Vancouver offers an astonishing array of high-level classical music, featuring an endless stream of international artists that fill up the calendar from September to June.  The city has almost 20 musical institutions, and these present both distinction and balance over all genres, whether it be symphony, chamber music, solo recital, early music, or new music.  Opera also gets a new lease on life this year. Efforts by our site, the Vancouver Sun, Georgia Straight, and other local media provide the city with strong reviewing and previewing of events, often featuring interviews with celebrated musicians and artistic directors.  As with many centers, Vancouver is exceptionally youth oriented, offering tickets for students and/or individuals under 35 for around $15.  The following gives a detailed outline of what’s in store for Vancouver’s classical music community this season...See more.


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.


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.


Verdi, SIMON BOCCANEGRA: Todd Thomas (Simon Boccanegra), Lara Ciekiewicz (Maria Boccanegra/Amelia Grimaldi), Philip Ens (Jacopo Fiesco), Jason Slayden (Gabriele Adorno), Brett Polegato (Paulo Albiani), and Neil Craighead (Pietro), Victoria Symphony Orchestra, Timothy Vernon, conductor, Pacific Opera Chorus, Giuseppe Pietraroia, Chorus Master, Glynis Leyshon, director, Royal Theatre Victoria, October 13, 2016.

Simon Boccanegra is a connoisseur’s opera. Far from Verdi’s most popular work, it is nonetheless considered by Verdians as one of his finest. Pacific Opera Victoria’s production was splendid. Under the baton of Maestro Vernon the orchestra played with verve and finesse. Every voice was strong and the acting uniformly excellent; especially gratifying was the way the cast all stayed in character, even when not singing. Glynis Leyshon’s direction was telling, facilitating the action, her blocking making sense of what was being conveyed by the music and the characters. Todd Thomas as the Doge was imposing in his public role, tender and nuanced in his relationship with his daughter. Lara Ciekiewicz as Amelia, Brent Polegato as Paulo, and Jason Slayden as Gabriele Adorno were all outstandingly fine and, in spite of a throat infection, Phillip Ens as Fiesco surfaced in terrific voice...See more.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


J.S. Bach, The Four Orchestral Suites: Monica Huggett, violin and director, Gonzalo Ruiz, oboe, Pacific Baroque Orchestra, Christ Church Cathedral, August 12, 2016.

Monica Huggett’s desire to penetrate the ‘authentic’ Baroque experience has remained undiminished by the passage of time.  Last year, she coaxed the Portland Baroque Orchestra into one of the most vivid versions of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons that one might encounter, capturing the wildness and theatrics that may have been commonplace for virtuoso violinists of the composer’s time. This time, we witnessed her rethinking of the Bach Orchestral Suites.  Over the past four decades, the violinist has played the Suites so many times under such masters of authentic performance as Christopher Hogwood, Trevor Pinnock, and Ton Koopman that one might think that there is little room for further innovation.  Nonetheless, making recourse to research on Bach’s Cöthen days (1717-1723) -- by Joshua Rifkin in the 1990’s and this concert’s oboist Gonzalo Ruiz more recently -- a new ‘original version’ came to fruition.  The biggest changes involve returning Suite No. 2 to its original key of A minor and substituting the oboe for the flute, and removing the trumpets and timpani from Nos. 3 and 4. While it may take a few moments to get used to this reworking, I felt it succeeded wonderfully well. The oboe adds strength and purpose to No. 2, while the adjustments in the last two Suites free them in part from the festive intimations of some of the Cantatas, and allow their sinewy counterpoint to stand out more starkly.  One can well accept a slight reduction in grandness and nobility when the uncompromising genius in the works radiates forth in such a crystalline way...See more.


J. S. Bach, Mass in B minor, Yulia Van Doren and Shannon Mercer (sopranos) Krisztina Szabó and Laura Pudwell (mezzo-sopranos), Charles Daniels and Philippe Gagné (tenors), Christian Immler and Sumner Thompson (bass), Les Voix Baroques, Arion Baroque Orchestra, conducted by Alexander Weimann, Chan Centre, August 5, 2016.

The B minor Mass served as one of the defining monuments of this year’s Vancouver Bach Festival, and featured Pacific Baroque’s Alexander Weimann conducting Montreal’s young Arion Baroque Orchestra and a fine variety of world class soloists.  Utilizing 8 soloists and only 15 singers in total, the approach fit with the new breed of ‘authentic’ performances of this work: Marc Minkowski’s excellent 2007 recording with 10 soloists might be regarded as exemplary. There, the small scale was made to work through the lovely variety of vocal expression, achieving both intimacy and spirituality when combined with sharp instrumental contours. The current traversal started as a somewhat different voyage of discovery, with more modest vocal contributions and an accent on refinement, opening out only later to tighter choral contributions and greater projection.  It was delightful to witness a performance set at this scale, and it seemed to gain its stride from the end of the Gloria, propelled by the inspired choruses.  While the interpretation was light on the work’s more contemplative side, it eventually achieved the appropriate sense of occasion and dramatic power, and the later solo singing was particularly involving...See more.


Davitt Moroney, harpsichord, Die Kunst der Fuge BVW 1080: Christ Church Cathedral, August 3, 2016.

Of all harpsichordists, Davitt Moroney likely has had the strongest musicological commitment to Bach’s Art of the Fugue, publishing a critical edition for this enigmatic work as long ago as 1989.  This was particularly notable since it included a completion of the unfinished 14th fugue.  Having already recorded the work twice, this concert perhaps aimed to summarize the full extent of the artist’s research to date and, in many respects, turned out to be as much of a lecture as it was a concert: combinations of fugues (sometimes just pairs) were discussed extensively just before they were played.  Possibly the only problem with all the discussion is that it was a little difficult to get into the subtle flow and unfolding of the 14 fugues, and to glimpse their overall spiritual resonance. I found the playing on the public/didactic side, more notable for its structural cogency and motion than its lyrical suspension or inner peace. Nonetheless, there could be little doubt that this was is Bach playing of the greatest commitment.  The evening could hardly help but be a memorable experience...See more.


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.


Martha Guth, soprano; Tyler Duncan, baritone; Graham Johnson and Erika Switzer, accompanists: Roy Barnett Recital Hall, UBC; June 24, 2016

The Vancouver International Song Institute (VISI) provided us with a real treat in their current two-week long mix of master classes and performances. Featured was one of the greatest accompanists of them all, Graham Johnson, who joined Canadian star soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian. Each instructed for 6 days. A fine range of genres were studied, there were daily concerts with VISI students, and two big concerts, the first of which – a ‘Schubertiade’ – I discuss here.  Graham Johnson has appeared with VISI in previous years with The Songmaker’s Almanac.  Given the great recorded monument he presided over –The Complete Schubert Songs for Hyperion – a Schubert recital had to be irresistible.  The pianist offered extensive ‘living’ programme notes (as he termed them) on these wonderful Shiller settings of hope, strength and determination. One could hardly help but be impressed with Tyler Duncan’s rich, strong vocal fabric and Johnson’s sheer mastery in the opening…See more.


Chad Hoopes, violin; VSO/ Bramwell Tovey: Works by Morlock, Barber and Shostakovich, Orpheum, June 11, 2016.

For all the financial problems of symphony orchestras witnessed over the last decade, it is heartening news that ticket sales for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra set an all-time record this year.  Sellouts (or near sellouts) have been relatively frequent, and it is not easy to fill a concert hall that seats 2800 people. Having attended virtually all concerts, my most welcome observation is that the audience is now more diversified, with many new faces in the under-50 group. If one does not want to end a season with the most spectacular works, then it is not good to move too far in the other direction either.  The combination of the Barber Violin Concerto and the Shostakovich 5th Symphony, with a little ‘prelude’ to the latter by Jocelyn Morlock, VSO Composer-In-Residence, seemed to capture all the shadings that an audience might want – and very attractively so.  21-year-old violinist, Chad Hoopes, was on hand for the Barber and, as is so often noted, gave a performance ‘far beyond his years’.  Bramwell Tovey gave an individual performance of the Shostakovich, not one filled with the raw sharp edges or urgency of some traversals, but one that had a definite architectural strength, some individual touches of colour and a number of Mahlerian overtones...See more.


Bramwell Tovey/ VSO: Mahler 6th Symphony and Edward Gregson’s Dream Song, Orpheum, June 4, 2016.

It always takes some time for a conductor and orchestra to really get Mahler ‘in their blood’, and it would be a fortunate circumstance indeed if performing one Mahler symphony a year could do it.  This has been the tradition of Bramwell Tovey and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.  Stylistic difficulties showed to some extent in an otherwise fine 9th symphony of two years ago, and last year’s 5th had some deficiencies in execution and interpretative line, but this year’s Mahler 6 promised something special. One important ingredient was that British composer Edward Gregson was in attendance for the North American premiere of his Dream Song, a companion piece for the symphony. Perhaps performing this work first gave Maestro Tovey extra inspiration for the symphony, for the performance eventually yielded some of his most naturally expressive and patient Mahler conducting.  In particular, the long, sprawling finale moved forward strikingly, achieving real integration and cumulative force by its end...See more.


Tracy Dahl (soprano), Jessica Chung (soprano), John Tessier (tenor), Krisztina Szabò (mezzo-soprano), Daniel Okulitch (bass-baritone), Ramona Luengen (piano): Vancouver Opera Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Jonathan Darlington, Queen Elizabeth Theatre, June 2, 2016.

One of the happiest events in an arts company’s life is the celebration of the accomplishments of one of its leaders. It is a time when generosity rules and good feelings prevail, even if substantial change is afoot.  This was the celebration of the departing James Wright’s seventeen-year tenure as General Director of Vancouver Opera. The generosity began with the words of the Master of Ceremonies, Pascal Spothelfer, Chair of the VO Board of Directors, and continued with Jonathan Darlington’s whirlwind appearance – flying in from Europe for the occasion and flying out the next day to Australia – and the presence of four soloists who have always added distinction to the Vancouver Opera stage.  Everyone, including the Vancouver Opera Orchestra and Chorus, gave their selfless best...See more.


Angela Cheng, piano; Joan Blackman and Jennie Press, violins; Nicolo Eugelmi, viola; Brian Yoon, cello: Music of Schubert, Mozart and Brahms, Christ Church Cathedral, May 27, 2016.

In virtually all cities, a vast underworld of chamber music exists beneath the major organizations that sponsor internationally-celebrated ensembles.  This is how it should be, and has been for centuries: accomplished musicians have always wanted to get together informally for the pleasure of ‘making music’.  Often such associations are intermittent and transient, pleasurable as they are; other times, things can get more adventurous, where a small concert season is set up involving a variety of musicians.  But the unfortunate reality is that such enterprise seldom endures.  It is therefore a cause for great celebration that this gala concert marked the 30th anniversary of Vancouver’s Vetta Chamber Music, an organization that originally spawned from sheer inspiration, volunteer effort and the love of music, and has survived over the years with smaller audiences and little outside funding.  Distinguished Canadian pianist Angela Cheng joined the Vetta ensemble for a fully rewarding evening of Schubert, Mozart and Brahms...See more.


Dale Barltrop, solo violin and leader, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra: Works by Bartok, Mozart and Shostakovich, Orpheum, May 21, 2016.

This concert was intended to be as much a lovely ‘hello’ to violinist Nicola Benedetti as it was a sad ‘goodbye’ to the VSO’s personable and talented concertmaster, Dale Barltop. Barltrop now leaves to assume the same position with the Melbourne Symphony and to join the Australian String Quartet. True Scotsmen -- dressed in kilts -- awaited the charismatic violinist’s appearance but, unfortunately, the effects of a virus that Benedetti had fought through in the previous night’s concert were sufficiently debilitating by this afternoon that she had to withdraw.  A tricky situation indeed!  Dale Barltrop has never had much of an inclination towards conducting (interview), yet this special goodbye concert was designed to have him lead a chamber-sized version of the VSO from the first chair. Perhaps this was pressure enough, but what was to be done about Benedetti’s absence in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5? With only hours remaining before this concert, Barltrop was asked if he would deputize there too, and he kindly consented to do Mozart’s 3rd concerto instead.  So, a rather full plate for Barltrop – but he came through magnificently. I doubt that there could be a more cherishable departing memory for him...See more.


Ian Bostridge, tenor; Wenwen Du, piano: Songs of Mahler, Stephan, Butterworth, Weill and Britten, Playhouse, May 18, 2016.

Ian Bostridge and Wenwen Du toured North America with ‘Songs of World War I’ in the spring of 2015. The duo gave Vancouver a very fine Winterreise at that time, pushing the war songs ahead to this year.  Although the recital’s reference to World War I is largely a debt to the centenary celebrations of 2014, it comprises a stimulating and varied collection of pieces responding to war in general, ranging from Mahler to Butterworth and Britten, and including some less often heard offerings of Rudi Stephan and Kurt Weill.  In fact, it was only the young Stephan and Butterworth who were direct casualties of the Great War. Press from last year indicates just how striking this recital was for many observers.  David Allen wrote in the New York Times: “Mr. Bostridge’s tenor became a weapon of pure, cold metal. Beauty was not the intention; rather, emotional savagery. Vowels lacerated like bayonets; consonants spat, as if they were spent shells.”  While recognizing that Mr. Allen (as a former colleague) often writes with the same poetic bravado as Mr. Bostridge sings, I admit that did not feel the same gripping metallic chill on this occasion.  I thought the repertoire was captivating, but perhaps the passage of a year has taken some polish off the steel: this was an altogether less savage and threatening presentation, and one which, at points, might have actually benefitted from a greater sharpness of utterance...See more.


James Ehnes, violin; Andrew Armstrong, piano: Works by Handel, Beethoven and Tovey, Orpheum, May 9, 2016.

And the ‘stars’ keep coming! Less than a week ago, Bryn Terfel was here to give a recital as part of his 50th birthday celebration tour.  Now violinist James Ehnes arrives to do the same thing as part of his 40th birthday tour, which extends to no less than 25 Canadian cities.  While we are often inclined to think of the ‘art’ of both as timeless, it is humanizing to find that both performers take the passage of time seriously.  James Ehnes has had a long association with Maestro Bramwell Tovey and the Vancouver Symphony.  One of Ehnes’ breakthrough recordings (2006), featuring the Korngold, Barber, Walton concertos, was a collaboration with Tovey and the orchestra, and won both Juno and Grammy awards.  Here the tie extended in a different direction, since Tovey – a composer in recent years – was asked to write a short violin piece for Ehnes’ celebration.  Thus, we heard Tovey’s Stream of Limelight, just premiered in Ottawa ten days before this concert.  It turned out to be quite engaging, and was played beautifully...See more.


Bryn Terfel, bass-baritone: Natalia Katyukova, piano: Songs by Ibert, Schumann, Schubert, Keel, and others, Orpheum, May 4, 2016.

Celebrity concerts are an elusive art form.  They serve as a vehicle to display the iconic talents of the artist in question, but they also aim to give the less seasoned concertgoer an enduring imprint of, and connection with, the artist.  It is the fact that a patron purchases not only specific entertainment but also a durable good – a living memory that one can tell neighbours or the grandchildren about – that likely explains the high ticket prices one encounters. One irony of concerts of this type is that they usually take place in the largest venues, which in itself removes tangibility and immediacy for many.  Furthermore, there may be a quality tradeoff, where musical substance is relegated to second place behind more general dimensions of charisma and engagement. This is likely to be of little consequence for those come mainly for photos and signed CDs, but it is a concern for the critic and those who put a premium on substance. 

All of this is a prelude to saying that I thought Bryn Terfel did this ‘celebrity’ concert to absolute perfection.  He aimed for real musical depth for most of the programme, showing galvanic seriousness of purpose, yet he  engaged the audience completely with his charm and carefully-judged stage show. His line was unerring.  By the end, he had all the freedom to be as comic as he wished (and was in fact deliciously funny and playful), yet we all knew this sprung from a very serious artist who communicates directly and humanly, and prizes his art form...See more.


Isabelle Faust, violin; VSO/ Kazuyoshi Akiyama: Works by Mozart, Bartók and Dvorak, Orpheum, April 30, 2016.

One would expect Isabelle Faust’s interpretation of Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto to have a certain authenticity, as she initially studied the composer with Hungarian violinist Dénes Zsigmondy, who knew Bartók personally.  In fact, it has much more than that: it is quite spectacular in its range, clarity and detailing, capturing both the work’s jagged edges and full lyrical expansiveness.  And it is very Hungarian in feeling, often finding both the wiry fiber and elusive inward half-lights of the composer’s world that many smoother, more romantic interpretations do not.  Faust started recording Bartok early in her career: her disc of the Bartók Violin Sonatas for Harmonia Mundi won the Gramophone Young Artists Award 15 years ago. More recently, in 2013, she recorded both the composer’s Violin Concertos with conductor Daniel Harding, correcting parts of these scores through historical documents from the Bartók Archive in Budapest. Kazuyoshi Akiyama, the VSO’s Conductor Laureate, accompanied the violinist on this voyage, and added his own fire in Mozart and Dvorak elsewhere in the programme...See more.


Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, EVITA, Caroline Bowman (Eva Perón), John Cudia (Perón), Ramin Karimloo (Che), Cooper Grodin (Magaldi), Shannon Chan-Kent (Perón’s Mistress); Conducted by Jonathan Darlington, Directed by Kelly Robinson; Tracey Flye (choreographer:): Queen Elizabeth Theatre, April 30, 2016.

An illegitimate child raised in rural poverty, escaping at 15 to the big city, climbing her way up by attaching herself to increasingly powerful men, marrying the future leader of her country, playing a decisive role in his climb to the top, first lady, advocate of women and the poor, beloved of the people, dying young—what could be more worthy of stage treatment? Whether you call Evita an opera or a musical, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber have concocted a heady brew that presents the charismatic Eva Perón in her considerable complexity and mystery. Evita has been a hugely popular work, played all over the world to great acclaim, and makes a canny choice for Vancouver Opera and its ventures into the crossover region inhabited by such works as West Side Story and Sweeney Todd. The presentation was successful from many angles. The acting of Caroline Bowman in the title role was excellent, providing a winning mixture of brashness and vulnerability. Her singing was strong and nuanced. Plus the production was consistently involving, thanks to good natural acting from the cast, tight direction from Kelly Robinson, and stylish dance sequences from Tracey Flye...See more.


Inon Barnatan, Jonathan Biss, and Kuok-Wai Lio, piano, Benjamin Beilman, violin, Gary Hoffman, cello, Doric String Quartet: Chamber Music of Schubert, Playhouse, April 12-15, 2016

There can be few more delightful outings than chamber music gatherings that bring together younger artists – and in what better composer than Schubert!  Such events used to be a regular part of the Vancouver Recital Society’s programming, and it is unfortunate they have become increasingly infrequent.  On this occasion, the three pianists were Inon Barnatan, Jonathan Biss, and Kuok-Wai Lio, each of whom played one of the three last Sonatas.  Barnatan and Biss got together in the piano four-hands Fantasie, the former joining up-and-coming young violinist Benjamin Beilman and patrician cellist Gary Hoffman in the B-flat Piano Trio.  Hoffman (originally from Vancouver) and the Doric String Quartet came together for the great String Quintet...See more.


Collegium Vocale Gent (Dorothee Mields and Barbora Kábatková, sopranos, Benedict Hymas, alto, Thomas Hobbs and Tore Denys, tenors, Benoit Arnould, baritone, Jimmy Holliday, bass); Phillipe Herreweghe, conductor: Lasso, Lagrime di Saint Pietro, Chan Centre, April 15, 2016.

When one thinks of the greatest spiritual masterpieces of music, one naturally gravitates to works such as Bach’s Passions and Masses, which take the listener through a very definite sequence of dramatic peaks and troughs in presenting their story.  Yet, if one considers Bach’s exalted Art of the Fugue, the peaks and troughs seldom appear; rather, it is the cumulative strength of the composer’s flow of genius over extended, but relatively uniform, material that takes one to the highest spiritual reaches.  Orlando di Lasso’s Lagrime di San Pietro (1594), a set of 20 short madrigali spirituali plus motet, is a 16th century masterpiece of polyphony that casts its spell in the latter way.  While each madrigal is a refined and balanced gem, it is the austere weaving together of the whole that suspends one. There could be no greater honour than to have Philippe Herreweghe conduct the work with the ensemble that he founded in the earliest days of authentic performance: the Collegium Vocale Gent.   Herreweghe’s long-praised recording of two decades ago for Harmonia Mundi still retains its ‘reference’ status...See more.


Mark Padmore (tenor), Paul Lewis (piano), Songs by Schumann, Brahms, Schubert and Wolf, Chan Centre, April 10, 2016.

Pianist Paul Lewis has regularly appeared with the Vancouver Recital Society for more than a decade but this is the first time we have seen him with tenor Mark Padmore.  Judging from the glowing reviews in England, theirs is becoming a truly exalted partnership, and this deliciously varied recital of Schumann and Brahms settings of Heine, and Schubert and Wolf settings of Goethe, could only reinforce this viewpoint.  This is the same recital that was performed at Wigmore Hall in January 2016.  

Many have been impressed with the Schubert song cycles that the duo recorded a few years ago for Harmonia Mundi but, now in their fourth year together, there is perhaps an even greater ‘fineness’ in detailing and dynamics between them, a longer vision, and an even stronger natural synergy...See more.


Jeanette Jonquil (clarinet), Monica Huisman (soprano), Sarah Fryer (mezzo-soprano), David Pomeroy (tenor), Alfred Walker (bass), UBC University Singers and Choral Union (Graeme Langager, director), VSO/ Bramwell Tovey: Works by Wagner, Beethoven and Brahms, Orpheum, April 9, 2016.

Such is the movement towards historically-informed orchestration these days that one wonders why one would attempt Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with twice as many players as originally prescribed.  The answer lies in the theme of this festival, ‘The War of Romantics’, featuring works from well-trodden ground of the mid-to-late 19th century when the conservative camp of Brahms and famed critic Eduard Hanslick would play off against the defenders of the ‘new music’ of Wagner.  A ‘mammoth’ version of Beethoven’s Ninth seemingly enters the fray through the back door, illustrative of how composers of this period updated earlier great works to fit with the growth in the size of orchestras over the course of the century.  The ‘updater’ in this instance was Gustav Mahler, and the performing edition was the one Mahler would have used between 1900 and 1910. However, that was only one surprise at this concert: we also saw for the first time Luciano Berio’s (1986) concerto transcription of Brahms’ First Clarinet Sonata...See more.


Dina Yoffe, piano: Chopin and Scriabin, 24 Preludes, Playhouse, April 8, 2016.

Latvian-born pianist Dina Yoffe is hardly a household name, yet she was originally the Silver Medalist in the 1975 Warsaw Chopin Piano Competition, placing just behind the legendary Krystian Zimerman.  Whereas the latter’s career took off explosively, Soviet restrictions on travel literally stopped Yoffe’s career in its tracks, a plight which also afflicted in degree violinist Gidon Kremer, cellist Mischa Maisky and many other promising Soviet artists up to 1989.  Now in her 60s, Yoffe remains a very fine pianist with an active recording career, and she offered us something quite unusual in this recital of Chopin and Scriabin.  We heard the 24 Preludes of each, not played separately, but intertwined. As the artist states: “Not long ago, an incredibly interesting and paradoxical idea came to me … Based on the immense contrast [of these two sets of Preludes], I have now unified them and would like to show how great was the influence of Chopin’s work on Scriabin. You will be able to hear incredible similarities and at the same time the great differences in contrasts of tonalities. Both cycles are based on the circle of fifths.”  I had the pleasure of sitting down with the artist for an hour, and I admit that her endless stories of struggle with the Soviet authorities early on were almost as affecting as her concert...See more.


Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Jeanne Lamon, Music Director: Works by Handel, Vivaldi, Sweelinck, Purcell, Marais, J. S. Bach, Telemann (extracts), Playhouse, March 4, 2016. 

I had not seen Toronto’s Tafelmusik for a very long time, and I was amazed by my own feeling of nostalgia at this appearance. The link to the past came from the late 1970s when I had just accepted my very first teaching position at the University of Toronto.  When I arrived, musical discussion was mainly about the appointment of a young Andrew Davis as Music Director of the Toronto Symphony.  Suddenly, there was more news: Canada’s first authentic Baroque orchestra was to embark on its debut.  This was the beginning of Tafelmusik – in 1979. I recall the very first performances vividly: intriguing and exploratory for sure but still registering a definite sense of learning by doing. Then, the eventual residency at Trinity-St.Paul’s United Church, a venue which had a certain Spartan austerity, amplified by the fact that it seemed to have little, if any, heat in winter.  By far the overriding source of nostalgia at this concert was that long-time leader Jeanne Lamon, bassist Allison Mackay, cellist Christina Mahler, and harpsichordist Charlotte Nediger were still roughly in the same positions on stage as I originally saw them -- only it was 35 years later.  Sony-Vivarte’s recent issue of a massive 47-disc box covering their entire repertoire testifies to the ensemble’s stunning international accomplishments over this period. The ‘House of Dreams’ was indeed the inspiration of Alison Mackay, and seemed to be a summing up of everything that had come before…See more.


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.


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.


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.   


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

International Concert Reviews

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