REVIEW: CONDUCTOR CONSTANTIN TRINKS DRAWS GREAT ARTISTRY AND ORCHESTRAL SPLENDOUR FROM THE VSO
Juho Pohjonen, piano: VSO/ Constantin Trinks; Music of Prokofiev and Dvořák, Orpheum, February 5, 2017
Vancouver has been surveying many young conductors over the past two seasons, and while all of them have had their individual virtues, one is sort of left with a middling response to it all. It is nice when one young conductor suddenly comes out of the blue and jolts you out of your chair. Constantin Trinks really did arrive out of the blue, almost a complete unknown deputizing for the originally-scheduled Pietari Inkinen in this collaboration with Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen. Short notice stand-ins for an (often great) conductor have been a stunning formula to take a career to greater visibility, especially if the young conductor can marshal his very best on the occasion. And that is exactly what transpired in this programme of Prokofiev and Dvořák. This was one of the finest orchestral displays by the VSO that I have seen in a long time, propelled by conducting of great interpretative subtlety, textural control, and spontaneous power...See more.
REVIEW: MONICA HUGGETT AND THE PACIFIC BAROQUE BRING JOSEPH BOLOGNE DE SAINT-GEORGES TO LIFE
Monica Huggett, Chloe Myers and Linda Melsted, violins, Pacific Baroque Orchestra/ Alexander Weimann, Music ofJoseph Bologne de Saint-Georges, Leclair, Mozart and Haydn, Playhouse, February 4, 2017.
Over the past two decades, there has been a strong awakening of interest in the compositions of Joseph Bologne de Saint-Georges. The interest is perhaps more than just musical: there is a certain intrigue about a composer who was born in Guadeloupe in 1745, the offspring of a French plantation owner and a slave mother, and who gained the informal title of ‘Le Mozart Noir’. There can really be few comparisons in classical times, and not only because of Bologne’s African heritage: he was also a magnificent violinist and, yes, a master swordsman, sometimes deemed the greatest in Europe. After early studies with Leclair, and mastering the violin with the same facility as the sword, he achieved a strong presence in Paris from the 1770s onward as a soloist, composer, and director of orchestras. This concert offered a fetching slice of this unique period, with two violin works by the composer, a violin concerto by Leclair, one of the commissioned Haydn symphonies, and a Mozart’s own Symphony No. 5 of 1765...See more.
REVIEW: DIPPING INTO THE 2017 VSO NEW MUSIC FESTIVAL
THE 2017 VANCOUVER SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA NEW MUSIC FESTIVAL: VSO/ Bramwell Tovey, Pacific Baroque Orchestra/ Alexander Weimann, Soloists, UBC University Singers and Choral Union, Langley Fine Arts School Youth Choir, Glenn Buhr and the Button Factory Band; Lisa Kay Miller, Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa, Corey Hamm and Miranda Wong (pianos); Orpheum, January 24-29, 2017
Gone are the days where going to a New Music Festival means entering a rarefied world where only aficionados lurk, and puzzling abstract compositions dominate the landscape. In the three of the six concerts I managed to attend, this event displayed enormous range in showcasing the Canadian ‘new’. There was a full-length Requiem, sharing a programme with a genre I had almost forgotten about – the ‘rock’ symphony. Then, there was the mysterious world of new compositions for ‘authentic’ instruments, plus a buffet of solo piano pieces that mined all the resources that the instrument can offer – through its keyboard, strings, and even technology. Other concerts featured compositions for jazz trumpet, and chamber music. There were many arresting moments in what I saw but, perhaps expectedly, I came away with a feeling more of appreciation for the valiant efforts of these composers than a sense of being emotionally penetrated to the core. Nonetheless, the festival was very approachable, and that might be good thing these days. The festival was co-sponsored by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and Early Music Vancouver...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.
REVIEW: A RAVISHING ‘WINTERLUDE’ FROM JEAN-GUIHEN QUEYRAS AND ALEXANDER MELNIKOV
Jean-Guihen Queyras, cello; Alexander Melnikov, piano: Works by Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Webern, Rachmaninoff and Debussy, Playhouse and Orpheum Annex, January 21 and 22, 2017.
There are few more insightful artists of their generation than Montreal-born cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras and Russian pianist Alexander Melnikov. They have now collaborated for over a decade, typically in partnership with equally-exalted violinist Isabelle Faust. Each has given distinguished concerts here previously. This 3-concert ‘Winterlude’ was a true highlight of the Vancouver concert season thus far, featuring playing of quite extraordinary sensitivity. Queyras performed the full six Cello Suites of Bach at one sitting, collaborated with Melnikov in Beethoven and Chopin Cello Sonatas, while the pianist contributed a solo recital of Rachmaninoff and Debussy...See more.
REVIEW: BRAMWELL TOVEY AND ADRIANNE PIECZONKA COMBINE FOR SPLENDID VALEDICTORY STRAUSS
Adrianne Pieczonka, soprano, VSO/ Bramwell Tovey: Music of Richard Strauss, Orpheum, January 21, 2017.
Bramwell Tovey has always loved conducting Richard Strauss and, over the years, he has worked through Death and Transfiguration, Don Juan, and Also Sprach Zarathustra with some success. As he approaches the end of his tenure with the VSO, it is understandable that he might gravitate towards Ein Heldenleben, one of the supreme valedictory works. Indeed, the work has stood as the last recorded testament of a variety of conductors, notably Sir Thomas Beecham and Sir John Barbirolli. Befitting the occasion, this turned out to be Tovey’s finest and most committed Strauss conducting to date: full of feeling, glow and amplitude, a genuine tenderness, and paced with enviable cohesion. Adding to the somber glow were the composer’s Four Last Songs, lovingly negotiated by acclaimed Canadian soprano, Adrianne Pieczonka...See more.
REVIEW: A CROWD-PLEASING DOUBLEHEADER FROM EMANUEL AX AND BRAMWELL TOVEY
Emanuel Ax, piano: VSO/ Bramwell Tovey, Music of Beethoven and Mozart, Orpheum, January 18, 2017.
Pianist Emanuel Ax has been such a force in North America and all over the world for the past four decades that one wonders whether he ever gets a break from his serious musical commitments and can just ‘kick back’ and have some fun in concert. This event seemed to allow just that though it was still a test for a musician approaching seventy to perform two great concertos, Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ and Mozart’s 22nd, at one sitting. Fortunately, Ax cast any issues of age aside and sailed through both works in vigorous, athletic fashion. Perhaps he was not too concerned with points of style or inward depth, but he always demonstrated that his iconic strength of purpose – combined with endless cascades of luminescent runs and trills – could place a spell over an adoring audience. Maestro Bramwell Tovey cooperated fully, always aiding and abetting the pianist’s cause...See more.
REVIEW: SIMONE LAMSMA AND OTTO TAUSK DISPLAY A RESTRAINED SHOSTAKOVICH AND A CINEMATIC RACHMANINOFF
Simone Lamsma, violin; VSO/ Otto Tausk: Works by Wagner, Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff, Orpheum, January 14, 2017.
Witnessing the strong sellout at this concert offered a salutary reminder of just how far audience appreciation has advanced over the years. Not that many decades ago, combining Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto with Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances would have been a ‘tough sell’ indeed. Now this pairing of works seems almost too accessible, too commonplace. But how well has the soul of the works survived? Few can forget the bitter, gnawing pain and the biting sharpness of expression in David Oistrakh’s pioneering readings of the Shostakovich, but on this occasion young Simone Lamsma and conductor Otto Tausk gave one of the most relaxed and romantically-contoured traversals I have ever heard. Dipping back to Sir Eugene Goosens traversal of the Symphonic Dances in the late 1950s (and Andre Previn’s in the 70s), one always felt without a shadow of doubt that the work was a summing up of a Russian composer’s life. Yet in Tausk’s hands, one is not so sure, perhaps the work bears a debt to film music from Berlin in the 1920s, with a touch of the parody of Kurt Weill, among other things. The audience was strongly responsive to both performances, but one might ponder exactly what musical spirit they were responding to...See more.
SPRING 2017 CONCERT SEASON PREVIEW
Vancouver offers an astonishing array of high-level classical music, featuring an endless stream of international artists that fill up the calendar from September to June. The city has almost 20 musical institutions, and these present both distinction and balance over all genres, whether it be symphony, chamber music, solo recital, early music, or new music. Opera also gets a new lease on life this year. Efforts by our site, the Vancouver Sun, Georgia Straight, and other local media provide the city with strong reviewing and previewing of events, often featuring interviews with celebrated musicians and artistic directors. As with many centers, Vancouver is exceptionally youth oriented, offering tickets for students and/or individuals under 35 for around $15...See more.
THE BEST MUSICAL EVENTS OF 2016
From the masterly piano recitals of Sir András Schiff early in the year to Joyce DiDonato at the end, Vancouver once again displayed an embarrassment of musical riches. With many distinguished Vancouver Symphony concerts, celebrated chamber music, a delightful Early Music Summer Bach Festival, and a stunning debut by Canada’s 2015 Chopin Competition Silver Medalist, Charles Richard-Hamelin, everyone can only feel proud of the exploits of the almost twenty musical organizations that give life to this city. We highlight 15 of the very best concerts of the year, the peak of their appropriate genres...See more.
REVIEW: THE TAKACS QUARTET RETURNS TO BEETHOVEN
Takács String Quartet: An All-Beethoven Concert, Playhouse, December 4, 2016.
It has now been over a decade since the Takács Quartet completed their landmark recording of the complete Beethoven quartets for Decca. In the interim, they have made some adventurous forays elsewhere – for example, the Benjamin Britten quartets and some early Shostakovich – but it is increasingly clear that Beethoven’s spirit is always with them. In the past two seasons, we have already heard the two quartets, Op. 130 and Op. 59, No.3 again, both displaying a slightly different face than before. When they arrived this year with an All-Beethoven programme, featuring one each of early, middle and late quartets, one had to think something was up. Was a new cycle in the making? Since the Takács Quartet is one of the most esteemed string quartets now with us, and the first to be inducted into the Gramophone Hall of Fame, this would clearly be an event to look forward to...See more.
REVIEW: CONDUCTOR MIKHAIL AGREST IMPRESSES WITH NATURAL MUSICALITY AND FEELING IN DVORAK AND TCHAIKOVSKY
Simone Porter, violin; VSO/ Mikhail Agrest: Works by Dvořák, Bruch and Tchaikovsky, Orpheum, December 3, 2016.
In witnessing the debuts of a number of less well-known young conductors this season, one also happens to run into one of the miracles of 21st century marketing: they all arrive with the same press clippings. They are all touted to be exciting and charismatic and all have brought the house down with their riveting power and display on numerous occasions. I wonder if these candidates would be less appealing if they had merely demonstrated a natural musicality that imbued their performances with authenticity and subtle insight. The reality is that this latter quality is the scarce resource, and just how often do we see it? I had virtually no prior information about Mikhail Agrest, except that he was born in St. Petersburg, moved to America early, studied at Indiana, and then went back to Russia to study with the venerable Ilya Musin. What impressed in Agrest’s Vancouver Symphony debut was precisely his musicality and feeling, his ability to find subtle variety in his orchestral control without self-consciousness, and the reserve of strength that allowed him to pull the orchestra fully together when he needed to. This was thoroughly evidenced in his opening Dvorak overture and in the Tchaikovsky Suite that ended the concert. I think this is one of the finest young conductors we have seen this season...See more.
REVIEW: JOYCE DIDONATO’S ‘WAR AND PEACE’ BRINGS REJUVENATION TO A TROUBLED WORLD
‘In War and Peace: Harmony Through Music’: Joyce DiDonato (mezzo-soprano), Manuel Palazzo (dancer/choreographer), Il Pomo d’Oro / Maxim Emelyanychev (conductor), Orpheum, November 30, 2016.
While a well-known President Elect is currently proceeding on his 10-city ‘Thank You’ tour, giving indulgent performances at double-forte volumes in repertoire that seems both hollow and painful, Joyce DiDonato continues her alternative 20-city tour that now essentially asks the question: How does one find inner peace and comfort when questionable displays like the former are allowed to persist and disintegrate the soul? This is a concert about rejuvenation, and the restoration of freedom and lightness of spirit. It nurtures a musical metaphor that suggests that inner peace comes from being in touch with timeless natural processes that guard everyone’s humanity and which ultimately transcend the unsettlingly ‘bad’ performances that haunt the world these days. DiDonato negotiates her ‘War and Peace’ with subtlety, using just enough of her dramatic strength and a few extra-musical effects (stage-smoke, lights, simple video images and a bare-chested dancer) to take us from a world of conflict and burden to one where our lightness of spirit and perception of love are restored. This is easier said than done: the singer’s immense skill is in lightening the initially dark fabric in imperceptible steps to allow the listener to achieve a wonderful freedom at the end. That we achieved this blissful state without being quite conscious of how we got there testifies to pure DiDonato ‘magic’...See more.
REVIEW: CONSCIENTIOUS SIBELIUS AND FITFULLY EXCITING RACHMANINOFF FROM ANU TALI AND ALEXEY YEMTSOV
Alexey Yemtsov, piano; VSO/ Anu Tali: Works by Santa Ana, Rachmaninoff and Sibelius, Orpheum, November 26, 2016.
The march of conductors vying for the Vancouver Symphony’s music directorship continues with the second female conductor of the fall, Estonian Anu Tali. Trained by the likes of Ilya Musin and Jorma Panula, and currently music director of the Sarasota and Nordic Symphony orchestras, the firm grounding of Tali’s conducting expertise was everywhere apparent at this concert. There is no quest for glamour here; everything is precise, well appointed, and above all meaningful. The Maestra also has a keen feel for texture, and can open the orchestra out with controlled strength and cohesion. Her results in Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony and Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto were fully creditable and musically satisfying without perhaps going the full distance. One always witnessed enviable detail, architectural strength and romantic feeling, but there was sometimes an over-conscientiousness in her approach that blocked full spontaneity and motion. The collaboration with young pianist Alexey Yemtsov in Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto had scintillating moments but also some more tentative ones...See more.
REVIEW: A HANSEL AND GRETEL FULL OF DELIGHT – AND SOME THINGS TO GET USED TO
Engelbert Humperdinck, HANSEL AND GRETEL: Pascale Spinney (Hansel), Taylor Pardell (Gretel), Ryan Downey (the witch), Peter Monaghan (Father), Leah Giselle Field (Mother), Vanessa Oude-Reimerink (Sandman/Dew Fairy), Viktor Lukawski, Lenard Stanga (Puppeteers), Vancouver Opera Orchestra, Alexander Prior, Conductor, Vancouver Opera Children’s Chorus, Angus Kellett, Director, Brenna Corner, Stage Director, Vancouver Playhouse Theatre, November 24, 2016.
This was no ‘ordinary’ production of Hänsel und Gretel! In addition to director Brenna Corner’s new creative ‘re-imaginations’, and being sung in English, the production introduced two other important innovations: first, set in a smaller space, it employed reduced and altered instrumental forces; second, it made extensive use of puppets. But not to worry: if the essential aim of the production was to produce delight, it certainly succeeded. Overall, this was an exceedingly good-natured piece of theatre: imaginatively directed, delightfully acted, with fine pacing throughout. The sets were impressive and colourful, and Hansel and Gretel, played respectively by Pascale Spinney and Taylor Pardell, were hugely personable, singing and acting with great élan and youthful energy. In the closing Act, the direction and acting yielded great fun, with the divine children’s choir at the end putting the seal on a Vancouver Opera production that increasingly won our hearts...See more.
REVIEW: MAGNETIC BEHZOD ABDURAIMOV AND THE VANCOUVER RECITAL SOCIETY PAY TRIBUTE TO BING THOM
Behzod Abduraimov, piano: Works by Vivaldi, J. S. Bach, Schubert, Beethoven, Prokofiev and Balakirev, Chan Centre, November 13, 2016.
This was our third visit by 26-year old Uzbek piano sensation Behzod Abduraimov and, judging from his playing in the second half of this concert, it was his finest showing so far. I have learned that you cannot think about this pianist entirely in terms of interpretation and style, since much of his magnetism is in displaying just how a piano can be played – with volcanic weight, scintillating speed, and larger-than-life trills and notes flying in all sorts of directions. Nonetheless, it is always nice to come away from an Abduraimov recital with an interpretation that has concentrated and natural expression from beginning to end, and here it was the Prokofiev 6th Sonata. This concert marked a note of sadness. It was a celebration of visionary local architect Bing Thom, who passed away recently and who brought tremendous life and ingenuity to Vancouver designs, extending his work as far as Washington, D. C. and Fort Worth, Texas. He was a close friend of the Vancouver Recital Society...See more.
REVIEW: A STUNNING VANCOUVER DEBUT FOR CHOPIN COMPETITION MEDALIST CHARLES RICHARD-HAMELIN
Charles Richard-Hamelin, piano: An All-Chopin Concert, Playhouse, November 6, 2016.
This was our first visit from 27-year old Montreal pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin, fresh off his Silver Medal finish in the 2015 Warsaw Chopin Competition. Richard-Hamelin and Yike (Tony) Yang both received medals, the first time Canadian artists have ever placed so highly in this revered event. I thought it was important that younger pianists see our prizewinner in this all-Chopin recital, so I actually invited along 10-year old Max Li, himself a recent first-prize winner in the local Kiwanis Competition. Given my ‘you can never start’em too early’ philosophy, one quaint possibility was to have him try to review the concert, since he plays Chopin too. Master Li had all the makings of a good reviewer, offering the ultimate verdict: Richard-Hamelin played extremely well but he was not particularly exciting or passionate. Fortunately, he hit it right on: unlike many of the young and glamorous Chopin pianists that Li might have encountered, Richard-Hamelin never treated the composer a vehicle for display, speed or bravura. What we saw instead was wonderfully-concentrated inward playing that aimed at the soul of the composer and exuded great intelligence and architectural strength. This turned out to be one of the best piano recitals we have seen in the past year or two...See more.
REVIEW: BRUCE DICKEY AND HANA BLAZIKOVA REALLY ARE ‘BREATHTAKING’
Breathtaking: A Voice and a Cornetto Entwined: Hana Blažíková (soprano), Bruce Dickey (cornetto), Monica Huggett and Tekla Cunningham (violins), Joanna Blendulf (viol), Michael Sponseller (organ and harpsichord), Stephen Stubbs (theorbo and guitar): Christ Church Cathedral, November 4, 2016.
Coinciding with the meetings of the American Musicological Society, and featuring a collection of the world’s finest soloists, this concert was very special. The overriding cause for celebration was hearing Bruce Dickey’s cornetto in its full and masterful variety, interacting so beautifully with Hana Blažíková’s soprano voice in pre-Corellian Italian repertoire (1630-1680). As the concert’s title suggests, they absolutely fit like a glove, and achieved ‘breathtaking’ balance and intimacy. Since the violin and cornetto were also historical competitors, even more was actually achieved: with Monica Huggett’s violin also vying for inclusion, the concert revealed the sterling cooperation of all three ‘voices’ within a treble register that could have easily be dominated, or rendered opaque, by any one of them. A distinguished continuo backed it all and a special treat was hearing Calliope Tsoupaki’s ‘Nigra sum’ for cornetto and voice, composed in 2015. A CD of this exact concert has just been released by Passacaille...See more.
REVIEW: A DISTINCTIVE AND WIDE-RANGING RECITAL FROM CELLIST ISTVAN VARDAI
István Várdai, cello; Zoltán Fejérvári, piano: Works of Mendelssohn, Stravinsky, Kodaly, Ligeti and Brahms, Playhouse, October 30, 2016.
Hungary has produced such an endless stream of great violinists and pianists over the decades that one can only ponder the absence of great cellists. Janos Starker, Miklós Perényi and Laszlo Varga are the some of the names that come to mind historically, but isn’t there now room for a younger Hungarian cellist to lead the way forward? Certainly since winning the ARD Cello Competition in Munich in 2014, it is István Várdai that is particularly in the spotlight, though at age 30, he is already a seasoned veteran: he has placed highly in international competitions since 2000 and made his first recording a full thirteen years ago. The artist is indeed distinctive: his style is bigger-boned than one might be accustomed to these days, but his lovely burnished long lines play off against his snarling, razor-sharp agility in a way that is very special. In many respects, his playing is very modern, yet it still conjures up a link to old world traditions. For his debut recital, Várdai was accompanied by pianist Zoltán Fejérvári, originally a graduate of the Bela Bartok Conservatory and the Franz Liszt Academy...See more.
REVIEW: ‘LONG LIVE THE VIOL’: FRETWORK’S 30TH BIRTHDAY TOUR
Fretwork (Viola da Gamba Consort) with Vancouver Children’s Choir (dir. Rupert Lang): Works by Tavener, Tye, Parsons, Byrd, Gibbons. Lawes, Picforth, Purcell, Bryers and Muhly, Christ Church Cathedral, October 21, 2016.
One fondly recalls all the wonderful discs that Fretwork recorded for Virgin in the 1990s, when it was the path-breaking viol consort that grew out of authentic thinking at that time. Finally, here was a sizeable compendium of English viola da gamba compositions from the likes of John Bull, William Byrd, William Lawes, Matthew Locke, Orlando Gibbons, and Henry Purcell, all gathered together for us to enjoy in a scholarly inspired form. Moreover, these were presented in such beautifully transparent and feeling lines, often allowing us to enter a suspended, ethereal world that we had infrequently realized before. it still remains difficult to believe that Fretwork is undertaking their 30th Anniversary Tour this year. The concert’s central focus on ‘In Nomine’ settings took us back to the group’s initial forays, and the experience was also enhanced significantly by the inclusion of related modern works by Gavin Bryers and Nico Muhly...See more.
REVIEW: A STRIKING MENDELSSOHN CONCERTO FROM STEFAN JACKIW AND JUN MARKL MINGLES WITH IMPRESSIONIST NUANCE
Stefan Jackiw, violin; VSO/ Jun Märkl: Works by Hosokawa, Mendelssohn and Debussy, Orpheum, October 22, 2016
Conductor Jun Märkl has been a frequent visitor to the Vancouver Symphony in recent years, and has previously put his fine orchestral command to work in performances of Mendelssohn and Richard Strauss. This time, he brought works by Debussy and Toshio Hosokawa (b. 1955), the latter which he has particularly championed and both of which he has recorded on Naxos. A highlight of the night was the conductor’s collaboration with the estimable American violinist Stefan Jackiw in the Mendelssohn concerto, a performance of extremes but one which turned out to be a novel and riveting experience. Jackiw had not played here since his ‘infancy’ (5 years ago) but, at age 30, he has clearly surfaced as one of the finest of his generation, using his pristine articulation and range of tone colour to find many subtle dimensions of expression...See more.
REVIEW: TCHAIKOVSKY COMPETITION WINNER DENIS MATSUEV TRIUMPHS IN A WIDE-RANGING RECITAL
Denis Matsuev, piano: Works by Beethoven, Schumann, Liszt, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev, Chan Centre, October 20, 2016
After winning the 11th Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in 1998, Denis Matsuev has been sought out for many high-profile concerts featuring the Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev concertos where his sheer power and bravura can be brilliantly exhibited. Nonetheless, many of us have been patiently waiting to hear his artistry put to work in more varied repertoire. This recital fully answered the call: it featured three major piano works, ranging from Beethoven and Schumann to Prokofiev, alongside smaller pieces. Overall, it turned out to be a tremendous success, revealing more clearly the artist’s cogent sense of line and contrast, his subtle perception of beauty, and the range of his delicate playing – to set alongside his well-known strength and tonal charisma. Perhaps expectedly, his Prokofiev Seventh Sonata was formidable, one of the best performances I have heard in recent years...See more.
REVIEW: PLAYING OF GREAT BEAUTY AND A PENETRATING SHOSTAKOVICH FROM THE DANISH QUARTET
Danish String Quartet: Music of Bach, Shostakovich and Beethoven, Playhouse, October 19, 2016.
Anyone who has had the pleasure of hearing the young Danish Quartet knows that their playing comes from a different world than most string quartets. Their sound and blend are uniquely pure and beautiful, but it is their wonderful patience, sense of architecture, and always-present spirit and warmth, that most fully distinguishes them from other ensembles. With the Danish, one never notices technique: the music is fully internalized and ‘just unfolds’ with wonder and feeling, often finding serene and meditative corners. On their previous visit, the ensemble gave us a rewarding study of Beethoven, Shostakovich and the ‘art of the fugue’, combining the former’s exalted Op. 131 with the latter’s 9th. This concert stayed in the same territory, pairing Beethoven’s Op. 127 with Shostakovich’s final Quartet No. 15...See more.
REVIEW: A SPLENDID SIMON BOCCANEGRA FROM PACIFIC OPERA VICTORIA
Verdi, SIMON BOCCANEGRA: Todd Thomas (Simon Boccanegra), Lara Ciekiewicz (Maria Boccanegra/Amelia Grimaldi), Philip Ens (Jacopo Fiesco), Jason Slayden (Gabriele Adorno), Brett Polegato (Paulo Albiani), and Neil Craighead (Pietro), Victoria Symphony Orchestra, Timothy Vernon, conductor, Pacific Opera Chorus, Giuseppe Pietraroia, Chorus Master, Glynis Leyshon, director, Royal Theatre Victoria, October 13, 2016.
Simon Boccanegra is a connoisseur’s opera. Far from Verdi’s most popular work, it is nonetheless considered by Verdians as one of his finest. Pacific Opera Victoria’s production was splendid. Under the baton of Maestro Vernon the orchestra played with verve and finesse. Every voice was strong and the acting uniformly excellent; especially gratifying was the way the cast all stayed in character, even when not singing. Glynis Leyshon’s direction was telling, facilitating the action, her blocking making sense of what was being conveyed by the music and the characters. Todd Thomas as the Doge was imposing in his public role, tender and nuanced in his relationship with his daughter. Lara Ciekiewicz as Amelia, Brent Polegato as Paulo, and Jason Slayden as Gabriele Adorno were all outstandingly fine and, in spite of a throat infection, Phillip Ens as Fiesco surfaced in terrific voice...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.
REVIEW: CHOOSING THE VSO’S NEW CONDUCTOR: ROMANIAN CRISTIAN MACELARU PLAYS THE MUSIC OF HIS COUNTRYMAN IN A SOMETIMES IMPRESSIVE SHOWING
Arnaud Sussmann, violin; VSO/ Cristian Măcelaru: Works by Dvořák, Brahms and Enescu, Orpheum, October 1, 2016.
And here comes the parade of young conductors vying for the Vancouver Symphony’s Music Directorship! In the last two years we have seen a number of candidates, but this year opens up more than 10 new faces, two of which are female and a few are returnees. Young Romanian conductor Cristian Măcelaru has just been appointed Music Director of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, and will conduct a number of major international orchestras this year. He is a conductor of poise and strength, big-boned and passionate in his articulation, and made this concert particularly interesting by performing the First Symphony of his countryman, George Enescu. Măcelaru impressed by his strong commitment to this often-forgotten score, but his Dvořák Carnival Overture and collaboration with his college friend Arnaud Sussman in the Brahms Violin Concerto, turned out to be less successful...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.
REVIEW: ALEXANDER GAVRYLYUK AND BRAMWELL TOVEY FIND TCHAIKOVSKY’S INNER STRUGGLE IN THE VSO OPENER
Alexander Gavrylyuk, piano; VSO/ Bramwell Tovey: Works of Morlock, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky, Orpheum, September 24, 2016.
Opening night concerts typically need to offer a sense of occasion for everyone, so why not do it by celebrating a Russian theme and combining two big works that have achieved mass popularity in quite different ways and for quite different audiences? Thus, the Vancouver Symphony season opener set Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto up against Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Not that there was any announced competition, but the former did emerge as the clear winner. In fact, young Ukrainian/ Australian pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk combined with Maestro Bramwell Tovey for one of the most penetrating performances of this well-worn concerto that I have heard in years. Both also gave pretty riveting traversals of the Rachmaninoff concertos and Paganini Rhapsody just over two years ago. The appetizer was Composer-In-Residence Jocelyn Morlock’s gamelan-based Oiseaux bleus et sauvages (2005), an early work that attractively fuses naturalistic 20th century musical metaphors within a Bolero-like rhythmic framework...See more.
REVIEW: KSENIJA SIDOROVA BRINGS BOTH MASTERY AND LIFE TO THE ACCORDION
Ksenija Sidorova, accordion; Modern Compositions and Transcriptions for the Accordion: Playhouse, September 18, 2016.
It was an unusual idea for the Vancouver Recital Society to start its season with an accordion recital, but this wasn’t just any accordion recital. It featured London-trained, Latvian-born Ksenija Sidorova, who currently stands as the world’s ambassador for the instrument, and who has used all her charm, musical intelligence, and virtuoso technique to place the instrument into our hearts. And so she did here! Impressively, Sidorova never let one forget the folk roots of the instrument, always finding the implicit passion and feeling therein and a natural bucolic élan in the rhythms. Yet she combines this with so much formal musical understanding and sheer technical wizardry that the results are absolutely captivating...See more.
REVIEW: AMANDA FORSYTHE ENCHANTS AND BEGUILES AT THE EARLY MUSIC OPENER
Amanda Forsythe, soprano; Pacific Baroque Orchestra/ Alexander Weimann: Music of Handel and his Contemporaries, Christ Church Cathedral, September 16, 2016.
If there is one young Baroque soprano that has taken America by storm in recent years, it is Amanda Forsythe. Technically, she is an absolute wonder, being able to bring striking precision, agility and dynamic shading to her articulation, and her coloratura runs and trills in particular. Very clean across the full vocal range and scintillating at the top, she also produces singing of real strength and character, always managing to secure an engaging, if not entrancing, emotional resonance. Forsythe’s last appearance here was two years ago as Beauty in Handel’s Il Trionfo del Tempo, where she impressed by the boldness of her virtuoso cut-and-thrust, and the sharpness and weight of her emotional contours. This concert was more of a gala celebration of her recent accomplishments, consisting of selected arias of Handel and his contemporaries interspersed between orchestral pieces. Musically, what struck me was that the singer now seems to have found an even more natural fusion of technique and emotions...See more.
REVIEW: THE ESCHER QUARTET FINDS WARMTH AND FEELING IN SCHOENBERG
Escher Quartet: Works by Schubert, Schoenberg and Mendelssohn, Playhouse, September 13, 2016.
For Vancouverites who might have planned a trip to New York to take in some chamber music, it is nice to know that this expense can now be spared. A full 7 of the 10 Friends of Chamber Music concerts this season involve visits from much-revered New York ensembles: four concerts by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Centre, supplemented by appearances by the Emerson Quartet, the Han-Finckel-Setzer Trio and, at this opening concert, the estimable young Escher Quartet, currently Artists-in-Residence at CMS. Formed in 2005, and championed by the Emerson Quartet, the ensemble has evolved with playing of enviable balance and tonal luster, finding both energy and musical insight without extravagance. These qualities come out strongly in Escher’s new integral recordings of the Zemlinsky Quartets for Naxos and the Mendelssohn Quartets for BIS, both of which have received strong press...See more.
VANCLASSICAL GOES INTERNATIONAL
Vancouver Classical Music has 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 means for Vancouver is that all our local reviews and interviews will immediately go world-wide, and be featured alongside those of London, New York, and other music capitals. For reviews and interviews already published on Seen and Heard, go to:
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.
Further, in order to increase awareness of the range of musical events within the Pacific Northwest, we are delighted to have the Victoria Symphony and Pacific Opera Victoria, and the Seattle Symphony and Seattle Opera, as ‘affiliates’ of our site.
REVIEW: MONICA HUGGETT’S INSPIRED RE-WORKING OF THE BACH ORCHESTRAL SUITES
J.S. Bach, The Four Orchestral Suites: Monica Huggett, violin and director, Gonzalo Ruiz, oboe, Pacific Baroque Orchestra, Christ Church Cathedral, August 12, 2016.
Monica Huggett’s desire to penetrate the ‘authentic’ Baroque experience has remained undiminished by the passage of time. Last year, she coaxed the Portland Baroque Orchestra into one of the most vivid versions of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons that one might encounter, capturing the wildness and theatrics that may have been commonplace for virtuoso violinists of the composer’s time. This time, we witnessed her rethinking of the Bach Orchestral Suites. Over the past four decades, the violinist has played the Suites so many times under such masters of authentic performance as Christopher Hogwood, Trevor Pinnock, and Ton Koopman that one might think that there is little room for further innovation. Nonetheless, making recourse to research on Bach’s Cöthen days (1717-1723) -- by Joshua Rifkin in the 1990’s and this concert’s oboist Gonzalo Ruiz more recently -- a new ‘original version’ came to fruition. The biggest changes involve returning Suite No. 2 to its original key of A minor and substituting the oboe for the flute, and removing the trumpets and timpani from Nos. 3 and 4. While it may take a few moments to get used to this reworking, I felt it succeeded wonderfully well. The oboe adds strength and purpose to No. 2, while the adjustments in the last two Suites free them in part from the festive intimations of some of the Cantatas, and allow their sinewy counterpoint to stand out more starkly. One can well accept a slight reduction in grandness and nobility when the uncompromising genius in the works radiates forth in such a crystalline way...See more.
REVIEW: A SMALL-SCALE B MINOR MASS PROPELLED BY THE ENERGY OF ITS CHORUSES
J. S. Bach, Mass in B minor, Yulia Van Doren and Shannon Mercer (sopranos) Krisztina Szabó and Laura Pudwell (mezzo-sopranos), Charles Daniels and Philippe Gagné (tenors), Christian Immler and Sumner Thompson (bass), Les Voix Baroques, Arion Baroque Orchestra, conducted by Alexander Weimann, Chan Centre, August 5, 2016.
The B minor Mass served as one of the defining monuments of this year’s Vancouver Bach Festival, and featured Pacific Baroque’s Alexander Weimann conducting Montreal’s young Arion Baroque Orchestra and a fine variety of world class soloists. Utilizing 8 soloists and only 15 singers in total, the approach fit with the new breed of ‘authentic’ performances of this work: Marc Minkowski’s excellent 2007 recording with 10 soloists might be regarded as exemplary. There, the small scale was made to work through the lovely variety of vocal expression, achieving both intimacy and spirituality when combined with sharp instrumental contours. The current traversal started as a somewhat different voyage of discovery, with more modest vocal contributions and an accent on refinement, opening out only later to tighter choral contributions and greater projection. It was delightful to witness a performance set at this scale, and it seemed to gain its stride from the end of the Gloria, propelled by the inspired choruses. While the interpretation was light on the work’s more contemplative side, it eventually achieved the appropriate sense of occasion and dramatic power, and the later solo singing was particularly involving...See more.
REVIEW: DAVITT MORONEY RETURNS TO BACH’S ‘ART OF THE FUGUE’
Davitt Moroney, harpsichord, Die Kunst der Fuge BVW 1080: Christ Church Cathedral, August 3, 2016.
Of all harpsichordists, Davitt Moroney likely has had the strongest musicological commitment to Bach’s Art of the Fugue, publishing a critical edition for this enigmatic work as long ago as 1989. This was particularly notable since it included a completion of the unfinished 14th fugue. Having already recorded the work twice, this concert perhaps aimed to summarize the full extent of the artist’s research to date and, in many respects, turned out to be as much of a lecture as it was a concert: combinations of fugues (sometimes just pairs) were discussed extensively just before they were played. Possibly the only problem with all the discussion is that it was a little difficult to get into the subtle flow and unfolding of the 14 fugues, and to glimpse their overall spiritual resonance. I found the playing on the public/didactic side, more notable for its structural cogency and motion than its lyrical suspension or inner peace. Nonetheless, there could be little doubt that this was is Bach playing of the greatest commitment. The evening could hardly help but be a memorable experience...See more.
INSIDE AND OUTSIDE CONDUCTING: AN INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTOPHER SEAMAN
Christopher Seaman’s recent book Inside Conducting has proved to be a particularly insightful treatment of the art and means of conducting, relying on a wealth of experience dating as far back as Seaman’s days as principal timpanist for the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the 1960’s. He first served as Assistant Conductor with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra from 1968 to 1970, becoming the orchestra’s principal conductor from 1971 to 1977. Seaman has also had the strongest affiliations with the Guildhall School of Music and the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. His most significant tenure in the U.S. was as Music Director of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, continuing for thirteen years through 2011. He now holds a lifetime appointment as the orchestra’s Conductor Laureate. This interview starts with a discussion of the origins of his new book, and his more recent experiences in Rochester. For me, the rarer insights come from his many stories about famed conductors that he played under in his early London days. Seaman is now part of the British ‘old guard’, so his memories link to the past in a way that is slowly disappearing. He also contributes insights on how classical music has evolved into a somewhat different social culture over the last half-century...See more.
REVIEW: THE VSO ENDS A RECORD-SETTING SEASON WITH UPLIFTING BARBER AND SHOSTAKOVICH
Chad Hoopes, violin; VSO/ Bramwell Tovey: Works by Morlock, Barber and Shostakovich, Orpheum, June 11, 2016.
For all the financial problems of symphony orchestras witnessed over the last decade, it is heartening news that ticket sales for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra set an all-time record this year. Sellouts (or near sellouts) have been relatively frequent, and it is not easy to fill a concert hall that seats 2800 people. Having attended virtually all concerts, my most welcome observation is that the audience is now more diversified, with many new faces in the under-50 group. If one does not want to end a season with the most spectacular works, then it is not good to move too far in the other direction either. The combination of the Barber Violin Concerto and the Shostakovich 5th Symphony, with a little ‘prelude’ to the latter by Jocelyn Morlock, VSO Composer-In-Residence, seemed to capture all the shadings that an audience might want – and very attractively so. 21-year-old violinist, Chad Hoopes, was on hand for the Barber and, as is so often noted, gave a performance ‘far beyond his years’. Bramwell Tovey gave an individual performance of the Shostakovich, not one filled with the raw sharp edges or urgency of some traversals, but one that had a definite architectural strength, some individual touches of colour and a number of Mahlerian overtones...See more.
REVIEW: ‘BRAVO’: VANCOUVER OPERA CELEBRATES TWO DECADES OF INSPIRED LEADERSHIP FROM JAMES WRIGHT
Tracy Dahl (soprano), Jessica Chung (soprano), John Tessier (tenor), Krisztina Szabò (mezzo-soprano), Daniel Okulitch (bass-baritone), Ramona Luengen (piano): Vancouver Opera Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Jonathan Darlington, Queen Elizabeth Theatre, June 2, 2016.
One of the happiest events in an arts company’s life is the celebration of the accomplishments of one of its leaders. It is a time when generosity rules and good feelings prevail, even if substantial change is afoot. This was the celebration of the departing James Wright’s seventeen-year tenure as General Director of Vancouver Opera. The generosity began with the words of the Master of Ceremonies, Pascal Spothelfer, Chair of the VO Board of Directors, and continued with Jonathan Darlington’s whirlwind appearance – flying in from Europe for the occasion and flying out the next day to Australia – and the presence of four soloists who have always added distinction to the Vancouver Opera stage. Everyone, including the Vancouver Opera Orchestra and Chorus, gave their selfless best...See more.
REVIEW: DALE BARLTROP’S FAREWELL CONCERT A BRILLIANT SUCCESS IN NICOLA BENEDETTI’S ABSENCE
Dale Barltrop, solo violin and leader, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra: Works by Bartok, Mozart and Shostakovich, Orpheum, May 21, 2016.
This concert was intended to be as much a lovely ‘hello’ to violinist Nicola Benedetti as it was a sad ‘goodbye’ to the VSO’s personable and talented concertmaster, Dale Barltop. Barltrop now leaves to assume the same position with the Melbourne Symphony and to join the Australian String Quartet. True Scotsmen -- dressed in kilts -- awaited the charismatic violinist’s appearance but, unfortunately, the effects of a virus that Benedetti had fought through in the previous night’s concert were sufficiently debilitating by this afternoon that she had to withdraw. A tricky situation indeed! Dale Barltrop has never had much of an inclination towards conducting (interview), yet this special goodbye concert was designed to have him lead a chamber-sized version of the VSO from the first chair. Perhaps this was pressure enough, but what was to be done about Benedetti’s absence in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5? With only hours remaining before this concert, Barltrop was asked if he would deputize there too, and he kindly consented to do Mozart’s 3rd concerto instead. So, a rather full plate for Barltrop – but he came through magnificently. I doubt that there could be a more cherishable departing memory for him...See more.
REVIEW: VIOLINIST JAMES EHNES CELEBRATES HIS 40TH BIRTHDAY IN STYLE
James Ehnes, violin; Andrew Armstrong, piano: Works by Handel, Beethoven and Tovey, Orpheum, May 9, 2016.
And the ‘stars’ keep coming! Less than a week ago, Bryn Terfel was here to give a recital as part of his 50th birthday celebration tour. Now violinist James Ehnes arrives to do the same thing as part of his 40th birthday tour, which extends to no less than 25 Canadian cities. While we are often inclined to think of the ‘art’ of both as timeless, it is humanizing to find that both performers take the passage of time seriously. James Ehnes has had a long association with Maestro Bramwell Tovey and the Vancouver Symphony. One of Ehnes’ breakthrough recordings (2006), featuring the Korngold, Barber, Walton concertos, was a collaboration with Tovey and the orchestra, and won both Juno and Grammy awards. Here the tie extended in a different direction, since Tovey – a composer in recent years – was asked to write a short violin piece for Ehnes’ celebration. Thus, we heard Tovey’s Stream of Limelight, just premiered in Ottawa ten days before this concert. It turned out to be quite engaging, and was played beautifully...See more.
REVIEW: BRYN TERFEL SHOWS HOW TO BRING A CELEBRITY CONCERT TO LIFE
Bryn Terfel, bass-baritone: Natalia Katyukova, piano: Songs by Ibert, Schumann, Schubert, Keel, and others, Orpheum, May 4, 2016.
Celebrity concerts are an elusive art form. They serve as a vehicle to display the iconic talents of the artist in question, but they also aim to give the less seasoned concertgoer an enduring imprint of, and connection with, the artist. It is the fact that a patron purchases not only specific entertainment but also a durable good – a living memory that one can tell neighbours or the grandchildren about – that likely explains the high ticket prices one encounters. One irony of concerts of this type is that they usually take place in the largest venues, which in itself removes tangibility and immediacy for many. Furthermore, there may be a quality tradeoff, where musical substance is relegated to second place behind more general dimensions of charisma and engagement. This is likely to be of little consequence for those come mainly for photos and signed CDs, but it is a concern for the critic and those who put a premium on substance.
All of this is a prelude to saying that I thought Bryn Terfel did this ‘celebrity’ concert to absolute perfection. He aimed for real musical depth for most of the programme, showing galvanic seriousness of purpose, yet he engaged the audience completely with his charm and carefully-judged stage show. His line was unerring. By the end, he had all the freedom to be as comic as he wished (and was in fact deliciously funny and playful), yet we all knew this sprung from a very serious artist who communicates directly and humanly, and prizes his art form...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.
CANADA’S YEAR AT THE 2015 CHOPIN COMPETITION: REFLECTIONS BY IKO BYLICKI, CHARLES RICHARD-HAMELIN, GARRICK OHLSSON AND NELSON GOERNER
2015 was certainly Canada’s year at the Warsaw International Chopin Competition, with Charles Richard-Hamelin securing the silver medal and Yike (Tony) Yang finishing fifth. This was the first time in 40 years that Canadian artists had achieved any real distinction at this competition. Korean Seong-Jin Cho was the gold medalist in a very close decision. Richard-Hamelin is 26 years old, started his studies at McGill, received his Master’s Degree from the Yale School of Music, and currently resides in Montreal. Yang is only 16, from Toronto, and is currently in the pre-school program at Juilliard. He is also a pupil of former Chopin Competition winner Dang Thai Son.
There has been splendid documentation of the Competition online. However, we thought it would be rewarding to provide our own retrospective, trying to capture different perspectives and feelings on what actually transpired, and on the final outcomes that prevailed. Thus, we consulted, first, a long-time Chopin Society ‘observer’, Iko Bylicki, for his overall impressions of the proceedings; then, competitor and silver medalist Charles Richard-Hamelin, and finally two of the distinguished jury members, Garrick Ohlsson and Nelson Goerner, who also performed concertos in the special opening events. We are grateful to all four contributors for taking time to give us their final thoughts...See more.
‘BETWEEN TWO WORLDS’: AN INTERVIEW WITH VIOLINIST TIANWA YANG
The dramatic growth in the number of talented artists of Asian origin has been one of the outstanding features of classical music performance today, indeed sufficiently important to influence the focus of major recording companies and media. Traditionally, the road to exposure for young Asian artists, and violinists in particular, has been straightforward: move to America, gain entrance into Juilliard or Curtis from an early age, and let their musical and technical skills be honed by the great teachers. This was the route taken by Kyung Wha Chung originally and later Cho Liang Lin and Sarah Chang, among many others. If one looks at the career of 28 year old Chinese violinist Tianwa Yang, one would think that she must be cut from standard cloth. After all, her virtuoso skills are pristine and her recordings for Naxos, the most enterprising being the complete violin compositions of Pablo Sarasate, have received the highest praise. They have often be been cited as a model of ‘the art of the violin’ for their technical accuracy, perception and emotional commitment. Yet Ms Yang did all her early studies in China, in fact did not want to study in America, and recoils at the term ‘virtuoso’ being used to describe her talents, showing almost no interest in the ‘International Violin Olympiad’, as she aptly calls it. Rather, her dream from her teens was to study German chamber music...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.
AN INTERVIEW WITH PIANIST PAUL LEWIS: CELEBRATING FIFTEEN YEARS OF PERFORMANCE WITH THE VANCOUVER RECITAL SOCIETY
Paul Lewis has every right to be considered one of the finest British pianists of this era. A prize winner at the 1994 World Piano Competition in London and a student of Alfred Brendel, he first received worldwide acclaim for his recording of the complete Beethoven sonatas for Harmonia Mundi from 2005 to 2007, which also won Gramophone awards. He then followed this up with recordings of Schubert sonatas of the highest distinction. Recently, he has recorded Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and has begun to establish himself in chamber music and lieder collaborations. He is currently undertaking an extended tour playing Beethoven again, this time featuring the last three sonatas. Before arriving in Vancouver, I was able to talk to the pianist about his past and present Beethoven exploits, and how he might like to proceed in the future, especially with respect to repertoire.
Paul Lewis has a particularly strong attachment to the Vancouver Recital Society, having made his debut for the VRS in 2000. He played the complete Beethoven sonatas in Vancouver about the same time as his recordings, and had the distinction of choosing the society’s new Steinway in 2008. In recent years, he has given splendid recitals involving Schumann, Liszt, Mozart, and the last three sonatas of Schubert. His Beethoven recital in May 2015 is his second of the current season, following his collaboration last fall with the Vertavo Quartet in Mozart and Dvorak...See more.
ARTICLE: 'SIX CANADIAN COMPOSERS YOU SHOULD KNOW'
The VSO’s 2015 New Music Festival gave us a wonderful taste of some of the more recent compositions of composers close to home, featuring exciting premieres of works by Jocelyn Morlock, Kelly-Marie Murphy, and Marcus Goddard. But the festival also served to remind us that they follow others who have left a strong imprint on the Canadian musical landscape. Attention was certainly brought to Claude Vivier, who lived a tragically short life and died in 1983, but left compositions that even now intrigue and sometimes bewilder us. Part of their spell lies in their striking fusion of European compositional techniques with Balinese traditional music (gamelan), a fusion that also interests younger composers today.
But how unique was Vivier’s exploration? Not that many decades ago, if asked to think of someone who also pioneered a gamelan fusion it would have been Colin McPhee, who did ethnomusicological study in Bali for a full decade in the 1930’s. The interesting thing is that Colin McPhee was also born in Montreal and lived in Toronto – fully Canadian too. And McPhee was not a neglected composer: Howard Hanson and the Eastman Rochester Orchestra actually championed the premiere recordings of McPhee’s Tabuh-Tabuhan Suite alongside Elliot Carter’s The Minotaur on the very same Mercury disc in 1956. So what really is the Canadian classical music legacy, and how far back does it go? Many might think there is little rich or distinctive in this history -- but just how many important Canadian composers have we failed to find out about? See more.
FEATURED INTERVIEW: BAROQUE AND BEYOND: THE FRENCH SPIRIT OF PIANIST ALEXANDRE THARAUD
Over the last decade, there have been few pianists more visible than Alexandre Tharaud. For many, he is among the greatest pianists of his generation, and there can be few questions about his sensitivity and imagination in the French Baroque repertoire, or his ability to capture the true spirit of modern French composers such as Ravel. Responses have been more mixed to some of his recent explorations but few would deny that his Chopin is very distinguished and insightful as well.
What is so rewarding about talking to Alexandre is that you get a better understanding of a tradition of piano playing that is quintessentially French, full of a unique type of individualism, thought and expression. Alexandre is very much his own person, in some ways very youthful, in others, reminiscent of the artists and philosophers that one might have met at Parisian café’s generations ago. Just like many of his interpretations, he is invariably probing: thinking of new ways to make repertoire come to life and, equally important, to ensure that classical music evolves successfully into the future...See more.
REVIEW: 'YOUTH FOLLOWS YOUTH': ADAM GOLKA, JOSHUA WEILERSTEIN AND THE VSO INSPIRE AT UBC
Adam Golka, piano; VSO/ Joshua Weilerstein: Works by Ligeti, Chopin and Brahms, Chan Centre, October 17, 2014.
For the past few seasons, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra has given one subscription series at the state-of-the-art Chan Shun Concert Hall at the University of British Columbia. While this would seemingly give UBC students a rare opportunity to see world class performers right in their own back yard, this has not really happened. Nonetheless, with young and talented 26 year-old pianist Adam Golka appearing at this concert with up-and coming 27 year-old Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Joshua Weilerstein, I thought that this was the perfect setting to let youth meet youth. I have learned the hard way that simply telling undergraduate students that they should see a concert is no guarantee of attendance. So, this time, I actually went out and bought around 60 tickets and sold them to my students at a very modest cost right in class. I also arranged with very cooperative symphony officials for both young artists to come back on stage after the concert (accompanied by VSO concertmaster Dale Barltrop) and informally field questions and the like from the students.
Well, each and every student showed up, and a good number came to the after-talk. The three musicians were absolutely remarkable in conversing with the students and, above all, in communicating their love of classical music. Given our never-ending concern with ‘youth’ these days, I found this a most uplifting experience. And as far as I have checked, so did the students. It was an essential bonus that both Golka and Weilerstein were on fine form during the concert too...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.
UBC School of Music
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