CELEBRATING THE WEST COAST COMPOSERS: ELLIOT WEISGARBER (1919-2001)
by Karen Suzanne Smithson, the composer’s daughter
Throughout the latter decades of the 20th century, Vancouver was home to composer Elliot Weisgarber, best known for his pioneering work in the field of world music. His profound study of Japanese music in particular led to the foundation of the ethnomusicology program in the School of Music at the University of British Columbia in the late 1960s. This article celebrates his remarkable life, following on the concert of his music performed at the Canadian Music Centre in Vancouver in April 2017...See more.
REVIEW: JANINA FIALKOWSKA DELIGHTS WITH A STIMULATING ALL-CHOPIN RECITAL
Janina Fialkowska, piano: An All-Chopin Recital, Kay Meek Centre, March 30, 2017.
Janina Fialkowska has every right to be considered Canada’s ‘Grande Dame of the Piano’. Polish by heritage but Canadian by birth, Fialkowska is now entering her fifth decade of performing and recording at the highest levels in Canada and internationally. She has also championed musical outreach and cultural engagement programs along the way, and still shows no signs of slowing down in her 65th year. In fact, the reviews of her recent recordings are possibly more glowing than they have ever been. This distinguished all-Chopin concert was a celebration of the release of her new Chopin CD for ATMA, and anticipates an appearance at Wigmore Hall in London later in the month. It was nice to see a strong and enthusiastic response from the full house at West Vancouver’s Kay Meek Centre: the organization aims to expand its classical music focus in the future...See more.
REVIEW: A THOROUGHLY STUNNING RECITAL FROM JEAN-EFFLAM BAVOUZET
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, piano: Works by Haydn, Beethoven, Ravel and Debussy, Playhouse, April 2, 2017.
A number of years ago, I thought that pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet displayed sufficiently great artistry, imagination, and technical address that I used the title ‘The Pianist for this Decade’ in one of my concert reviews. I was not alone in praising the pianist, but sometimes one has difficulty supporting such bold statements. Fortunately, not this time. A wide-ranging concert of Haydn, Beethoven, Ravel and Debussy proved quite as magnificent as the pianist’s last appearance, and I would be hard pressed to say that I have seen a much better recital. Bavouzet always seems to bring such fresh energy and concentration to whatever he touches, but it his uncanny ability to put his finger on what really drives a piece – and reveals its intellectual and emotional harmony – that gives his efforts a genuine stamp of originality...See more.
THE LEGACY SERIES: OSKAR MORAWETZ REMEMBERED
Vancouver audiences were treated to a pair of recent events celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Canadian composer Oskar Morawetz (1917-2007): first, a lecture/concert organized by the composer’s daughter Claudia at the University of British Columbia; and second, a Vancouver Symphony Orchestra performance of Morawetz’s late orchestral piece The Railway Station. Morawetz’s story is both edifying and instructive. It is edifying in that he is now acknowledged as one of this country’s finest composers in spite of considerable adversity earlier on. It is instructive in the sense that his reputation in Canada during his lifetime did not always reflect the status he deserved, even though his music was celebrated abroad by artists of the first rank, including Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, and Seiji Ozawa. In fact, he even received a commission from the great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. Morawetz was honoured with the Order of Ontario (1987) and the Order of Canada (1989), subsequently receiving two Juno Awards for ‘Best Classical Composition’. He leaves a distinguished recorded legacy...See more.
REVIEW: HENNING KRAGGERUD AND JAMES GAFFIGAN PRESENT A VSO CONCERT OF EXCITING VARIETY
Henning Kraggerud, violin: VSO/ James Gaffigan, Works of Mozart, Bruckner and Kraggerud, Orpheum, April 1, 2017.
Up-and-coming conductor James Gaffigan has already established a tradition of presenting concerts that combine a very adventurous opener with closing works of the greatest reach. An early appearance with the VSO started with an intimate wind serenade by Richard Strauss, finishing off with Beethoven’s ‘Eroica.’ Last time, it was the Intermezzo from Samuel Barber’s Vanessa holding hands with Shostakovich’s massive ‘Leningrad’ Symphony. And this time, it was Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue, K. 546 (rarely played in its orchestral version) pairing off against Bruckner’s far-reaching Seventh Symphony. A refreshing concept indeed, made even more beguiling on this occasion by the appearance of Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud in Mozart’s Fourth Violin Concerto. The violinist was a delight, while the performance of the Bruckner was committed and entirely creditable...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.
REVIEW: THE CHOIR OF KING’S COLLEGE CAMBRIDGE PUSHES FORTH INTO THE 21ST CENTURY
The Choir of King’s College Cambridge, Stephen Cleobury (music director), Chan Centre, March 26, 2017
It has been decades since the revered Choir of King’s College Cambridge has visited Vancouver, and this was a big event both for those that had not seen the ensemble before and those that had especially fond remembrances of them. It has always been the clean timbre, expressive feeling and angelic radiance of the boy choristers that has enshrined the ensemble’s spirit – made very popular through their Lessons and Carols and Evensong at Christmas – and I am happy to say that this spirit came through undiminished on this occasion. Under the direction of their long-time director Stephen Cleobury, the programme was interesting and varied, moving from the Tudor to modern French repertoire and ending with early Italian, 19th century German and 20th century British pieces...See more.
REVIEW: PIANIST PAUL LEWIS REACHES OUT TO NEW TERRAIN
Paul Lewis, piano: Works of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and Weber, Chan Centre, March 19, 2017.
Appointed CBE in 2016, British pianist Paul Lewis has been a regular visitor to the Vancouver Recital Society for a good part of the past 15 years. We have become so accustomed to his identification with Beethoven and Schubert that it is exciting to see to see him branch off to new repertoire. Last year brought a very well-received recording of the Brahms First Piano Concerto for Harmonia Mundi and, at this concert, we heard the once-popular Weber Sonata No. 2, along with smaller doses of Bach and Chopin. A two-concert appearance in Vancouver next season (just announced) will bring some Haydn and more Brahms. Of course, Beethoven always travels in the artist’s suitcase, and this time we heard his latest thoughts on the composer’s Sonata No. 4, Op. 7. This same programme was performed at Wigmore Hall in London earlier in the month...See more.
REVIEW: A VSO CONCERT THAT BRINGS CANADA AND THE U.S. CLOSER TOGETHER
Alessio Bax, piano; Vancouver Symphony Orchestra/ Bramwell Tovey: Music of Morawetz, Bernstein, MacDowell and Copland, Orpheum, March 11, 2017.
As we usher in the ‘new’ America, it was nice to hear a programme that combined good old-fashioned Americana with a dose of Canadiana. The occasion took us back to happier and less volatile times where there was no spectre of border taxes that might inhibit even the flow of artistic products between these two amicable neighbours, and where institutions like the National Endowment for the Arts would always continue as fully bounteous and thriving entities. It was thoroughly redeeming to hear the quotation from Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man in the composer’s Third Symphony: not imbued with Populist indignation but standing as a beacon of pride, nobility, honesty and inclusion, attributes that are in conspicuously short supply today. Oskar Morawetz was the esteemed Canadian composer represented, playing off against Bernstein, Copland, and Edward MacDowell south of the border...See more.
REVIEW: STILE ANTICO ACHIEVES THE SUPREME IN AN ELIZABETHAN OUTING
Stile Antico: Music of Dowland, Byrd, Tallis and others, Chan Centre, March 5, 2017.
One has been inspired by Stile Antico’s magnificent recordings over the past decade, but seeing these twelve singers in concert fully reveals the joy they get from performing their repertoire – in some ways living it whole. This was their third visit here, bringing to life the wonderful Elizabethan compositions of John Dowland, William Byrd and Thomas Tallis, as well as the less familiar Richard Dering, Peter Philips and Robert White. One has to marvel at the effortless balance achieved between the individual voices in this ensemble; also, the many different stage arrangements of the male and female voices used to achieve this pristine result. As we have come to expect, it is the consistent shape and feeling in the group’s vocal lines, and their acute sense of dynamics and transparency, that proves so enticing and suspends the listener in the world they create....See more.
THE LEGACY SERIES: ‘SAMUEL BARBER: ABSOLUTE BEAUTY’ – A NEW DOCUMENTARY FILM BY H. PAUL MOON
Samuel Barber (1910-1981) has long been regarded as one of America’s greatest composers. He has received a number of fine biographies in the past but now we have a full length documentary film, ‘Samuel Barber: Absolute Beauty’ by Washington, D.C. filmmaker H. Paul Moon. It will be released at the end of March 2017. Barber’s music has achieved almost unequalled pubic resonance through his touching Adagio for Strings, though he wrote a wide variety of very fine orchestral music, concertos and vocal works that enshrine his legacy. In recent times, conductors Leonard Slatkin and Marin Alsop have championed the orchestral pieces, and Thomas Hampson his songs, and all three artists make an appearance in this film. It is with pleasure that Vancouver Classical Music invites the filmmaker to share his motivation and inspiration with us...See more.
REVIEW: DAVID DANZMAYR AND JEREMY DENK EXPLORE THE REVOLUTIONARY IN SHOSTAKOVICH AND MOZART
Jeremy Denk, piano: VSO/ David Danzmayr: Music of Shostakovich and Mozart. Orpheum, March 4, 2017.
This concert featured up-and-coming young Austrian conductor David Danzmayr, who aimed to breathe some life into the more fallow reaches of Shostakovich’s output: his Symphony No. 12 ‘The Year 1917’ and Festive Overture. His sidekick was the irrepressible Jeremy Denk who brought his own revolutionary fervour to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 19. Danzmayr currently conducts the Zagreb Philharmonic and was Principal Conductor of the Illinois Symphony previously. On this showing, he is a conductor to reckon with, able to bring a strong galvanizing response from the orchestra while exhibiting both musical intelligence and lyrical sensitivity. I preferred his committed efforts with Shostakovich to Jeremy Denk’s controversial and relatively wayward Mozart...See more.
REVIEW: KIRILL GERSTEIN AND GARRICK OHLSSON INSPIRE WITH DIFFERENT SHADES OF BRAHMS
Kirill Gerstein (piano), VSO/ Lahav Shani: Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 and Schoenberg Pelleas and Melisande, Orpheum, February 18, 2017.
Garrick Ohlsson (piano), VSO/ Bramwell Tovey: Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 and Symphony No. 2, Chan Centre, February 25, 2017
It may not have been the intention of the Vancouver Symphony to create a mini-Brahms Festival at this time of the year but with Kirill Gerstein arriving to play the First Piano Concerto and, a week later, Garrick Ohlsson taking on the Second, it certainly felt like a celebration of sorts. Brahms’ Second Symphony was also part of the mix; Schoenberg’s Pelleas and Melisande might have looked like the outlier but this composer’s immense debt to Brahms is well documented. The obvious insight gained is that there is that there are a variety of ways to play the Brahms concertos: Gerstein more volatile and lyrical, Ohlsson firmer and more patrician. Both types of pianism were illuminating...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.
REVIEW: ALEXANDER KARPEYEV GIVES AN INSPIRED SURVEY OF PIANO MUSIC ANTICIPATING THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION
Alexander Karpeyev, piano: Piano Works of Prokofiev, Medtner, Gretchaninov, Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky, St. Helen’s Anglican Church, Vancouver, February 18, 2017.
Music lovers often get their introduction to works of the 1917 Russian Revolution through the symphonies of Shostakovich or other orchestral and choral compositions – but what about the piano music of this time? In this recital for the enterprising Muzewest Concerts, Russian pianist Alexander Karpeyev surveyed works by five composers who were strongly influenced by the Revolution and ultimately left Russia at some point during or after. Showcased was some very fine piano music written in the lead-up to the Revolution, likely reflecting a premonition of its consequences. Some of it is well-known, some less so – yet this concert proved that it was all in admirable pianistic hands...See more.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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