AND OTTO TAUSK FIND ILLUMINATION IN GUBAIDULINA AND TCHAIKOVSKY

Baiba Skride (violin), VSO/ Otto Tausk: Works by Gabrieli, Gubaidulina and Tchaikovsky, Orpheum, December 1, 2018.

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Following on her very fine Korngold performance with the VSO in June 2017, Latvian violinist Baiba Skride now turns to the monumental and challenging first violin concerto of Russian-Tartar composer, Sofia Gubaidulina, entitled Offertorium (1980). The violinist, with the committed collaboration of Otto Tausk and the orchestra, were very much up to the challenge, weaving their way through this complex work with confidence, imagination, and an awareness of its full range of colour and feeling. Keeping up the Russian theme, Tausk also contributed a fresh account of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathetique’ Symphony. The VSO distinguished itself throughout, not least the brass section, which also had its own opportunity to shine in Gabrieli’s Sacrae Symphoniae that began the concert…See more.


REVIEW: A VERY SPECIAL LIEDER RECITAL FROM SIMON KEENLYSIDE AND MALCOLM MARTINEAU

Sir Simon Keenlyside (baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano): Songs of Brahms, Poulenc, Ravel and Schubert: Playhouse, November 25, 2018.

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This concert marked the first stop on baritone Sir Simon Keenlyside and pianist Malcolm Martineau’s 2018 North American tour. It was very successful: starting from songs of Brahms, Poulenc and Ravel and ending with Schubert, both artists were on top of their form and gave a fully memorable recital. Keenlyside exhibited a lovely poise throughout, always finding telling communication and expressive variety, while Martineau’s conjunction of alertness and refinement could not help but add to the magic…See more.


REVIEW: MUSIC ON MAIN’S MODULUS FESTIVAL EXTENDS THE NEW MUSIC BOUNTY OF THE FALL

Music on Main’s MODULUS FESTIVAL: The Roundhouse, Post at 750 and CBC Studio 700, November 2-6, 2018.

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Following on the momentum gained from hosting the ISCM World Music Days in 2017, David Pay and Music on Main continue their 5-day Modulus Festival this year, featuring a rich diversity of artists and offering an excellent sampling of what is current in the world of new music. It usefully complements Vancouver New Music’s ‘Quartetti’ extravaganza of two weeks earlier (24 contemporary string quartet compositions played by seven ensembles) in bringing a heightened new music inspiration to Vancouver’s fall season. Fluidity of form and genres defined the Modulus Festival’s musical offerings, and attention was drawn to musicians who are both composers and performers. Opportunities for mingling between performers and the audience was also an important aspect of the festival. Among the many notable events, Music on Main’s Composer-in-Residence, Nicole Lizée, teamed up with British composer/vocalist Laura Bowler to present a concert of chillingly insightful music, singer and medieval scholar Katarina Livljanić performed Kokla Kokabula, while Eve Egoyan presented dramatically-staged pieces for piano and electronics. Two of the most inspired concerts were by young British pianist Richard Uttley, and the Standing Wave Ensemble contributed their inimitable expertise at the end…See more.


REVIEW: IGOR LEVIT’S INTIMATE JOURNEY THROUGH ‘LIFE’

Igor Levit (piano), ‘Life’, Chan Centre, November 4, 2018.

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One has quickly come to identify pianist Igor Levit with far-reaching projects, but his ongoing international tour with ‘Life’ – a so entitled two-CD set just released for Sony – is a very personal statement, a response to the death of his close friend Hannes Malte Mahler in 2016. It was natural to expect a reflective feeling in the proceedings, the pianist probing into the myriad of subtle emotions between deep sorrow and hope. The music assembled for this purpose was innovative: a set of arrangements by Busoni, Brahms and Liszt, principally anchored in Bach. Since all works other than the opening Bach/Brahms Chaconne were played continuously, the recital achieved an overarchingly meditative quality, spawning a sense of almost endless improvisational development through varied and undulating terrain. Always noticeable was the patience and suspended beauty in Levit’s playing, often leading one to the darker and more fragile corners of intimate feeling yet always ready to coax out a richer redemption too. This was an experience for very late at night…See more.


REVIEW: A VERY IMPRESSIVE SHOWING FROM CONDUCTOR XIAN ZHANG

Marc-André Hamelin (piano), VSO/ Xian Zhang: Works by Chang, Mozart and Tchaikovsky, Orpheum, November 2, 2018.

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We have witnessed a variety of estimable female conductors in recent years, but it has been quite a wait to see Xian Zhang, one of the earlier pioneers in this evolution. Zhang is currently Music Director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of BBC NOW and has received considerable attention for her London ‘Proms’ appearances. Her rigourous and spirited conducting indeed made for an impressive showing on this occasion, and her discipline brought unusual tonal integration and power from the orchestra. Her Tchaikovsky ‘Little Russian’ Symphony came off like a firecracker, full of Russian fervour and elan – and very exciting. Her orchestral control also brought strong dividends to Dorothy Chang’s finely appointed Northern Star. Then, there was the appearance of celebrated Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin, bringing his consummate artistry to bear on Mozart Piano Concerto No. 17: a worthwhile performance though Zhang’s orchestral accompaniment tended to be on the serious and heavy side…See more.


REVIEW ARTICLE: THE POWER OF THE CONTEMPORARY STRING QUARTET: A SPLENDID QUARTETTI FESTIVAL FROM VANCOUVER NEW MUSIC

The Annex, October 18-20, 2018.

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Vancouver chamber music and new music aficionados were recently treated to an extraordinary musical feast prepared by no less than seven string quartet ensembles: three from Canada, two from the US, and two from Italy. This festival took the form of 9 eloquent concert programs, each presenting a  selection of two to four works. In total, 24 compositions were presented; 3 ‘classics’ dated from 1984-1993, while the remainder were composed from 2011-2018, making this festival a window into the most recent trends in quartet writing, revealing a host of interesting juxtapositions and longer threads and associations. Canadian, American, Italian, and Russian composers were all represented, including 2 compositions by Navajo composer Raven Chacon, and 5 by participants in his Native American Composer Apprentice Project. One could debate at length what the string quartet medium means for us today, but an answer that this festival awakens is that the string quartet offers an incomparable medium for exploring liberty –  of imagination, expression, and action – as an outcome of the immense individual and collective discipline needed for compelling artistic discovery. Kudos to all the composers and performers, and to Artistic Director Giorgio Magnanensi and the Vancouver New Music team for this unique enterprise…See more.


REVIEW: KAREN GOMYO BRINGS STRIKING COHERENCE AND FEELING TO THE BRAHMS VIOLIN CONCERTO

Karen Gomyo (violin), VSO/ Jeffrey Kahane: Works by Mendelssohn, Brahms and Schumann, Orpheum, October 19, 2018.

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Violinist Karen Gomyo has become a perennial favorite in Canadian concert halls, a status that now increasingly extends to Europe as well. Her captivating stage presence and remarkable virtuosity are the most obvious attributes that keep her in the spotlight, while the range of tone colour that she can draw out of her Stradivarius is stunning by any standards. In previous appearances here, she has given performances of brilliance and character, yet this current reading of the Brahms Violin Concerto seemed to take a large step forward. This was a performance of genuine long-run vision and command, featuring a compelling mix of architecture, feeling and tonal beauty. It was the best performance of the work in Vancouver since Midori’s perceptive traversal over five years ago…See more.


REVIEW: A VIBRANT MERRY WIDOW OPENS VANCOUVER OPERA’S 2018-2019 SEASON

Lehár, THE MERRY WIDOW: Richard Suart (Baron Mirko Zeta), Sasha Djihanian (Valencienne), John Tessier (Camille de Rosillon), Lucia Cesaroni (Hanna Glawari), John Cudia (Count Danilo Danilovich). Vancouver Opera Orchestra, Ward Stare (conductor), Vancouver Opera Chorus, Kinza Tyrrell (director), Kelly Robinson (stage director), Joshua Beamish (choreographer), Michael Yeargan (scenic designer), Susan Memmott-Allred (costume designer), Gerald King (lighting designer), Queen Elizabeth Theatre, October 20, 2018.

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Rather than starting the season with a dramatic opera drawn from the classic repertoire, Vancouver Opera sent things off with Lehár’s frothier operetta The Merry Widow, challenging the company to display their talents in creating charm, humour, and buoyant energy in a setting that always flirts with lavish indulgence. Young maestro Wade Stare did an admirable job at finding freshness and transparency in the score, while the choreography was consistently engaging. The naturalness of the acting and the uncluttered stage movement always kept the viewer focused on the evolving relationships between the characters. Some issues of vocal matching and balance aside, the two principal couples brought both luster and chemistry to the proceedings: soprano Lucia Cesaroni and tenor John Cudia inhabited their lead roles with a natural enthusiasm, nicely complemented by the pairing of soprano Sasha Djihanian with tenor John Tessier. Richard Suart was excellent as the Baron…See more.


REVIEW: RADIANT BEAUTY AND DELIGHT FROM THE JERUSALEM QUARTET AND FRIENDS

The Jerusalem String Quartet (Alexander Pavlosky and Sergei Bresler, violins; Ori Kam, viola; Kyril Zlotnikov, cello); Pinchas Zukerman, viola, Amanda Forsyth, cello: Works by Richard Strauss, Schoenberg and Tchaikovsky, Chan Centre, October 14, 2018.

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It is rare to have a full concert of string sextets, and it is rare indeed to find playing as beautiful as that provided by the Jerusalem Quartet and their two exalted collaborators, violist Pinchas Zukerman and cellist Amanda Forsyth. Radiant warmth and feeling flowed everywhere in this concert, starting from Richard Strauss’s lovely Sextet from Capriccio and ending with the energy and romantic ardour of Tchaikovsky’s late sextet ‘Souvenir de Florence’. In between was Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, also painted in luxuriant colours, though here some sharper, more distilled contours might not have been out of place. It was a particular joy to see the Jerusalem Quartet in its fullest splendour: the Vancouver Recital Society sponsored the ensemble literally from its birth-pangs two decades ago…See more.


REVIEW: EVGENY KISSIN AND THE ART OF THE PIANO

Evgeny Kissin (piano), Works by Chopin, Schumann and Rachmaninoff, Chan Centre, October 9, 2018.

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With an absolutely packed hall, and patrons ready to cheer at a moment’s notice, there was plenty going on at this concert. It had been 19 years since Evgeny Kissin played in Vancouver. Some attendees were clearly still thinking of the young Kissin that took the world by storm in the late 80s and 90s, others were simply in awe of his enduring iconic status; then, there was the contingent of Russians who doubtlessly felt a deep spiritual bond with this representative of their country’s art. At 47 years old, the pianist was clearly not the young, fearless wunderkind that some might have remembered: he entered the stage more as a grand master of the keyboard, poised and elegant in his stride, ready to share his long-distilled awareness of all the variety, power and tonal beauty his instrument can offer. Kissin brought selective emotion and fire to this programme of Chopin, Schumann and Rachmaninoff but, overall, this recital stood more as a study of the art of pristine pianism wedded to some endearing nostalgia…See more.


REVIEW: OTTO TAUSK FINDS HIS STRIDE WITH BEETHOVEN’S 7TH

Cédric Tiberghien (piano), VSO/ Otto Tausk: Works by Kodaly, Bartok and Beethoven, Orpheum, September 28, 2018.

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This was Otto Tausk’s second set of concerts as the VSO’s new music director and it yielded an estimable Beethoven’s 7th, fresh and well sprung, sure in discipline and line, and finding appropriate power when needed. This was his best effort yet. With the appearance of the distinguished French pianist Cédric Tiberghien, one might have hoped that the performance of Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto might even surpass the Beethoven, but it turned out more uneven. Part of the problem in the concerto may have stemmed from the conductor’s experiment of setting up the orchestra in classical European style. This adjustment seemed to imbalance the overall acoustic, most noticeably when the piano was present. Still, with a creditable reading of Kodály’s Dances of Galanta to start, this was a rewarding outing all told…See more.


REVIEW: ENRICO ONOFRI AND PACIFIC BAROQUE BRING WONDERFUL STRENGTH AND FEELING TO VIVALDI

Enrico Onofri (violin/ director), Pacific Baroque Orchestra (Chloe Meyers, leader): Concertos by Vivaldi, Christ Church Cathedral, September 29, 2018.

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One often discounts all-Vivaldi programmes as lighter fare, but this season opener of Early Music Vancouver hardly fits in this category. Under the guidance of esteemed baroque violinist Enrico Onofri, leader and soloist of the Giardino Armonico from 1987-2010, one was taken into the range of Vivaldi’s expression in a way that was almost unique in its precision, energy and feeling. In a programme of 7 concertos – 5 from L’Estro Armonico Op. 3 and 2 from La Stravaganza Op. 4 – the Pacific Baroque Orchestra performed with complete commitment and one came away from the concert feeling that Onofri and the ensemble had re-lived and re-thought this celebrated music anew…See more.


REVIEW: RENEE FLEMING, THE JUSSEN BROTHERS AND OTTO TAUSK KICK OFF THE VSO’S CENTENARY YEAR

Renée Fleming (soprano), Lucas and Arthur Jussen (piano duo), Vancouver Symphony Orchestra/ Otto Tausk: Works by Ravel, Strauss, Tosti, Puccini, Verdi, Bernstein, Top, Poulenc, Stravinsky, plus favorites from Broadway, Orpheum, September 20 and 21, 2018.

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Starting off a centenary season with a brand-new music director is both an exciting and slightly forbidding prospect. Yet the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra came through the test well, giving the orchestra’s many patrons a glimpse of some of the joys to look forward to with newly-appointed Dutch maestro Otto Tausk. The first concert was a celebrity concert with Renée Fleming, not digging too deep, but certainly illustrating the singer’s new-found love of Broadway. She brought ample charm to popular favourites, following these with her characteristic stream of encores. The second concert – the official VSO 100 opening – featured the captivating young Lucas and Arthur Jussen in the Poulenc Two-Piano Concerto. This may have been slightly less scintillating than it might be but served as wonderful spectacle all the same. Overall, Tausk’s conducting always exhibited the virtues of patience, conscientiousness and textural clarity but, perhaps understandably, sometimes erred on the side of caution. Fortunately, he brought distinctive feeling and concentration to the complete Stravinsky Firebird that closed the festivities, bringing the orchestra to a fine display of corporate synergy and cohesion…See more.


VANCLASSICAL GOES INTERNATIONAL

In 2014, Vancouver Classical Music established a reciprocal relationship with Seen and Heard International, a division of MusicWeb International – one of the premier classical music review sites in the world.  What this has meant for Vancouver is that all our local reviews and interviews appear world-wide, and are featured alongside those of London, New York, and other music capitals.  For reviews and interviews already published on Seen and Heard, go to:

http://seenandheard-international.com/tag/newman-geoffrey/

Scroll down to bottom of any review to find to the site’s home page.   Seen and Heard provides a valuable information resource for anyone interested in the international concert scene, international music festivals (such as the BBC Proms) and also provides a direct and up-to-date link to reviews, and breaking news, published in leading newspapers and other online media sites.


AN INTERVIEW WITH RAFAL BLECHACZ

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Few pianists have won the Warsaw Chopin Competition as resoundingly as Rafal Blechacz did in 2005. While the pianist’s early Deutsche Grammophon recordings were naturally of Chopin (with some Debussy and Szymanowski), his latest CD (February 2017) is entirely devoted to Bach, and his concert explorations now run the full gamut from Mozart, through Beethoven and Schumann, to Brahms. The pianist received the prestigious Gilmore Artist Award in 2014. These are a most productive developments, and this brief interview attempts to give insight into them. What is apparent in talking with Blechacz is how considered and philosophical an artist he is – not surprising, since he is completing his doctorate in Philosophy. Also, how much he has in common with his friend and celebrated countryman Krystian Zimerman in terms of thinking about piano performance…See more.


INTERVIEW: THE MULTI-TASKED BARRY DOUGLAS AND THE SPIRIT OF IRELAND

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Winner of the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in 1986, Barry Douglas has toured the world for the last three decades, bringing distinction and splendour to the wide range of concertos he plays, and taking on innumerable institutional responsibilities as well. That is to be expected from any major competition-winner, but perhaps one of the things which turned out to be closest to the artist’s heart is the founding of his orchestra, the Camerata Ireland, and overseeing his annual Clandeboye Festival, both of which serve as a meeting place for Irish artists in general and young Irish musicians in particular. The other notable happening for the pianist is his recording of the complete solo piano music of Brahms and (in progress) Schubert for Chandos. We sat down to investigate these developments, as well as the pianist’s current inspirations, as part of his visit to Vancouver in November 2017, where he gave a structurally-cogent and often glowing account of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto with conductor Lawrence Renes. Douglas was honoured with the title of ‘Cherniavsky Laureate’ at this appearance with the VSO. He was awarded an OBE in 2002...See more.


JIRI BELOHLAVEK, THE CZECH CONDUCTING TRADITION AND THE CANADIAN LINK

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One mourns the very recent passing of Czech conductor Jiří Bělohlávek (24 February 1946 – 31 May 2017) not only because he was wonderfully discerning musician, but also because he perpetuated a conducting legacy that linked back to the greatest Czech composers of the 19th and 20th centuries.  This tradition fundamentally derived from Václav Talich’s long reign with the Czech Philharmonic up to about 1950, spawning principal successors Karel Ančerl and Václav Neumann.   These maestros distinguished themselves by their natural insight into Czech rhythms and colour, and the lean, pointed and often pungent character of Czech orchestral sound.  This was true of the younger Bělohlávek too but, in my estimation, he eventually communicated something more: the lyrical reach and telling atmosphere in Czech music that coexists with its sharply-etched dramatic profile. Ancerl was Music Director of the Toronto Symphony from 1969-1973, and Bělohlávek was one of the promising Czech conductors who followed him to the city, visiting the TSO with remarkable consistency all the way from 1980 to 2017. He led both the BBC Symphony and the Czech Philharmonic with great aplomb in the last decade...See more.


INTERVIEW: CATCHING UP WITH THE BRITISH PIANO SENSATION BENJAMIN GROSVENOR

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British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor has been in the spotlight for over half of his lifetime, having won the BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2004 at the age of 10. He was already demonstrating profound maturity in his interpretations and command of the piano at that young age, and Grosvenor has continued to develop over the years. The first British pianist in 40 years to be signed to the Decca label, Grosvenor has now released four albums and continues to tour worldwide with solo recitals, chamber music collaborations, and concerto appearances. Vancouver-based writer Mark Ainley of ‘The Piano Files’ has followed the pianist’s career with special interest, taking in both New York and Vancouver concerts in Grosvenor’s 2017 North American Tour.  His new interview attempts to bring us up to date on the artist’s current thoughts and preoccupations, and his recollection of his experiences growing up with so much acclaim. Benjamin Grosvenor has now made three Vancouver appearances with the Vancouver Recital Society; his debut concert was April 2013....See more.


FEATURED INTERVIEW

THE GREAT CANADIAN ARTISTS: AN INTERVIEW WITH VIOLINIST JAMES EHNES

There are few more celebrated musicians in the world right now than Manitoba-born violinist James Ehnes, and few have failed to succumb to his wonderful tonal luster, silken lyrical lines, and insightful virtuosity. After initial training with Francis Chaplin, the violinist made his solo debut with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal at age 13, following this up with studies with Sally Thomas at Meadowmount and Juilliard (1993-97).  Ehnes won the Peter Mennin Prize upon his Juilliard graduation, and subsequently received the first-ever Ivan Galamian Memorial Award and an Avery Fisher Career Grant (2005), in addition to the highest Canadian honours.  The turning point in Ehnes’ recording career likely came in 2006-2007 when his ‘homegrown’ recording of the Barber, Korngold and Walton concertos with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (under Bramwell Tovey) won both Juno and Grammy awards. This was followed up by the widely-praised Onyx recording of the Elgar Violin Concerto with Sir Andrew Davis.

The past decade has seen a remarkable flood of recordings: the Complete Works for Violin of both Bartok and Prokofiev for Chandos, and the Tchaikovsky, Khachaturian, Shostakovich and Britten concertos, plus a number of violin sonatas and the Paganini Caprices, for Onyx.  The Beethoven Violin Concerto with conductor Andrew Manze is forthcoming.  Alongside the many duo recordings with long-time partner Andrew Armstrong, still more new releases come from the Seattle Chamber Music Society and from the Ehnes Quartet, bringing his total to almost 50 recordings as he approaches his 41st year.  On the occasion of the 2017 Vancouver Symphony Spring Festival, the adventures continued: Ehnes appeared as conductor and violinist in one concert and the violist in the Walton Viola Concerto in another.  With such a bewildering array of talents and accomplishments, one can hardly run out of things to talk about! See more.


FEATURED INTERVIEW: ‘GOING DEEP’ WITH PIANIST KIRILL GERSTEIN

Pianist Kirill Gerstein has become an increasingly esteemed visitor to North American and European concert halls these days, moving quite a distance from his original Gilmore Young Artist’s Award in 2002, his debut recording for Oehms Classics, and the initial intrigue over his jazz training. Gerstein was awarded the coveted Gilmore Artist Award in 2010 and subsequently has produced an enviable string of CD’s for the German company Myrios.  Virtually all of these have received strong acclaim, and include the Brahms Viola Sonatas with Tabea Zimmermann, the 1879 version of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto, the Liszt Sonata, and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. His recording of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes has just been released. Very much in the spotlight, we thought it was time to sit down and really examine the artist’s development. In this interview, we spare niceties and move to some depth in revealing Gerstein’s perspective on his own progress, his repertoire choices and recording experiences, and his personal response to some current tendencies in the culture of classical music and performance.  The interview took place in conjunction with his performance of the Brahms First Piano Concerto with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra under conductor Lahav Shani...See more.


CELEBRATING THE WEST COAST COMPOSERS: JEAN COULTHARD (1908-2000)

By David Gordon Duke (with critical notes by Geoffrey Newman)

This is the first in a series of portraits of West Coast composers, featuring Vancouver composer and former UBC professor Jean Coulthard.  While her work rightly achieved strong and widespread appreciation during her lifetime, she is perhaps gaining even more reverence now. Just a year ago, BBC Radio 3 added Coulthard to its long-running series Composer of the Week – the first Canadian to be so chosen. The BBC has been currently interested in showcasing female composers, but one must presume that it was the sheer scope and quality of her compositions that was ultimately persuasive. Here was a 20th century woman from distant British Columbia who wrote in all the great classical genres, a composer who developed a unique (if conservative) voice, and whose best music has stood the test of time and critical scrutiny.  This article examines Coulthard’s musical background, the distinctive features of her musical voice, and discusses a number of her works performed at an inspired concert at the Canadian Music Centre in Vancouver in early February...See more.


THE REJUVENATION OF THE CANADIAN MUSIC CENTRE: AN INTERVIEW WITH BC REGIONAL DIRECTOR SEAN BICKERTON

The Canadian Music Centre (CMC) has been a most valuable resource for Canadian composers, musicians, and educators ever since it formed in 1959.  It has archived scores and recordings of Canada’s finest compositional efforts, and (since 1981) documented these through its ‘Centrediscs’ recordings, which now total just under 200 releases. It is a cause for celebration that the local CMC-BC has moved forward proactively this year by opening a  40-seat concert hall in downtown Vancouver – the Murray Adaskin Salon – and presenting a four-concert season.  The organization has also furthered educational initiatives and located another B.C. ‘Creative Hub’ in Victoria. All of this is very adventurous, so it seemed worthwhile to sit down with British Columbia Director Sean Bickerton and find out where all the new ‘fire’ came from, how it was all made possible, and how it is progressing so far...See more.


FOUR DECADES OF HISTORICAL PERFORMANCE: AN INTERVIEW WITH VIOLINIST MONICA HUGGETT

If one wanted a broad picture of the evolution of historical performance, with intriguing little nuances revealed along the way, there would be few better musicians to talk to than Monica Huggett.  She has been an unremitting force for four decades, well known early on from her associations with the Academy of Ancient Music and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and these days as Artistic Director of the Portland and Irish Baroque Orchestras, and Adviser to the Juilliard Historical Program.  This interview traces the violinist’s experiences right from her early days when the authentic movement was just gathering momentum.  Most important are her insights about how historical performance has developed out of a number of contrasting approaches that have cross-fertilized each other.  Equally interesting are her ideas on where historical scholarship and performance practice still have room to grow, what she wants to achieve from an orchestra in interpretation, and how she has maintained an undiminished inspiration all this time. The interview took place in conjunction with the Vancouver Bach Festival in August 2016, where Monica Huggett directed the Pacific Baroque Orchestra in the Complete Bach Orchestral Suites...See more.


IN MEMORIAM: SIR NEVILLE MARRINER (15 April 1924 – 2 October 2016): AN APPRECIATION OF A 20TH CENTURY PIONEER

When a great performer reaches their 90’s, one knows that things cannot go on forever.  But when the end finally comes, it is often interesting to note the reevaluations that one makes of a formidable and enterprising musical life. For many of us early on, Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin’s in the Fields was the prolific performing and recording force that knew no bounds, set estimable standards, and managed to achieve success in virtually any repertoire.  Becoming a household name, it became easy to take the Academy for granted and, even by the 1970’s, some critics began to think that the ensemble’s performances had become a little too expert and polished for their own good. Yet the consistency in performance and recording was disarming and, while one seldom received earth-shaking interpretations from Sir Neville, one always got musicality, balance, and judgement – and a refreshing degree of innovation in repertoire and style. The level of technical execution was enviable. In retrospect, Sir Neville’s original objective to set up a small, conductor-less ‘egalitarian’ orchestra in 1958, flexibly bridging chamber music and the orchestral, turned out to be an a path-breaking template for small orchestral design and flexibility...See more.


THE PURSUIT OF DISCOVERY: AN INTERVIEW WITH CONDUCTOR JOHN STORGARDS

Over the last 5 years or so, Finnish conductor John Storgårds name is seemingly everywhere: his compelling performances with the BBC Philharmonic, his Proms appearances, his recent recordings of the complete Sibelius and Nielsen symphonies for Chandos, and many other recordings on Ondine, including his new Zemlinsky.  Yet Maestro Storgårds, now 52, really only picked up a baton just over 20 years ago, spending most of his early career as a violinist and concertmaster.  Even his early focus as a conductor was hardly standard: he endlessly sought out the scores of hitherto-neglected Finnish and Nordic composers, often premiering their works and putting them on record for the first time.  These projects are still ongoing, perhaps even accelerating, and have been sufficiently extensive that the conductor already has over 50 recordings to his name.  While Storgårds currently continues as Artistic Director of the Lapland Chamber Orchestra – an ensemble that is very close to his heart -- the conductor may be at a minor turning point at this moment.  He has just relinquished his post as Music Director of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and, while carrying on as Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic, has now added the same appointment with the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa. Our discussion began with the latter, but quickly moved to the conductor’s general quest for discovery…See more.


FEATURED INTERVIEW: ENTERING THE ECLECTIC UNIVERSE OF PIANIST STEPHEN HOUGH

Having now recorded more than 50 widely-praised CDs, and known throughout the world for his stimulating concerts and vast repertoire, Stephen Hough has probably gained the status of Britain’s foremost pianist.  He is certainly is its most visible.  A unique winner of a MacArthur Fellowship in 2001, and an unrepentant blogger for the past 6 years, he has forged out almost a personal relationship with the international classical music community, offering perspectives on a myriad of topics, both musical and beyond.  At the same time, one can hardly help but be impressed by his eclectic talents, not only as a pianist, but also a composer, and sometimes painter and novelist as well.  This interview aims, like many of its predecessors, to probe and understand this endless variety of accomplishment – and what impels it -- while engaging on the equally difficult task of finding things that the artist has not already commented on.  What is nice about talking with Stephen Hough is that no matter where you start, you seem to go in directions that you didn’t intend, and this can provide a continuing bounty of insight.  So we started from obvious ‘events’: first, his just-released Hyperion recording of Janacek and Scriabin, and soon-to-be-released Dvorak Piano Concerto and, second, his world premiere of his own Piano Sonata No. 3 only a month or so ago.  The interview took place during rehearsals for the Schumann Piano Concerto in Vancouver in November 2015, performed splendidly indeed...See more.


INTERVIEW: MATTHEW WHITE DISCUSSES THE NEW ENERGY AND INTEGRATION IN ‘EARLY MUSIC’ IN THE NORTHWEST

Over the past two decades, 42-year old Matthew White has been one of Canada’s most celebrated counter-tenors, singing at Glyndebourne, the Boston Early Music Festival, the New York City Opera, and also appearing with the Boston Baroque, Les Violons du Roy, and Tafelmusik.  His over 20 CD’s are highlighted by collaborations with Phillipe Herreweghe, Dorothee Mields, and many other distinguished artists, and include his own Montreal-based ensemble Les Voix Baroques, which he directed from 1999 – 2014.  His recording, Elegeia won a 2004 Cannes Classical Award for best new early music solo recording.

Starting in 2011, the singer started restricting his performance engagements, and moved with increased passion into administration.  He assumed the position of Artistic Director of Early Music Vancouver in 2013, succeeding José Verstappen, who had led the organization with distinction for 35 years.  Matthew White has all the youthful energy needed for such a position, and we were interested in finding out how all his art in singing could be transferred to an administrative calling. Catching up with him after a very successful 2015 Vancouver Summer Early Music Festival , this interview reveals the unflagging work Matthew has done to make early music more vibrant and integrated in the Northwest, as well as identifying some of the important economic challenges to doing so...See more.


FEATURED INTERVIEW: THE BORODIN QUARTET SPEAK ON THE SHOSTAKOVICH QUARTETS AND THEIR LEGACY: A CELEBRATION OF THE 70TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR

The Borodin Quartet has always been one of the world’s greatest chamber ensembles.  Formed in 1945 with original members that briefly included the likes of cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and violist Rudolph Barshai, the string quartet has now gone through three incarnations.  The linking force was cellist Valentin Berlinsky, who was a member of the quartet for 62 years before his retirement in 2007.  The current group is in some respects relatively recent.  First violin Ruben Aharonian and violist Igor Naidin joined in 1996, while cellist Vladimir Balshin took over for Berlinsky in 2007 and second violin Sergei Lomovsky came later in 2011.   Vancouver was fortunate to be the only city in North America where the ensemble performed the entire quartet cycle: the works were played in consecutive order over five evenings this May. One reason for this celebration was doubtlessly that Eric Wilson, Artistic Director of Vancouver’s Friends of Chamber Music, had also invited the ensemble to perform the 11 then-written quartets in the much tougher times of the late 1960s. We were able to sit down with the Borodin Quartet between their second and third performances and talk all things Shostakovich.  I thought this was a remarkably relaxed and wide ranging interview, and we were fortunate that violist Igor Naidin could communicate the essence of the group’s thoughts in English...See more.


THE GREAT CANADIAN ARTISTS: AN INTERVIEW WITH PIANIST ANGELA HEWITT

Angela Hewitt grew up in Ottawa, beginning her piano studies at the age of three.  She gave her first full-length recital at the age of nine at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, where she studied from 1964 to 1973.  She later studied with Jean-Paul Sevilla at the University of Ottawa.  The pianist is now universally recognized for her path-breaking series of recordings of Bach’s keyboard works for Hyperion which began in 1994 and finished in 2005.  She recorded the ultimate masterpiece, The Art of the Fugue, in 2014.  Between those dates, many new discs of Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Debussy, Fauré, and others were also released.  In 2005, Angela Hewitt launched the Trasimeno Music Festival in Umbria near Perugia, of which she is Artistic Director.  A 10th anniversary concert takes place in London this spring.  The pianist is also an Ambassador for The Leading Note Foundation’s ’Orkidstra’: a social engagement and development program in Ottawa’s inner city. Angela Hewitt was named ‘Artist of the Year’ at the 2006 Gramophone Awards and was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours of the same year. She was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2000...See more.


ARTICLE: THE RISE OF THE FEMALE CONDUCTOR

One of the outstanding trends over the past thirty years is the strides that women have made in gaining education and skills, allowing them to enter many new fields with high qualifications.  With some success, women have been able to penetrate many of the world’s symphony orchestras too.  However, there has long been resistance, especially in Europe, to the idea that female musicians could gain the ultimate prize: an appointment as Principal Conductor and Music Director of a major orchestra.  Indeed, it was not that many years ago that the illustrious Herbert von Karajan resigned from the Berlin Philharmonic over the orchestra’s refusal to allow the appointment of a single female instrumentalist: clarinetist Sabine Meyer.  And up to only a decade ago, the Vienna Philharmonic simply did not accept female appointments at any position...See more.

International Concert Reviews

Recent Postings

Review: The VSO100 Closing Concerts Affirm A Special Legacy

Review: Kamio And Akiyama’s VSO Concert Mixes Gentleness With Energy

Review: Tchaikovsky And Louis Lortie’s Beethoven Highlight Bramwell Tovey’s Return

‘Musical Magic’: An Interview With Norwegian Violinist Henning Kraggerud

Review: Jonathan Darlington Directs An Inspired Faust True To Its Spirit

Review: A Well-Sung And Entertaining Cenerentola From Vancouver Opera

Review: Pianist Nelson Goerner Returns With A Recital Of Variety And Strength

Review: Jonathan And Jan-Paul Roozeman Display Their Synergies In A Wide-Ranging Cello Recital

Review: Otto Tausk Lives Up To His Mozart Challenge

Review: Sterling Beethoven From David Kadouch

Review: Kristian Bezuidenhout And The Chiaroscuro Quartet Combine For Lovely Mozart And Less Than Satisfying Schubert

Review: VSO New Music: ‘The Resounding Earth’

Review: Paul Lewis Completes His Haydn-Beethoven-Brahms Sojourn With Great Fortitude

Review: The Danish Quartet’s Battle With Beethoven

Review: Henning Kraggerud Gives A Concert Of Great Charm And Innovation

Review: The Astonishing Filippo Gorini Leads Forth The ‘Next Generation’ Pianists

Review: Chad Hoopes And Eivind Gullberg Jensen Find New Magic In The Dvorak Violin Concerto

Review: A Commendable But Not Fully Consuming Bohème From Vancouver Opera

Review: The King’s Singers Delight With Virtuosity And Variety

Review: The Prazak And Zemlinsky Quartets Come Together For A Special Concert

Review: The VSO100 Birthday Celebrations And The 2019 New Music Festival

Review: Visuals Outdo The Music In Tafelmusik’s ‘Circle Of Creation’

Review: A Striking Vancouver Debut For The Ehnes Quartet

The Great Canadian Artists: An Interview With Marc-André Hamelin

Review: Masaaki Suzuki And Bach Collegium Japan Take Us Into Their Private World

Review: Yefim Bronfman Brings Life-Enhancing Strength And Cohesion To Brahms

Review: Baiba Skride And Otto Tausk Find Illumination In Gubaidulina And Tchaikovsky

Review: A Very Special Lieder Recital From Simon Keenlyside And Malcolm Martineau

Review: Music On Main’s Modulus Festival Extends The New Music Bounty Of The Fall

Review: Igor Levit’s Intimate Journey Through ‘Life’

Review: A Very Impressive Showing From Conductor Xian Zhang

Review Article: The Power Of The Contemporary String Quartet: A Splendid Quartetti Festival From Vancouver New Music

Review: Karen Gomyo Brings Striking Coherence And Feeling To The Brahms Violin Concerto

Review: A Vibrant Merry Widow Opens Vancouver Opera’s 2018-2019 Season

Review: Radiant Beauty And Delight From The Jerusalem Quartet And Friends

Review: Evgeny Kissin And The Art Of The Piano

Review: Otto Tausk Finds His Stride With Beethoven’s 7th

Review: Enrico Onofri And Pacific Baroque Bring Wonderful Strength And Feeling To Vivaldi

Review: Renee Fleming, The Jussen Brothers And Otto Tausk Kick Off The VSO’s Centenary Year

Review: A Successful Nigredo Hotel From City Opera Vancouver

Review: Pacific Baroque And Gli Angeli Geneve Close Out The Bach Festival In Style

Review: Gli Angeli Geneve Brings A Rich Red Wine To Inform Bach’s Cantatas

Review: Angela Hewitt Further Distills The Greatness Of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier

‘The Joy And Eagerness Of Youth’: An Interview With The Gesualdo Six

Review: The First Canadian Tour Of ‘The Gesualdo Six’ Yields Ample Delights

LAST SEASON POSTINGS

Review: An Inspired 85th Birthday Celebration For R. Murray Schafer With The Vancouver Chamber Choir

Review: A Memorable Peter Grimes From Bramwell Tovey

Review: Bramwell Tovey’s Gala Farewell Celebration

Review: Alexander Gavrylyuk’s Recital Ignites Memorable Flames

Review: Paul Lewis Finds Additional Delights In His Second Haydn-Brahms Sojourn

Review: Russian White Nights: Opera Arias From 18th Century St. Petersburg

Review: Constantin Trinks Brings A Great Sense Of Occasion To Wagner And Schubert

Review: More Exalted Singing From The Tallis Scholars In ‘War And Peace’

Review: A Well-Tailored Overcoat From Vancouver Opera

An Interview With Rafal Blechacz

Review: A Superb Eugene Onegin Adds Momentum To The 2018 Vancouver Opera Festival

Review: Rafal Blechacz Brings Splendour And Excitement To The Chopin Society’s 20th Anniversary

Review: Karina Canellakis: A Conductor In Love With The Beauty Of Music

Review: The Benedetti-Elschenbroich-Grynyuk Trio Makes A Most Impressive Debut

Review: Jon Washburn Directs Multiple Choirs In An Impressive Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil

Review: Leonard Bernstein And The Pleasures Of The VSO Spring Festival

The 2018 Juno Awards Classical Showcase

Review: Celebrating Bach’s Goldberg Variations: Angela Hewitt And Schaghajegh Nosrati

Review: Sterling Bruckner From Michael Sanderling – That Transports The VSO To Europe

Review: Beautifully Suspending Liszt And Debussy From Marc-Andre Hamelin

Review: The Szymanowski Quartet Finds Strength And Beauty In Mozart’s String Quintets

Review: Joyous Mahler From The Vancouver Bach Choir And West Coast Symphony

Review: Real Morning Splendour From Pianist Jan Lisiecki

Review: Tight-Knit Music Making From Alexandra Soumm And Perry So – And A Little Schumann Surprise

Review: Violinist Nikolaj Znaider Seeks Dramatic Extremes In A Rollicking Return Visit

Review: Janusz Olejniczak’s Broadwood Conquers The Steinway In A Rare Chopin Recital With Multiple Pianos

Review: Soloists Bring Distinction And Charm To The 2018 VSO New Music Festival

Review: A Dazzling L'elisir d'amore From Vancouver Opera

Review: Soprano Tara Erraught Brings Great Vocal Splendour – And Irish Charm Too

Interview: The Multi-Tasked Barry Douglas And The Spirit Of Ireland

Spring 2018 Concert Preview

Best Musical Events of 2017

Review: Monica Huggett’s All-Female Troupe Brings Ravishing Vivaldi For The Holiday Season

Review: The Takacs Quartet Bring Great Thought To Mendelssohn And Shostakovich

Review: The Splendours Of ‘Authentic’ And Traditional Performances Of The Messiah

Review: A Stunning Cello Debut For The Young Sheku Kanneh-Mason

Review: Paul Lewis Starts His Haydn And Brahms Journey With Enthusiasm And Insight

Review: Chopin Competition Gold Medalist Seong-Jin Cho Displays Great Beauty And Assurance – But Also Some Innocence

Review: Alban Gerhardt And Steven Osborne Find Stunning Musical Riches Amidst Adversity

Review: UBC Opera’s Orfeo Ed Euridice A Variable Success

Review: Bramwell Tovey Challenges Elgar’s Dream Of Gerontius And Shostakovich’s Tenth

Review: Stephen Stubbs And Colin Balzer Bring Monteverdi’s Orfeo To Life

Review: A Lovely Debut For The Rolston String Quartet: 2016 Banff Competition Winners

Review: A Delightful Festival Of Young Pianists In October

Review: ‘Music As Intimate Conversation’: The Zenith Of The Borodin Quartet

Review: A Shining Outing For The VSO Under Cristian Macelaru

Review: Transgression And Forgiveness: A Powerful Jenůfa From Pacific Opera Victoria

Review: Otto Tausk And Vadim Gluzman Combine For A Slightly Different Shostakovich And Sibelius

Review: A Stupendous Performance of The Enigmatic Turandot From Vancouver Opera

Review: The Boston Early Music Festival Sends Off The Season With The Riches Of Steffani

Review: Bramwell Tovey And Dale Barltrop Reunite For A Rich VSO Opener

Jiri Belohlavek, The Czech Conducting Tradition And The Canadian Link

Review: A Sensitive And Compelling Updating Of Handel’s Acis And Galatea

Interview: Catching Up With The British Piano Sensation Benjamin Grosvenor

Review: Thomas Hobbs And Friends Bring Vocal Wonder To The Festival’s Closing St. John Passion

Review: Delightful Vocal Concerts Enshrine The Early Music Festival’s First Week

Review: Matt Haimovitz Brings Illumination To Bach And The Moderns In The Festival Opener

Review:  A Sparkling Ariadne From UBC Opera