REVIEW: SUPERB PURCELL AND HANDEL CLOSE OUT THE 2019 BACH FESTIVAL
Amanda Forsythe, Suzie LeBlanc and Dorothee Mields (soprano), Alex Potter and Nicolas Burns (alto), Samuel Boden and Jonathan Quick (tenor), Sumner Thompson (baritone), Matthew Brook (bass-baritone), Pacific Baroque Orchestra (dir. Alexander Weimann), Pacific MusicWorks (dir. Stephen Stubbs): Music of Locke, Purcell, and Handel, Christ Church Cathedral and Chan Centre, August 7/9, 2019.
The first week of the 2019 EMV Bach Festival saw some magnificent singing, but the second week was even finer. The closing Purcell ‘Hail, Bright Cecilia’ placed a memorable seal on this sequence of 14 concerts, gathering together many of the celebrated singers from previous outings, and featuring inspirational playing from the Pacific Baroque Orchestra under Alexander Weimann. Two days earlier, soprano Amanda Forsythe put on an equally stunning show in dramatic works of early Handel, accompanied most artfully by Stephen Stubbs and the instrumentalists of Seattle’s Pacific MusicWorks…See more.
REVIEW: THE VANCOUVER BACH CHOIR ADDS NEW LUSTER TO THE 2019 EMV FESTIVAL
Danielle Sampson (soprano), Sumner Thompson (baritone), Christina Hutten (organ),Vancouver Bach Choir (dir. Leslie Dala), Vancouver Bach Festival Chamber Choir (dir. Kathleen Allan): Works by Fauré, Poulenc, Milhaud, Saint-Saëns and Ravel, Christ Church Cathedral, August 1, 2019.
A first time appearance of the Vancouver Bach Choir in Early Music Vancouver’s 2019 Bach Festival constitutes an exciting development for both organizations. Later French choral masterpieces were the focus, including Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem and Cantique de Jean Racine and Francis Poulenc’s Mass in G, with smaller works by Milhaud, Saint-Saëns and Ravel interspersed between. If one thinks this repertoire moves a little far afield for a Bach Festival, be assured that one can find the BACH motif in the sixth part of Faure’s Requiem, ’Libera me.’ Questions of authenticity are more pressing for this work, and there is now a decisive preference for using the original reduced orchestration version of the Requiem (1893) over its more luxuriant 1901 edition. Unusual for a festival committed to authenticity, this performance sidestepped this question entirely by using a (modified) Barenreiter organ arrangement to accompany the chorus. The Bach Choir achieved considerable success in the work’s climactic moments, but the experiment proved less convincing elsewhere. The Poulenc and the smaller pieces were performed with redeeming spirit and flexibility by the smaller Vancouver Bach Festival Chamber Choir – a choir of about 20 members drawn from the full chorus, directed by Kathleen Allen…See more.
REVIEW: RADIANT SINGING IN THE CANTATAS TAKES THE FIRST WEEK OF THE 2019 VANCOUVER BACH FESTIVAL TO ITS HEIGHTS
THE 2019 VANCOUVER BACH FESTIVAL: Dorothee Mields (soprano), Alex Potter (alto), Samuel Boden (tenor), Matthew Brook (bass-baritone), Les Boréades de Montréal (dir. Francis Colpron): Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos/Cantatas, Chan Centre and Christ Church Cathedral, July 30 – August 2, 2019.
The 2019 Vancouver Bach Festival ushers in Early Music Vancouver’s 50th Anniversary season and stands as fine testimony to the historical evolution of both authentic performance and the organization itself. Historically-informed performance originally started as a grassroots inspiration of the 1960s, where enthusiasts often had to both build and learn to play their reconstructed historical instruments from scratch. The fever for assembling early music troupes became contagious and the Vancouver Society for Early Music was founded in 1969. José Verstappen became the executive director in 1979 and built the organization to the strongest international stature, further carried on by Matthew White from 2013. It was Nicolaus Harnoncourt’s 1964 recording of the Brandenburg Concertos that set the standards for this new world of authentic instrumentation and, aptly, this festival started with these exalted works, performed by Les Boréades de Montréal. Their interpretation had a noticeably Gallic accent and plenty of joie de vivre but the ensemble did not seek the last ounce of contrapuntal synergy or refinement; the performances of Nos. 3-5 worked best. A second monument of those times was the massive project (initiated in 1971) to record the integral Bach Cantatas with Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt. The subsequent concert of three famous Cantatas paid homage, where esteemed soprano Dorothee Mields and alto Alex Potter showed just how far authentic vocal style has come and how stunning it can be…See more.
THE UP-AND-COMING CANADIAN ARTISTS:
AN INTERVIEW WITH PIANIST CHARLES RICHARD-HAMELIN
The name ‘Hamelin’ has certainly become synonymous with the highest-quality Canadian pianism. Earlier in the year, we interviewed the celebrated Marc-André Hamelin; now we turn to fellow (but not related) Montreal pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin, just 30 this year, who moved strongly into public attention since winning the Silver Medal at the 2015 Warsaw Chopin Competition. Gramophone has noted that ‘Richard-Hamelin is a supremely artistic, highly sensitive yet thoroughly masculine young pianist, whose strikingly original ideas remain true to the spirit of Chopin’. In his Vancouver debut concert in November 2016, I wrote: ‘What we saw was wonderfully-concentrated inward playing that aimed at the soul of the composer and exuded great intelligence and architectural strength.’ The pianist has now released 4 CDs for Analekta, including the just-released Chopin Piano Concertos and the first disc of an integral set of Beethoven Violin Sonatas with Andrew Wan. Gramophone has lauded the interpretation of the Chopin concertos as one of ‘extraordinary originality and distinction.’ The pianist studied with Paul Surdulescu, Sara Laimon, Boris Berman, André Laplante, and Jean Saulnier, and is a graduate of McGill University, the Yale School of Music and the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal. Since it has been almost four years since Richard-Hamelin’s conquest at the Chopin Competition, it seemed very worthwhile catch up with him to find out how his artistic life has evolved. We thank the Vancouver Chopin Society for this opportunity…See more.
THE GREAT CANADIAN ARTISTS:
AN INTERVIEW WITH CELLIST JOHANNES MOSER
It is becoming increasingly rare for today’s young artists to come from a long musical lineage. For 40-year-old German/Canadian cellist Johannes Moser, however, music has been in his bones from birth – and indeed much before that. His Canadian mother is soprano Edith Wiens, who grew up in the Vancouver area and had a very celebrated international vocal career; his German father Kai Moser was a long-standing cellist in the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Johannes Moser originally won Second Prize in the Tchaikovsky Competition in 2002 and his early collection of CDs for Hänssler Classic did a superb job of bringing more obscure cello sonatas and concertos to light. In 2015, he signed a contract with Pentatone Records, which has yielded widely heralded readings of the Dvorak and Elgar concertos. Two more discs have appeared in 2019: Bernard Rands’ Chains Like the Sea and Works for Cello and Piano by Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn. Moser regularly appears with the world’s finest orchestras and chamber musicians and has been uniformly praised for his tonal precision, range of technique, and the faithfulness of his interpretative judgement. Gramophone deemed him as ‘one of the finest among the astonishing gallery of young virtuoso cellists’. Moser plays a 1694 Andrea Guarneri and is currently Professor at Hochschule für Musik und Tanz Köln. This interview was an outgrowth of an adventurous morning recital in March 2019 with pianist Chiharu Iinuma, sponsored by Vancouver’s Music in the Morning…See more.
ALEXANDRE KANTOROW – GOLD MEDAL WINNER IN THE 2019 TCHAIKOVSKY INTERNATIONAL PIANO COMPETITION
REVIEW: THE VSO100 CLOSING CONCERTS AFFIRM A SPECIAL LEGACY
James Ehnes, Lucy Wang and Nicolas Wright (violin); Peter Wispelwey and Tate Zawadiuk (cello); Ben Heppner (narrator), Vancouver Symphony Orchestra/ Otto Tausk (conductor): Music of Van Der AA, R. Strauss, Schipizky, Coulthard, Bernstein, Morlock, Tchaikovsky and others, Orpheum, June 8 and 11, 2019.
After celebrations at the beginning of the season and even bigger events including the VSO’s ‘Day of Music’ in January 2019, the closing two concerts of the VSO’s centenary year are upon us. The events also marked the successful completion of Music Director Otto Tausk’s initial season with the orchestra. His influence on programming was apparent in the first of these concerts, featuring the North American premiere of Dutch composer Michel van der AA’s akin for solo violin, solo cello and orchestra, as coupled with Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra. The second event was perhaps more important: a splendid ‘gala’ that showcased the orchestra’s history in music and visuals (narrated by the celebrated tenor Ben Heppner), with James Ehnes contributing a scintillating Tchaikovsky concerto at the end…See more.
REVIEW: KAMIO AND AKIYAMA’S VSO CONCERT MIXES GENTLENESS WITH ENERGY
Mayuko Kamio (violin), VSO/ Kazuyoshi Akiyama: Works by Respighi, Bach, Mozart and Mendelssohn, Chan Centre, May 17, 2019.
There has been no lack of nostalgia as the VSO closes out its 100th Anniversary season. Maestro Bramwell Tovey returned for a visit only a few weeks ago and now Kazuyoshi Akiyama, the orchestra’s Music Director from 1972 -1985, and Conductor Laureate thereafter, takes the helm. There was clearly a Japanese theme afoot – and many devoted Japanese patrons present – as his collaborator was violinist Mayuko Kamio, winner of the 1998 Yehudi Menuhin Competition and Gold Medalist in the 2007 Tchaikovsky Competition. Their collaboration in Bach and Mozart concertos yielded an abiding gentleness throughout, while Akiyama added more dramatic profile and thrust in Respighi and Mendelssohn…See more.
REVIEW: TCHAIKOVSKY AND LOUIS LORTIE’S BEETHOVEN HIGHLIGHT BRAMWELL TOVEY’S RETURN
Louis Lortie (piano), VSO/ Bramwell Tovey: Music of Debussy, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven, Orpheum, May 5, 2019.
It is always an interesting occasion when a conductor comes back to conduct his previous orchestra. In Bramwell Tovey’s case, it has not even been a year since he completed his 18-year stint with the VSO, so one would hardly expect any appreciable difference in his art. One did sense a degree of detachment as he initially came on stage, but this didn’t last for long: his characteristic cavalcade of humorous anecdotes started off the second half, introducing himself to the audience curtly by ‘I’m Bramwell Tovey. I used to work here.’ This was Tovey’s second visit of 2019, and the orchestra played very well for him. A possible disappointment was that the scheduled world premiere of his new Concerto for Orchestra had to be postponed. It was replaced by the complete ballet music from Act II of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, music the maestro has relished since his early days and which likely provided equal, if not greater, bounty for the attendees. The highlight of this concert was the appearance of Louis Lortie, fresh off his 60th birthday concert at London’s Wigmore Hall, giving a beautifully elegant and considered treatment of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2…See more.
‘MUSICAL MAGIC’: AN INTERVIEW WITH NORWEGIAN VIOLINIST HENNING KRAGGERUD
There are few artists that convey a greater sense of communication and discovery in the concert hall than Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud. While there is a life-enhancing glow in his appearances, one surmises that his bountiful inspiration must come from somewhere – perhaps from a tradition that stresses experimentation and an almost Renaissance diversity in musical reach. Not only is Kraggerud a beautifully fine-toned and sensitive violin soloist and chamber musician, but also a devoted educator, a play/direct specialist, a (sometimes) violist, and a composer. One might tangentially note some of the same inspiration and independence of purpose in other Norwegian artists, such as pianists Leif Ove Andsnes and Håvard Gimse, violist Lars Anders Tomter, and more recently, violinist Vilde Frang. A prime motivation for this this interview is to understand, first, where this freedom of spirit comes from – and the educational components that may have spawned it – and, second, its implications for a more innovative approach to concert performances and programming. Kraggerud’s more recent compositional projects are also discussed. This interview took place in conjunction with the violinist’s Vancouver Symphony Orchestra appearance in late February 2019, a concert highlighted by Kraggerud and Bernt Simen Lund’s new arrangement of Bach’s Goldberg Variations…See more.
REVIEW: JONATHAN DARLINGTON DIRECTS AN INSPIRED FAUST TRUE TO ITS SPIRIT
GOUNOD, FAUST: David Pomeroy (Faust), Robert Pomakov (Mephistopheles), Simone Osborne (Marguerite), Peter Barrett (Valentin), Mireille Lebel (Siebel), Emilia Boteva (Marthe Schwerlein), Scott Rumble (Wagner), Vancouver Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Jonathan Darlington (conductor), Kinza Tyrrell (director), François Racine (director), Olivier Landreville (scenic designer), Dominique Guindon (costume designer), Gerald King (lighting designer), Queen Elizabeth Theatre, April 27, 2019.
The big production at this year’s Vancouver Opera Festival yielded a Faust desirably faithful to its original time and period. The real star of the show was Maestro Jonathan Darlington, who elicited a sensitive, alert and disciplined reading of the score from the Vancouver Opera Orchestra and provided the singers with unflagging support. Indeed, much of the color and rhythmic energy of this performance emanated from the orchestra pit. Tenor David Pomeroy’s wide range of expression gave a compelling portrait of Gounod’s antihero, completely absorbed in Faust’s turbulent and rapidly-changing psychological states. Robert Pomakov brought a formidable stage presence and stentorian bass voice to the role of Mephistopheles, while soprano Simone Osborne found considerable vocal beauty in conveying Marguerite’s innocence and fragility. Overall, this was the type of singing and orchestral playing that allowed Gounod’s irresistible melodies to flourish, and brought both the plot and the characters vividly to life…See more.
REVIEW: A WELL-SUNG AND ENTERTAINING CENERENTOLA FROM VANCOUVER OPERA
ROSSINI, LA CENERENTOLA: Simone McIntosh (Cenerentola), Charles Sy (Don Ramiro), Peter McGillvray (Don Magnifico), Tyler Simpson (Alidoro), Daniel Thielmann (Dandini), Nicole Joanne Brooks (Clorinda), Gena van Oosten (Tisbe), Vancouver Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Leslie Dala (conductor), Rachel Peake (director), Vancouver Playhouse, April 27, 2019.
Vancouver Opera’s latest production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola is the company’s first engagement with this opera in nearly four decades and the intimate space of the Vancouver Playhouse proved to be an ideal venue. This was a particularly well executed and well-sung Cenerentola that aimed to be as lighthearted as possible, creating a fully entertaining spectacle with enough bel canto to satisfy any opera enthusiast. Mezzo-soprano Simone McIntosh was well equipped for the lead role, possessing an attractive timbre and a natural-sounding resonance across her entire range. As Don Ramiro, tenor Charles Sy was the perfect vocal complement, thanks to his smooth legato, effortless command of his upper register, and sensitive control of phrasing and nuance. The audience favorite of this production was undoubtedly the Don Magnifico of Peter McGillvray, an actor with a phenomenal gift for physical comedy. Virtually all ensembles came across as clear and well balanced, and the orchestra seldom overpowered the voices. The sparsely furnished set was attractive enough to permit the audience to immerse themselves in the characters and story while Rachel Peake’s stage direction was entertaining yet unfussy…See more.
REVIEW: PIANIST NELSON GOERNER RETURNS WITH A RECITAL OF VARIETY AND STRENGTH
Nelson Goerner (piano): Works by Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin and Brahms, Playhouse, April 7, 2019.
There are few finer pianists of his generation than Argentinian Nelson Goerner, and this concert gave another example of his unique elegance, insight and pianistic strength. After giving a very fine Beethoven ‘Hammerklavier’ last visit (recently released on CD to strong acclaim), it was his ‘Appassionata’ that grabbed the spotlight here, an intense, magnetic reading that flowed together all of a piece. Appealing slices of Chopin, Brahms and Schumann also showcased the variety of Goerner’s repertoire, each strongly appointed in detail and integration…See more.
REVIEW: JONATHAN AND JAN-PAUL ROOZEMAN DISPLAY THEIR SYNERGIES IN A WIDE-RANGING CELLO RECITAL
Jonathan Roozeman (cello), Jan-Paul Roozeman (piano): Works by Debussy, Schubert, Boccherini, Chopin and Sibelius, Playhouse, March 31, 2019.
The Vancouver Recital Society’s love of young pianists has been one of their long-standing hallmarks, but there now seems to be a growing fondness for young cellists too. Last season, exciting 25-year-old French cellist Edgar Moreau appeared, and this year 20-year-old Finnish/Dutch cellist Jonathan Roozeman arrived with his pianist brother Jan-Paul to play duo works by Debussy, Schubert and Boccherini and a number of less well-known pieces. Family associations go a long way in creating subliminal communication between artists, and that was evident here: the siblings displayed both ‘togetherness’ and an appealing fresh energy in their playing. The cellist displayed impressive technical variety and tonal beauty throughout, though he understandably has room to develop in both style and character. Schubert’s ‘Arpeggione’ Sonata was the highlight of the concert…See more.
REVIEW: OTTO TAUSK LIVES UP TO HIS MOZART CHALLENGE
Vancouver Symphony Orchestra/ Otto Tausk: Last Three Symphonies of Mozart, Chan Centre, March 23, 2019.
It is always a challenge for an orchestra to play Mozart’s last three symphonies together, and Otto Tausk and the VSO did a commendable job. With an ensemble of around 40 players, and using a harpsichord and fortepiano as alternating continuos, there was an authentic hue to the performances, even though modern instruments were used. As with Tausk’s Beethoven’s 7th last year, one noted a genuine attempt at period scale and balance, and the interaction of the divided violins ably fostered clarity of counterpoint and line. In accord with recent thinking, speeds tended to be brisk, with strong rhythmic emphasis and, sometimes, brusque sforzandi and cutting brass. The approach was purposive and clear headed, though not without colour, yielding a consistency throughout. Perhaps the conductor was a little too excitable and rhythmically insistent in the great G minor and ‘Jupiter’ to allow either their darker undercurrents or lyrical serenity to register fully, but this was an admirable effort all told…See more.
REVIEW: PAUL LEWIS COMPLETES HIS HAYDN-BEETHOVEN-BRAHMS SOJOURN WITH GREAT FORTITUDE
Paul Lewis, piano, Haydn-Beethoven-Brahms Project (Concert IV), Playhouse, March 3, 2019.
Well, he made it! Paul Lewis had suffered a neck/nerve injury that forced cancellation of his scheduled appearance at Carnegie Hall, and there was considerable trepidation as the pianist now embarked on this final concert of his Haydn-Beethoven-Brahms project. Everyone was prepared for the worst, especially with the long and forbidding Diabelli Variations beckoning at the end of the programme. But not to worry: the pianist’s fortitude carried him the distance and featured some very fine playing too. If there has been one thing invariant over the four concerts, it is the quality of Lewis’s Haydn, and his Sonata No. 53 in E minor maintained the flow of insight. The Brahms Intermezzi Op. 117 also seemed to capture the composer’s ruminative, poetic side with increased natural awareness. Although not the only way to perform the work, the pianist’s Diabelli Variations turned out as an astute and cohesive exploration of telling variety and command…See more.
REVIEW: THE KING’S SINGERS DELIGHT WITH VIRTUOSITY AND VARIETY
The King’s Singers [Patrick Dunachie and Timothy Wayne-Wright (contertenors), Julian Gregory (tenor), Christopher Bruerton and Christopher Gabbitas (baritones), Jonathan Howard (bass)], Royal Blood: Music of King Henry VIII, Chan Centre, February 9, 2019.
2018 marked the 50th Anniversary of The King’s Singers, and the ensemble has kept remarkably busy since their initial celebration in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge in January 2018. December saw a 14-concert North American tour, and they have moved forward with another 12-concert expedition in February 2019, of which this concert was part. This was their last stop before flying off to the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles: their three-disc album ‘GOLD’ – released for the Anniversary – was nominated in the Best Classical Compendium category. They had won two Grammys previously, and it is with regret that one has to report that they did not secure a third this time. The concert on tap was ‘Royal Blood: Music of King Henry VIII’: a variety of Elizabethan staples augmented by modern pieces by Benjamin Britten and Richard-Rodney Bennett. The second part of the concert exhibited the group’s signature delight in folk songs and pop classics. Overall, the group’s vocal precision and luminosity, set alongside its personal charm and taste for variety, carried the day and made for a most entertaining appearance…See more.
REVIEW: THE VSO100 BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS AND THE 2019 NEW MUSIC FESTIVAL
Nathalie Paulin (soprano); Vern Griffiths (percussion), VSO/ Otto Tausk; New York Polyphony and other groups, Orpheum, Christ Church Cathedral, and other venues, January 16-26, 2019.
January started off with another bevy of VSO100 events, culminating in a massive celebration on the orchestra’s actual birthday (January 26th), which featured more than 100 free concerts in multiple venues and more than 1000 performers both young and old. The orchestra performed the closing concerts. This was a terrific success, with more people than one could possibly imagine showing up and making a day of it – 14,000 in total. It certainly revealed how many different groups the VSO could reach if it had the resources. The city has now declared this date its ‘Day of Music’. Before that, the symphony had a celebrity event with legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman, and a four-concert New Music Festival which was particularly accessible to the general public. Coupled with earlier celebrations in September, this was a massive project to bring off and VSO President Kelly Tweeddale, her administration, and the VSO’s new Music Director Otto Tausk must be congratulated on carrying everything with such aplomb…See more.
REVIEW: A STRIKING VANCOUVER DEBUT FOR THE EHNES QUARTET
Ehnes Quartet (James Ehnes and Amy Schwartz-Moretti, violins; Richard O’Neill, viola; Edward Arron, cello): Music of Mozart, Janáček and Schubert, Playhouse, January 22, 2019.
For all the Ehnes Quartet has played an integral role in the Seattle Chamber Music Society, it has taken the ensemble quite a while to cross the border and make their Vancouver debut. One could hardly be disappointed: led by the celebrated Canadian violinist James Ehnes, this is a magnificent collection of musicians who share a kindred spirit, provide enviable tonal address and variety, and see the line of the music very well. Formed in 2011, they have advanced quickly: their Onyx disc of Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ and the Sibelius quartet has already been nominated for a Gramophone award, and they have recently performed the complete cycle of Beethoven String Quartets in Seoul. Their performances of Mozart, Janáček and Schubert string quartets on this occasion added up memorably, not least because the group finds a natural enthusiasm to place beside their keen analytical strength and musicianship. Everything they attempted seemed interesting and fresh – suggesting a thirst for discovery and a real feeling for what the music is saying…See more.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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