THE GREAT CANADIAN ARTISTS: AN INTERVIEW WITH MARC-ANDRÉ HAMELIN
Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin has emerged as one of the marvels of the twenty-first century. There are few living pianists who can match his transparency of articulation, rhythmic and tonal control, and cunning virtuoso strength, and these characteristics have been resoundingly illustrated in his recordings and concert performances of a vast range of 19th and 20th century repertoire. His early – and indeed enduring – contribution lay in bringing technically-challenging works of lesser known and often forgotten composers to public attention, placing them on the world stage in the best light for others to absorb and study. In more recent years, he has brought his interpretative and technical acumen to the more mainline literature with great success. Hamelin was born in Montreal, and originally studied at the École de Musique Vincent-d'Indy, then at Temple University in Philadelphia. The first turning point in his career was winning the Carnegie Hall International Competition for American Music in 1985. The second, in 1995, was the start of his association with Hyperion Records, which has spawned to date well over 50 esteemed recordings and established him within the world’s élite pianists. In 2003, Hamelin became an Officer of the Order of Canada and, in 2004, a Chevalier de l'Ordre du Québec…See more.
SPRING 2019 CONCERT PREVIEW
After a stimulating fall season that saw many distinguished concerts towards the end of the year, Vancouver continues its bounty of classical music in the New Year, featuring a stream of international and local artists that fill up the calendar right to the summer, and involving the participation of close to 30 musical institutions. There is distinction and balance to be found over all musical genres, whether this be orchestral music, chamber music, or solo recital. Early Music and New Music have moved right to the front of the city’s attention, while opera has been springing back, especially with Vancouver Opera’s festival. Vancouver is exceptionally youth oriented, offering concert tickets for students and/or individuals under 35 for around $15…See more.
REVIEW: MASAAKI SUZUKI AND BACH COLLEGIUM JAPAN TAKE US INTO THEIR PRIVATE WORLD
Joanne Lunn (soprano), Ryo Terakado (violin), Liliko Maeda (traverse flute), Masamitsu San’nomiya (oboe), Bach Collegium Japan/ Masaaki Suzuki (director/continuo), Works by Bach, Vivaldi, Corti, Marcello, Telemann and Handel, Chan Centre, December 9, 2018.
After all the energetic and brightly-lit Baroque ensembles that have visited over the years, it was absolutely refreshing to witness the unselfconscious modesty and devotion in the music making of Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan. The ensemble has received great praise for its recording of the integral Bach cantatas for BIS and is now in its 28th year under Suzuki’s leadership. It has visited New York over the years, but this was its Vancouver debut. One delightful feature of this concert was the variety in the programming, running from orchestral pieces by Bach, Vivaldi, and Marcello through a Paris quartet by Telemann to two motets by Handel and Francesco Corti, sung by fresh-toned British soprano Joanne Lunn. Yet it was the group’s reverential attitude to music-making that was the real treat: Suzuki and his troupe seemed to perform each work like they were discovering a sacred precious stone, its secrets and beauties to be uncovered gently and only through the most discerning and refined exploration. There is an austerity and a purity in this approach, almost free of human interference; only beneath does one glimpse the great sensitivity and concentration of the artists…See more.
REVIEW: YEFIM BRONFMAN BRINGS LIFE-ENHANCING STRENGTH AND COHESION TO BRAHMS
Yefim Bronfman (piano), VSO/ Jun Märkl, Works by Brahms, Liszt and Richard Strauss, Orpheum, December 8, 2018.
Yefim Bronfman performed a very fine complete set of Beethoven Piano Concertos here in 2013; he now turns to the magisterial Brahms Second. While it was the pianist’s transparent line, intelligence and fineness of touch that distinguished his Beethoven, the Brahms brought a more commanding but equally-perceptive response, fully assimilating the composer’s lyrical flow and richer sinew while always bringing out the work’s architectural strength. It would be difficult to think of a more naturally cohesive or complete interpretation. Long-time VSO visitor Jun Märkl collaborated and drew fine energy from the orchestra, adding an unusually tight-knit and colourful rendering of Liszt’s Les Preludes and Richard Strauss’s Don Juan in the second half of the concert…See more.
REVIEW: BAIBA SKRIDE AND OTTO TAUSK FIND ILLUMINATION IN GUBAIDULINA AND TCHAIKOVSKY
Baiba Skride (violin), VSO/ Otto Tausk: Works by Gabrieli, Gubaidulina and Tchaikovsky, Orpheum, December 1, 2018.
Following on her very fine Korngold performance with the VSO in June 2017, Latvian violinist Baiba Skride now turns to the monumental and challenging first violin concerto of Russian-Tartar composer, Sofia Gubaidulina, entitled Offertorium (1980). The violinist, with the committed collaboration of Otto Tausk and the orchestra, were very much up to the challenge, weaving their way through this complex work with confidence, imagination, and an awareness of its full range of colour and feeling. Keeping up the Russian theme, Tausk also contributed a fresh account of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathetique’ Symphony. The VSO distinguished itself throughout, not least the brass section, which also had its own opportunity to shine in Gabrieli’s Sacrae Symphoniae that began the concert…See more.
REVIEW: A VERY SPECIAL LIEDER RECITAL FROM SIMON KEENLYSIDE AND MALCOLM MARTINEAU
Sir Simon Keenlyside (baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano): Songs of Brahms, Poulenc, Ravel and Schubert: Playhouse, November 25, 2018.
This concert marked the first stop on baritone Sir Simon Keenlyside and pianist Malcolm Martineau’s 2018 North American tour. It was very successful: starting from songs of Brahms, Poulenc and Ravel and ending with Schubert, both artists were on top of their form and gave a fully memorable recital. Keenlyside exhibited a lovely poise throughout, always finding telling communication and expressive variety, while Martineau’s conjunction of alertness and refinement could not help but add to the magic…See more.
REVIEW: MUSIC ON MAIN’S MODULUS FESTIVAL EXTENDS THE NEW MUSIC BOUNTY OF THE FALL
Music on Main’s MODULUS FESTIVAL: The Roundhouse, Post at 750 and CBC Studio 700, November 2-6, 2018.
Following on the momentum gained from hosting the ISCM World Music Days in 2017, David Pay and Music on Main continue their 5-day Modulus Festival this year, featuring a rich diversity of artists and offering an excellent sampling of what is current in the world of new music. It usefully complements Vancouver New Music’s ‘Quartetti’ extravaganza of two weeks earlier (24 contemporary string quartet compositions played by seven ensembles) in bringing a heightened new music inspiration to Vancouver’s fall season. Fluidity of form and genres defined the Modulus Festival’s musical offerings, and attention was drawn to musicians who are both composers and performers. Opportunities for mingling between performers and the audience was also an important aspect of the festival. Among the many notable events, Music on Main’s Composer-in-Residence, Nicole Lizée, teamed up with British composer/vocalist Laura Bowler to present a concert of chillingly insightful music, singer and medieval scholar Katarina Livljanić performed Kokla Kokabula, while Eve Egoyan presented dramatically-staged pieces for piano and electronics. Two of the most inspired concerts were by young British pianist Richard Uttley, and the Standing Wave Ensemble contributed their inimitable expertise at the end…See more.
REVIEW: IGOR LEVIT’S INTIMATE JOURNEY THROUGH ‘LIFE’
Igor Levit (piano), ‘Life’, Chan Centre, November 4, 2018.
One has quickly come to identify pianist Igor Levit with far-reaching projects, but his ongoing international tour with ‘Life’ – a so entitled two-CD set just released for Sony – is a very personal statement, a response to the death of his close friend Hannes Malte Mahler in 2016. It was natural to expect a reflective feeling in the proceedings, the pianist probing into the myriad of subtle emotions between deep sorrow and hope. The music assembled for this purpose was innovative: a set of arrangements by Busoni, Brahms and Liszt, principally anchored in Bach. Since all works other than the opening Bach/Brahms Chaconne were played continuously, the recital achieved an overarchingly meditative quality, spawning a sense of almost endless improvisational development through varied and undulating terrain. Always noticeable was the patience and suspended beauty in Levit’s playing, often leading one to the darker and more fragile corners of intimate feeling yet always ready to coax out a richer redemption too. This was an experience for very late at night…See more.
REVIEW: A VERY IMPRESSIVE SHOWING FROM CONDUCTOR XIAN ZHANG
Marc-André Hamelin (piano), VSO/ Xian Zhang: Works by Chang, Mozart and Tchaikovsky, Orpheum, November 2, 2018.
We have witnessed a variety of estimable female conductors in recent years, but it has been quite a wait to see Xian Zhang, one of the earlier pioneers in this evolution. Zhang is currently Music Director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of BBC NOW and has received considerable attention for her London ‘Proms’ appearances. Her rigourous and spirited conducting indeed made for an impressive showing on this occasion, and her discipline brought unusual tonal integration and power from the orchestra. Her Tchaikovsky ‘Little Russian’ Symphony came off like a firecracker, full of Russian fervour and elan – and very exciting. Her orchestral control also brought strong dividends to Dorothy Chang’s finely appointed Northern Star. Then, there was the appearance of celebrated Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin, bringing his consummate artistry to bear on Mozart Piano Concerto No. 17: a worthwhile performance though Zhang’s orchestral accompaniment tended to be on the serious and heavy side…See more.
REVIEW ARTICLE: THE POWER OF THE CONTEMPORARY STRING QUARTET: A SPLENDID QUARTETTI FESTIVAL FROM VANCOUVER NEW MUSIC
The Annex, October 18-20, 2018.
Vancouver chamber music and new music aficionados were recently treated to an extraordinary musical feast prepared by no less than seven string quartet ensembles: three from Canada, two from the US, and two from Italy. This festival took the form of 9 eloquent concert programs, each presenting a selection of two to four works. In total, 24 compositions were presented; 3 ‘classics’ dated from 1984-1993, while the remainder were composed from 2011-2018, making this festival a window into the most recent trends in quartet writing, revealing a host of interesting juxtapositions and longer threads and associations. Canadian, American, Italian, and Russian composers were all represented, including 2 compositions by Navajo composer Raven Chacon, and 5 by participants in his Native American Composer Apprentice Project. One could debate at length what the string quartet medium means for us today, but an answer that this festival awakens is that the string quartet offers an incomparable medium for exploring liberty – of imagination, expression, and action – as an outcome of the immense individual and collective discipline needed for compelling artistic discovery. Kudos to all the composers and performers, and to Artistic Director Giorgio Magnanensi and the Vancouver New Music team for this unique enterprise…See more.
REVIEW: KAREN GOMYO BRINGS STRIKING COHERENCE AND FEELING TO THE BRAHMS VIOLIN CONCERTO
Karen Gomyo (violin), VSO/ Jeffrey Kahane: Works by Mendelssohn, Brahms and Schumann, Orpheum, October 19, 2018.
Violinist Karen Gomyo has become a perennial favorite in Canadian concert halls, a status that now increasingly extends to Europe as well. Her captivating stage presence and remarkable virtuosity are the most obvious attributes that keep her in the spotlight, while the range of tone colour that she can draw out of her Stradivarius is stunning by any standards. In previous appearances here, she has given performances of brilliance and character, yet this current reading of the Brahms Violin Concerto seemed to take a large step forward. This was a performance of genuine long-run vision and command, featuring a compelling mix of architecture, feeling and tonal beauty. It was the best performance of the work in Vancouver since Midori’s perceptive traversal over five years ago…See more.
REVIEW: A VIBRANT MERRY WIDOW OPENS VANCOUVER OPERA’S 2018-2019 SEASON
Lehár, THE MERRY WIDOW: Richard Suart (Baron Mirko Zeta), Sasha Djihanian (Valencienne), John Tessier (Camille de Rosillon), Lucia Cesaroni (Hanna Glawari), John Cudia (Count Danilo Danilovich). Vancouver Opera Orchestra, Ward Stare (conductor), Vancouver Opera Chorus, Kinza Tyrrell (director), Kelly Robinson (stage director), Joshua Beamish (choreographer), Michael Yeargan (scenic designer), Susan Memmott-Allred (costume designer), Gerald King (lighting designer), Queen Elizabeth Theatre, October 20, 2018.
Rather than starting the season with a dramatic opera drawn from the classic repertoire, Vancouver Opera sent things off with Lehár’s frothier operetta The Merry Widow, challenging the company to display their talents in creating charm, humour, and buoyant energy in a setting that always flirts with lavish indulgence. Young maestro Wade Stare did an admirable job at finding freshness and transparency in the score, while the choreography was consistently engaging. The naturalness of the acting and the uncluttered stage movement always kept the viewer focused on the evolving relationships between the characters. Some issues of vocal matching and balance aside, the two principal couples brought both luster and chemistry to the proceedings: soprano Lucia Cesaroni and tenor John Cudia inhabited their lead roles with a natural enthusiasm, nicely complemented by the pairing of soprano Sasha Djihanian with tenor John Tessier. Richard Suart was excellent as the Baron…See more.
REVIEW: RADIANT BEAUTY AND DELIGHT FROM THE JERUSALEM QUARTET AND FRIENDS
The Jerusalem String Quartet (Alexander Pavlosky and Sergei Bresler, violins; Ori Kam, viola; Kyril Zlotnikov, cello); Pinchas Zukerman, viola, Amanda Forsyth, cello: Works by Richard Strauss, Schoenberg and Tchaikovsky, Chan Centre, October 14, 2018.
It is rare to have a full concert of string sextets, and it is rare indeed to find playing as beautiful as that provided by the Jerusalem Quartet and their two exalted collaborators, violist Pinchas Zukerman and cellist Amanda Forsyth. Radiant warmth and feeling flowed everywhere in this concert, starting from Richard Strauss’s lovely Sextet from Capriccio and ending with the energy and romantic ardour of Tchaikovsky’s late sextet ‘Souvenir de Florence’. In between was Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, also painted in luxuriant colours, though here some sharper, more distilled contours might not have been out of place. It was a particular joy to see the Jerusalem Quartet in its fullest splendour: the Vancouver Recital Society sponsored the ensemble literally from its birth-pangs two decades ago…See more.
REVIEW: EVGENY KISSIN AND THE ART OF THE PIANO
Evgeny Kissin (piano), Works by Chopin, Schumann and Rachmaninoff, Chan Centre, October 9, 2018.
With an absolutely packed hall, and patrons ready to cheer at a moment’s notice, there was plenty going on at this concert. It had been 19 years since Evgeny Kissin played in Vancouver. Some attendees were clearly still thinking of the young Kissin that took the world by storm in the late 80s and 90s, others were simply in awe of his enduring iconic status; then, there was the contingent of Russians who doubtlessly felt a deep spiritual bond with this representative of their country’s art. At 47 years old, the pianist was clearly not the young, fearless wunderkind that some might have remembered: he entered the stage more as a grand master of the keyboard, poised and elegant in his stride, ready to share his long-distilled awareness of all the variety, power and tonal beauty his instrument can offer. Kissin brought selective emotion and fire to this programme of Chopin, Schumann and Rachmaninoff but, overall, this recital stood more as a study of the art of pristine pianism wedded to some endearing nostalgia…See more.
REVIEW: OTTO TAUSK FINDS HIS STRIDE WITH BEETHOVEN’S 7TH
Cédric Tiberghien (piano), VSO/ Otto Tausk: Works by Kodaly, Bartok and Beethoven, Orpheum, September 28, 2018.
This was Otto Tausk’s second set of concerts as the VSO’s new music director and it yielded an estimable Beethoven’s 7th, fresh and well sprung, sure in discipline and line, and finding appropriate power when needed. This was his best effort yet. With the appearance of the distinguished French pianist Cédric Tiberghien, one might have hoped that the performance of Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto might even surpass the Beethoven, but it turned out more uneven. Part of the problem in the concerto may have stemmed from the conductor’s experiment of setting up the orchestra in classical European style. This adjustment seemed to imbalance the overall acoustic, most noticeably when the piano was present. Still, with a creditable reading of Kodály’s Dances of Galanta to start, this was a rewarding outing all told…See more.
REVIEW: ENRICO ONOFRI AND PACIFIC BAROQUE BRING WONDERFUL STRENGTH AND FEELING TO VIVALDI
Enrico Onofri (violin/ director), Pacific Baroque Orchestra (Chloe Meyers, leader): Concertos by Vivaldi, Christ Church Cathedral, September 29, 2018.
One often discounts all-Vivaldi programmes as lighter fare, but this season opener of Early Music Vancouver hardly fits in this category. Under the guidance of esteemed baroque violinist Enrico Onofri, leader and soloist of the Giardino Armonico from 1987-2010, one was taken into the range of Vivaldi’s expression in a way that was almost unique in its precision, energy and feeling. In a programme of 7 concertos – 5 from L’Estro Armonico Op. 3 and 2 from La Stravaganza Op. 4 – the Pacific Baroque Orchestra performed with complete commitment and one came away from the concert feeling that Onofri and the ensemble had re-lived and re-thought this celebrated music anew…See more.
REVIEW: RENEE FLEMING, THE JUSSEN BROTHERS AND OTTO TAUSK KICK OFF THE VSO’S CENTENARY YEAR
Renée Fleming (soprano), Lucas and Arthur Jussen (piano duo), Vancouver Symphony Orchestra/ Otto Tausk: Works by Ravel, Strauss, Tosti, Puccini, Verdi, Bernstein, Top, Poulenc, Stravinsky, plus favorites from Broadway, Orpheum, September 20 and 21, 2018.
Starting off a centenary season with a brand-new music director is both an exciting and slightly forbidding prospect. Yet the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra came through the test well, giving the orchestra’s many patrons a glimpse of some of the joys to look forward to with newly-appointed Dutch maestro Otto Tausk. The first concert was a celebrity concert with Renée Fleming, not digging too deep, but certainly illustrating the singer’s new-found love of Broadway. She brought ample charm to popular favourites, following these with her characteristic stream of encores. The second concert – the official VSO 100 opening – featured the captivating young Lucas and Arthur Jussen in the Poulenc Two-Piano Concerto. This may have been slightly less scintillating than it might be but served as wonderful spectacle all the same. Overall, Tausk’s conducting always exhibited the virtues of patience, conscientiousness and textural clarity but, perhaps understandably, sometimes erred on the side of caution. Fortunately, he brought distinctive feeling and concentration to the complete Stravinsky Firebird that closed the festivities, bringing the orchestra to a fine display of corporate synergy and cohesion…See more.
REVIEW: A SUCCESSFUL NIGREDO HOTEL FROM CITY OPERA VANCOUVER
Nic Gotham and Ann-Marie MacDonald, NIGREDO HOTEL: Sarah Vardy (Sophie), Tyler Duncan (Raymond), Instrumental Ensemble, Charles Barber (conductor), Alan Corbishley (stage director), John Webber (lighting and set design), Barbara Clayden (costumes), The Cultch, September 20, 2018.
Starting off from The Lost Operas of Mozart in October 2016, the one-act chamber opera Nigredo Hotel is now the third recent presentation by City Opera – the little opera company that could! A collaboration between composer Nic Gotham and librettist Ann-Marie MacDonald, Nigredo Hotel stands as one of the few Canadian operas to have enjoyed multiple performances at home and abroad. Originally commissioned by Tapestry New Opera Works and premiered in Toronto in 1992, it has been performed as far afield as the United Kingdom and Australia. As the work courts a vast sequence of psychological and dramatic turns, it requires courageous and probing performances, and that it mainly received in the current production from baritone Tyler Duncan and soprano Sarah Vardy, underpinned by the inspired support of conductor Charles Barber’s instrumental ensemble...See more.
REVIEW: PACIFIC BAROQUE AND GLI ANGELI GENEVE CLOSE OUT THE BACH FESTIVAL IN STYLE
Gli Angeli Genève with ripieno singers, Pacific Baroque Orchestra, Alexander Weimann (organ and conductor): Bach Cantatas BWV 146 and 198, Chan Centre, August 10, 2018.
After a full fifteen concerts, featuring some of the most exalted exponents of historical performance, the enterprising 2018 Early Music Vancouver Bach Festival comes to a close. There could not have been a more appropriate finishing touch than this concert of Bach cantatas performed by the organization’s long-affiliated Pacific Baroque Orchestra and the sterling vocalists of Gli Angeli Genève. The latter has been a staple of this and last year’s festivals, and had performed three cantatas with their own instrumental ensemble a week earlier at Christ Church Cathedral. The pair of lesser-known but equally delightful cantatas explored on this occasion were ‘Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal’ BWV 146 and ‘Lass, Fürstin, lass noch einen Strahl’ BWV 198 (‘Trauer Ode’). Again, the vocal contributions of Gli Angeli Genève were fully redeeming, with an equally fine showing from Maestro Weimann and the Pacific Baroque...See more.
REVIEW: GLI ANGELI GENEVE BRINGS A RICH RED WINE TO INFORM BACH’S CANTATAS
Gli Angeli Genève [Aleksandra Lewandowska (soprano), Alex Potter (alto), Thomas Hobbs (tenor), Stephan MacLeod (bass/director)] and Instrumental Ensemble, Music of Bach and Telemann, Christ Church Cathedral, August 3, 2018.
The vocal soloists of Gli Angeli Genève made such a strong impression in last year’s Bach Festival that it was inspired idea for Early Music Vancouver to invite their full troupe of instrumentalists for this year. With soprano Aleksandra Lewandowska and alto Alex Potter bringing their captivating radiance, tenor Thomas Hobbs his characteristic flexibility and insight, all coordinated by the imposing tones and attentive direction of celebrated bass Stephan MacLeod, this made for quite a feast when set alongside the enticingly-hued output of the ensemble’s 13 instrumentalists. It was unmistakeably strong, rich Bach, the sound typically anchored by the darker fabric of cello and chamber organ continuo, with pungent wind lines often taking precedence over the timbres of the two violins. Adding the beauty and blend of the vocal timbres made for a distinctive fit, witnessed at its finest in the Cantatas BWV 106 and 131 in the second half of the concert, and spectacularly so in the latter cantata...See more.
REVIEW: ANGELA HEWITT FURTHER DISTILLS THE GREATNESS OF BACH’S WELL-TEMPERED CLAVIER
Angela Hewitt, piano: Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, Chan Centre, July 31, 2018.
Angela Hewitt has spent the last quarter-century mastering and refining her interpretation of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, and she returns to it again for the 2018 Vancouver Bach Festival. Hewitt’s first recording for Hyperion in 1997 was performed on a Steinway, but this was supplanted by her 2007 recording on her signature Fazioli that coincided with her world tour with the work. This latter recording is generally regarded as a more subtle distillation of the range and colour in the 48 pieces. It also gave stronger definition to the exact makeup of Hewitt’s ‘brand’ of Bach on the piano relative to other notable historical styles: the prewar Edwin Fischer, the 1950s Glenn Gould, and the 1980s Sir András Schiff, although other artists (Sviatoslav Richter) might be mentioned too. One cannot say enough about Hewitt’s skill in execution, her ability to secure transparency in rhythm, shading and detail, and her capacity to weave an enticing narrative over the whole. While her live performances of the complete Well-Tempered Clavier a decade ago were fully memorable, this current rendering of Book I was unquestionably more commanding: her playing seemed consistently more luminous and concentrated than before, with the ‘meaning’ of many of the pieces mined and sharpened more decisively...See more.
REVIEW: THE FIRST CANADIAN TOUR OF ‘THE GESUALDO SIX’ YIELDS AMPLE DELIGHTS
The Gesualdo Six: Music from Tallis and Byrd through Poulenc and the Moderns, St. James Anglican Church, Vancouver, July 21, 2018.
England has produced such a rich and varied collection of choirs over the years that any new entrant into the mix must have pretty strong credentials. Where better to look than the venerable Oxbridge choral tradition and the up-and-coming Gesualdo Six, formed just over four years ago and featuring a handpicked collection of a half-dozen of England’s finest young consort singers under the direction of 25-year-old Owain Park. The ensemble’s first Canadian tour of 7 concerts moves from Ottawa and Quebec City to the West Coast, then back to Toronto and the Elora Festival. It also celebrates the release of the group’s first CD for Hyperion, entitled English Motets. One could hardly be disappointed with the vocal splendour on display in this Vancouver concert. The consort summons a particularly firm and cohesive sound, impeccably balanced from top to bottom, mixing enviable precision with an (often) sensual glow. I did not think there was a weak link within the singers, and each of their solo efforts were estimable. I was delighted that both this concert and the previous night’s in Victoria secured full houses...See more.
REVIEW: AN INSPIRED 85TH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION FOR R. MURRAY SCHAFER WITH THE VANCOUVER CHAMBER CHOIR
Christina Cichos (soprano), Fabiana Katz (alto), Steven Belanger (baritone), George Roberts (narrator), Vancouver Chamber Choir, Vancouver Chamber Orchestra, Jon Washburn (conductor), Chan Centre, July 6, 2018.
This concert celebrated the 85th birthday of distinguished Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer. It also celebrated his more than 40-year association with the Vancouver Chamber Choir and conductor Jon Washburn. The choir has now performed 27 of his works, including 12 commissions, and has made three CDs entirely devoted to his compositions. Two of the pieces performed on this occasion were composed relatively recently: Narcissus and Echo (2009) and the bigger-scale The Love that Moves the Universe, written for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. While one can regard Schafer as a true pioneer of ‘soundscapes’ and various experimental techniques, it is his awareness of the beauty and sensuality in textures, his sense of dramatic balance, and his commitment to exposing the ‘sonic pulse of the earth’ that often speaks most readily to the listener. Everything was refreshing and uplifting about this concert, and the choir and orchestra were at their best. The documentary film and video of the composer’s ‘Sun’ shown in the first half only added to the radiance of the proceedings...See more.
VANCLASSICAL GOES INTERNATIONAL
In 2014, Vancouver Classical Music established a reciprocal relationship with Seen and Heard International, a division of MusicWeb International – one of the premier classical music review sites in the world. What this has meant for Vancouver is that all our local reviews and interviews appear world-wide, and are featured alongside those of London, New York, and other music capitals. For reviews and interviews already published on Seen and Heard, go to:
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.
REVIEW: BRAMWELL TOVEY’S GALA FAREWELL CELEBRATION
Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Bramwell Tovey and Friends, Orpheum, May 31, 2018.
Eighteen years is a very long tenure for any music director, and Bramwell Tovey leaves the VSO as the longest serving maestro in the orchestra’s history. He will retain the ‘Music Director Emeritus’ title. One does not want to mark his leaving with too much nostalgia, but one registers that the maestro originally came on board in 2000 when the orchestra was in rather bleak financial circumstances. It was the great synergy of his efforts with those of President Jeff Alexander, Vice-President Alan Gove, concertmasters Mark Fewer and Dale Barltrop, and many others that built an inspired, visible organization with a uniquely-appealing product. A dominating ingredient in this success has been Tovey’s reach and presence within the community, extending beyond the engagement and charisma of his concerts to the inspired formation of the VSO School of Music in 2011, the Whistler Institute more recently, and to local and international arts concerns, where he has always fought for equity, voice and the preservation of heritage. This celebration was largely emceed by the maestro himself, allowing him to spin all his much-loved anecdotes and chestnuts to the delight of the audience, highlighted by performances by members of his closest musical family, including his two daughters...See more.
AN INTERVIEW WITH RAFAL BLECHACZ
Few pianists have won the Warsaw Chopin Competition as resoundingly as Rafal Blechacz did in 2005. While the pianist’s early Deutsche Grammophon recordings were naturally of Chopin (with some Debussy and Szymanowski), his latest CD (February 2017) is entirely devoted to Bach, and his concert explorations now run the full gamut from Mozart, through Beethoven and Schumann, to Brahms. The pianist received the prestigious Gilmore Artist Award in 2014. These are a most productive developments, and this brief interview attempts to give insight into them. What is apparent in talking with Blechacz is how considered and philosophical an artist he is – not surprising, since he is completing his doctorate in Philosophy. Also, how much he has in common with his friend and celebrated countryman Krystian Zimerman in terms of thinking about piano performance…See more.
THE 2018 JUNO AWARDS
Featuring Isabel Bayrakdarian, Robert Koenig, Philippe Sly, John Charles Britton, Johannes Moser, Jan Lisiecki, Jocelyn Morlock, Alice Ping Yee Ho, Mark McGregor, Rachel Iwaasa, David Gillham, Corey Hamm, ARC Ensemble, Paolo Pietropaolo (host): CBC Studio 1, Vancouver, March 24, 2018.
It has been decades since the Juno Awards were held in Vancouver, and while the popular music side invariably dominates the public’s interest, the sponsorship of both the CBC and the Canadian Music Centre inspired a very worthy ‘on-air’ Juno Classical Showcase this year. The concert took place at the CBC studios and was hosted by Paolo Pietropaolo in front of a small group of invitees. The event featured a distinguished selection of current nominees and indeed some of Canada’s finest classical musicians and composers. As to the awards, the biggest cause for celebration locally was the Juno received by the Vancouver Symphony’s Composer-In-Residence, Jocelyn Morlock; her composition My Name is Amanda Todd was voted ‘Classical Composition of the Year’. The Junos received by Jan Lisiecki and Janina Fialkowska for their Chopin recordings, and Barbara Hannigan for Crazy Girl Crazy further highlighted the variety and strength of Canada’s classical recording artists, where the likes of James Ehnes, Louis Lortie, Johannes Moser, Isabel Bayrakdarian and Gerald Finley figured among the nominees...See more.
INTERVIEW: THE MULTI-TASKED BARRY DOUGLAS AND THE SPIRIT OF IRELAND
Winner of the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in 1986, Barry Douglas has toured the world for the last three decades, bringing distinction and splendour to the wide range of concertos he plays, and taking on innumerable institutional responsibilities as well. That is to be expected from any major competition-winner, but perhaps one of the things which turned out to be closest to the artist’s heart is the founding of his orchestra, the Camerata Ireland, and overseeing his annual Clandeboye Festival, both of which serve as a meeting place for Irish artists in general and young Irish musicians in particular. The other notable happening for the pianist is his recording of the complete solo piano music of Brahms and (in progress) Schubert for Chandos. We sat down to investigate these developments, as well as the pianist’s current inspirations, as part of his visit to Vancouver in November 2017, where he gave a structurally-cogent and often glowing account of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto with conductor Lawrence Renes. Douglas was honoured with the title of ‘Cherniavsky Laureate’ at this appearance with the VSO. He was awarded an OBE in 2002...See more.
JIRI BELOHLAVEK, THE CZECH CONDUCTING TRADITION AND THE CANADIAN LINK
One mourns the very recent passing of Czech conductor Jiří Bělohlávek (24 February 1946 – 31 May 2017) not only because he was wonderfully discerning musician, but also because he perpetuated a conducting legacy that linked back to the greatest Czech composers of the 19th and 20th centuries. This tradition fundamentally derived from Václav Talich’s long reign with the Czech Philharmonic up to about 1950, spawning principal successors Karel Ančerl and Václav Neumann. These maestros distinguished themselves by their natural insight into Czech rhythms and colour, and the lean, pointed and often pungent character of Czech orchestral sound. This was true of the younger Bělohlávek too but, in my estimation, he eventually communicated something more: the lyrical reach and telling atmosphere in Czech music that coexists with its sharply-etched dramatic profile. Ancerl was Music Director of the Toronto Symphony from 1969-1973, and Bělohlávek was one of the promising Czech conductors who followed him to the city, visiting the TSO with remarkable consistency all the way from 1980 to 2017. He led both the BBC Symphony and the Czech Philharmonic with great aplomb in the last decade...See more.
INTERVIEW: CATCHING UP WITH THE BRITISH PIANO SENSATION BENJAMIN GROSVENOR
British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor has been in the spotlight for over half of his lifetime, having won the BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2004 at the age of 10. He was already demonstrating profound maturity in his interpretations and command of the piano at that young age, and Grosvenor has continued to develop over the years. The first British pianist in 40 years to be signed to the Decca label, Grosvenor has now released four albums and continues to tour worldwide with solo recitals, chamber music collaborations, and concerto appearances. Vancouver-based writer Mark Ainley of ‘The Piano Files’ has followed the pianist’s career with special interest, taking in both New York and Vancouver concerts in Grosvenor’s 2017 North American Tour. His new interview attempts to bring us up to date on the artist’s current thoughts and preoccupations, and his recollection of his experiences growing up with so much acclaim. Benjamin Grosvenor has now made three Vancouver appearances with the Vancouver Recital Society; his debut concert was April 2013....See more.
THE GREAT CANADIAN ARTISTS: AN INTERVIEW WITH VIOLINIST JAMES EHNES
There are few more celebrated musicians in the world right now than Manitoba-born violinist James Ehnes, and few have failed to succumb to his wonderful tonal luster, silken lyrical lines, and insightful virtuosity. After initial training with Francis Chaplin, the violinist made his solo debut with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal at age 13, following this up with studies with Sally Thomas at Meadowmount and Juilliard (1993-97). Ehnes won the Peter Mennin Prize upon his Juilliard graduation, and subsequently received the first-ever Ivan Galamian Memorial Award and an Avery Fisher Career Grant (2005), in addition to the highest Canadian honours. The turning point in Ehnes’ recording career likely came in 2006-2007 when his ‘homegrown’ recording of the Barber, Korngold and Walton concertos with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (under Bramwell Tovey) won both Juno and Grammy awards. This was followed up by the widely-praised Onyx recording of the Elgar Violin Concerto with Sir Andrew Davis.
The past decade has seen a remarkable flood of recordings: the Complete Works for Violin of both Bartok and Prokofiev for Chandos, and the Tchaikovsky, Khachaturian, Shostakovich and Britten concertos, plus a number of violin sonatas and the Paganini Caprices, for Onyx. The Beethoven Violin Concerto with conductor Andrew Manze is forthcoming. Alongside the many duo recordings with long-time partner Andrew Armstrong, still more new releases come from the Seattle Chamber Music Society and from the Ehnes Quartet, bringing his total to almost 50 recordings as he approaches his 41st year. On the occasion of the 2017 Vancouver Symphony Spring Festival, the adventures continued: Ehnes appeared as conductor and violinist in one concert and the violist in the Walton Viola Concerto in another. With such a bewildering array of talents and accomplishments, one can hardly run out of things to talk about! See more.
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.
FEATURED INTERVIEW: ‘GOING DEEP’ WITH PIANIST KIRILL GERSTEIN
Pianist Kirill Gerstein has become an increasingly esteemed visitor to North American and European concert halls these days, moving quite a distance from his original Gilmore Young Artist’s Award in 2002, his debut recording for Oehms Classics, and the initial intrigue over his jazz training. Gerstein was awarded the coveted Gilmore Artist Award in 2010 and subsequently has produced an enviable string of CD’s for the German company Myrios. Virtually all of these have received strong acclaim, and include the Brahms Viola Sonatas with Tabea Zimmermann, the 1879 version of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto, the Liszt Sonata, and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. His recording of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes has just been released. Very much in the spotlight, we thought it was time to sit down and really examine the artist’s development. In this interview, we spare niceties and move to some depth in revealing Gerstein’s perspective on his own progress, his repertoire choices and recording experiences, and his personal response to some current tendencies in the culture of classical music and performance. The interview took place in conjunction with his performance of the Brahms First Piano Concerto with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra under conductor Lahav Shani...See more.
CELEBRATING THE WEST COAST COMPOSERS: JEAN COULTHARD (1908-2000)
By David Gordon Duke (with critical notes by Geoffrey Newman)
This is the first in a series of portraits of West Coast composers, featuring Vancouver composer and former UBC professor Jean Coulthard. While her work rightly achieved strong and widespread appreciation during her lifetime, she is perhaps gaining even more reverence now. Just a year ago, BBC Radio 3 added Coulthard to its long-running series Composer of the Week – the first Canadian to be so chosen. The BBC has been currently interested in showcasing female composers, but one must presume that it was the sheer scope and quality of her compositions that was ultimately persuasive. Here was a 20th century woman from distant British Columbia who wrote in all the great classical genres, a composer who developed a unique (if conservative) voice, and whose best music has stood the test of time and critical scrutiny. This article examines Coulthard’s musical background, the distinctive features of her musical voice, and discusses a number of her works performed at an inspired concert at the Canadian Music Centre in Vancouver in early February...See more.
THE REJUVENATION OF THE CANADIAN MUSIC CENTRE: AN INTERVIEW WITH BC REGIONAL DIRECTOR SEAN BICKERTON
The Canadian Music Centre (CMC) has been a most valuable resource for Canadian composers, musicians, and educators ever since it formed in 1959. It has archived scores and recordings of Canada’s finest compositional efforts, and (since 1981) documented these through its ‘Centrediscs’ recordings, which now total just under 200 releases. It is a cause for celebration that the local CMC-BC has moved forward proactively this year by opening a 40-seat concert hall in downtown Vancouver – the Murray Adaskin Salon – and presenting a four-concert season. The organization has also furthered educational initiatives and located another B.C. ‘Creative Hub’ in Victoria. All of this is very adventurous, so it seemed worthwhile to sit down with British Columbia Director Sean Bickerton and find out where all the new ‘fire’ came from, how it was all made possible, and how it is progressing so far...See more.
FOUR DECADES OF HISTORICAL PERFORMANCE: AN INTERVIEW WITH VIOLINIST MONICA HUGGETT
If one wanted a broad picture of the evolution of historical performance, with intriguing little nuances revealed along the way, there would be few better musicians to talk to than Monica Huggett. She has been an unremitting force for four decades, well known early on from her associations with the Academy of Ancient Music and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and these days as Artistic Director of the Portland and Irish Baroque Orchestras, and Adviser to the Juilliard Historical Program. This interview traces the violinist’s experiences right from her early days when the authentic movement was just gathering momentum. Most important are her insights about how historical performance has developed out of a number of contrasting approaches that have cross-fertilized each other. Equally interesting are her ideas on where historical scholarship and performance practice still have room to grow, what she wants to achieve from an orchestra in interpretation, and how she has maintained an undiminished inspiration all this time. The interview took place in conjunction with the Vancouver Bach Festival in August 2016, where Monica Huggett directed the Pacific Baroque Orchestra in the Complete Bach Orchestral Suites...See more.
IN MEMORIAM: SIR NEVILLE MARRINER (15 April 1924 – 2 October 2016): AN APPRECIATION OF A 20TH CENTURY PIONEER
When a great performer reaches their 90’s, one knows that things cannot go on forever. But when the end finally comes, it is often interesting to note the reevaluations that one makes of a formidable and enterprising musical life. For many of us early on, Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin’s in the Fields was the prolific performing and recording force that knew no bounds, set estimable standards, and managed to achieve success in virtually any repertoire. Becoming a household name, it became easy to take the Academy for granted and, even by the 1970’s, some critics began to think that the ensemble’s performances had become a little too expert and polished for their own good. Yet the consistency in performance and recording was disarming and, while one seldom received earth-shaking interpretations from Sir Neville, one always got musicality, balance, and judgement – and a refreshing degree of innovation in repertoire and style. The level of technical execution was enviable. In retrospect, Sir Neville’s original objective to set up a small, conductor-less ‘egalitarian’ orchestra in 1958, flexibly bridging chamber music and the orchestral, turned out to be an a path-breaking template for small orchestral design and flexibility...See more.
THE PURSUIT OF DISCOVERY: AN INTERVIEW WITH CONDUCTOR JOHN STORGARDS
Over the last 5 years or so, Finnish conductor John Storgårds name is seemingly everywhere: his compelling performances with the BBC Philharmonic, his Proms appearances, his recent recordings of the complete Sibelius and Nielsen symphonies for Chandos, and many other recordings on Ondine, including his new Zemlinsky. Yet Maestro Storgårds, now 52, really only picked up a baton just over 20 years ago, spending most of his early career as a violinist and concertmaster. Even his early focus as a conductor was hardly standard: he endlessly sought out the scores of hitherto-neglected Finnish and Nordic composers, often premiering their works and putting them on record for the first time. These projects are still ongoing, perhaps even accelerating, and have been sufficiently extensive that the conductor already has over 50 recordings to his name. While Storgårds currently continues as Artistic Director of the Lapland Chamber Orchestra – an ensemble that is very close to his heart -- the conductor may be at a minor turning point at this moment. He has just relinquished his post as Music Director of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and, while carrying on as Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic, has now added the same appointment with the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa. Our discussion began with the latter, but quickly moved to the conductor’s general quest for discovery…See more.
FEATURED INTERVIEW: ENTERING THE ECLECTIC UNIVERSE OF PIANIST STEPHEN HOUGH
Having now recorded more than 50 widely-praised CDs, and known throughout the world for his stimulating concerts and vast repertoire, Stephen Hough has probably gained the status of Britain’s foremost pianist. He is certainly is its most visible. A unique winner of a MacArthur Fellowship in 2001, and an unrepentant blogger for the past 6 years, he has forged out almost a personal relationship with the international classical music community, offering perspectives on a myriad of topics, both musical and beyond. At the same time, one can hardly help but be impressed by his eclectic talents, not only as a pianist, but also a composer, and sometimes painter and novelist as well. This interview aims, like many of its predecessors, to probe and understand this endless variety of accomplishment – and what impels it -- while engaging on the equally difficult task of finding things that the artist has not already commented on. What is nice about talking with Stephen Hough is that no matter where you start, you seem to go in directions that you didn’t intend, and this can provide a continuing bounty of insight. So we started from obvious ‘events’: first, his just-released Hyperion recording of Janacek and Scriabin, and soon-to-be-released Dvorak Piano Concerto and, second, his world premiere of his own Piano Sonata No. 3 only a month or so ago. The interview took place during rehearsals for the Schumann Piano Concerto in Vancouver in November 2015, performed splendidly indeed...See more.
INTERVIEW: MATTHEW WHITE DISCUSSES THE NEW ENERGY AND INTEGRATION IN ‘EARLY MUSIC’ IN THE NORTHWEST
Over the past two decades, 42-year old Matthew White has been one of Canada’s most celebrated counter-tenors, singing at Glyndebourne, the Boston Early Music Festival, the New York City Opera, and also appearing with the Boston Baroque, Les Violons du Roy, and Tafelmusik. His over 20 CD’s are highlighted by collaborations with Phillipe Herreweghe, Dorothee Mields, and many other distinguished artists, and include his own Montreal-based ensemble Les Voix Baroques, which he directed from 1999 – 2014. His recording, Elegeia won a 2004 Cannes Classical Award for best new early music solo recording.
Starting in 2011, the singer started restricting his performance engagements, and moved with increased passion into administration. He assumed the position of Artistic Director of Early Music Vancouver in 2013, succeeding José Verstappen, who had led the organization with distinction for 35 years. Matthew White has all the youthful energy needed for such a position, and we were interested in finding out how all his art in singing could be transferred to an administrative calling. Catching up with him after a very successful 2015 Vancouver Summer Early Music Festival , this interview reveals the unflagging work Matthew has done to make early music more vibrant and integrated in the Northwest, as well as identifying some of the important economic challenges to doing so...See more.
FEATURED INTERVIEW: THE BORODIN QUARTET SPEAK ON THE SHOSTAKOVICH QUARTETS AND THEIR LEGACY: A CELEBRATION OF THE 70TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR
The Borodin Quartet has always been one of the world’s greatest chamber ensembles. Formed in 1945 with original members that briefly included the likes of cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and violist Rudolph Barshai, the string quartet has now gone through three incarnations. The linking force was cellist Valentin Berlinsky, who was a member of the quartet for 62 years before his retirement in 2007. The current group is in some respects relatively recent. First violin Ruben Aharonian and violist Igor Naidin joined in 1996, while cellist Vladimir Balshin took over for Berlinsky in 2007 and second violin Sergei Lomovsky came later in 2011. Vancouver was fortunate to be the only city in North America where the ensemble performed the entire quartet cycle: the works were played in consecutive order over five evenings this May. One reason for this celebration was doubtlessly that Eric Wilson, Artistic Director of Vancouver’s Friends of Chamber Music, had also invited the ensemble to perform the 11 then-written quartets in the much tougher times of the late 1960s. We were able to sit down with the Borodin Quartet between their second and third performances and talk all things Shostakovich. I thought this was a remarkably relaxed and wide ranging interview, and we were fortunate that violist Igor Naidin could communicate the essence of the group’s thoughts in English...See more.
THE GREAT CANADIAN ARTISTS: AN INTERVIEW WITH PIANIST ANGELA HEWITT
Angela Hewitt grew up in Ottawa, beginning her piano studies at the age of three. She gave her first full-length recital at the age of nine at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, where she studied from 1964 to 1973. She later studied with Jean-Paul Sevilla at the University of Ottawa. The pianist is now universally recognized for her path-breaking series of recordings of Bach’s keyboard works for Hyperion which began in 1994 and finished in 2005. She recorded the ultimate masterpiece, The Art of the Fugue, in 2014. Between those dates, many new discs of Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Debussy, Fauré, and others were also released. In 2005, Angela Hewitt launched the Trasimeno Music Festival in Umbria near Perugia, of which she is Artistic Director. A 10th anniversary concert takes place in London this spring. The pianist is also an Ambassador for The Leading Note Foundation’s ’Orkidstra’: a social engagement and development program in Ottawa’s inner city. Angela Hewitt was named ‘Artist of the Year’ at the 2006 Gramophone Awards and was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours of the same year. She was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2000...See more.
ARTICLE: THE RISE OF THE FEMALE CONDUCTOR
One of the outstanding trends over the past thirty years is the strides that women have made in gaining education and skills, allowing them to enter many new fields with high qualifications. With some success, women have been able to penetrate many of the world’s symphony orchestras too. However, there has long been resistance, especially in Europe, to the idea that female musicians could gain the ultimate prize: an appointment as Principal Conductor and Music Director of a major orchestra. Indeed, it was not that many years ago that the illustrious Herbert von Karajan resigned from the Berlin Philharmonic over the orchestra’s refusal to allow the appointment of a single female instrumentalist: clarinetist Sabine Meyer. And up to only a decade ago, the Vienna Philharmonic simply did not accept female appointments at any position...See more.
UBC School of Music
Tickets from $15. For more information, please click here.