REVIEW: AN INSPIRED 85TH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION FOR R. MURRAY SCHAFER WITH THE VANCOUVER CHAMBER CHOIR
Christina Cichos (soprano), Fabiana Katz (alto), Steven Belanger (baritone), George Roberts (narrator), Vancouver Chamber Choir, Vancouver Chamber Orchestra, Jon Washburn (conductor), Chan Centre, July 6, 2018.
This concert celebrated the 85th birthday of distinguished Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer. It also celebrated his more than 40-year association with the Vancouver Chamber Choir and conductor Jon Washburn. The choir has now performed 27 of his works, including 12 commissions, and has made three CDs entirely devoted to his compositions. Two of the pieces performed on this occasion were composed relatively recently: Narcissus and Echo (2009) and the bigger-scale The Love that Moves the Universe, written for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. While one can regard Schafer as a true pioneer of ‘soundscapes’ and various experimental techniques, it is his awareness of the beauty and sensuality in textures, his sense of dramatic balance, and his commitment to exposing the ‘sonic pulse of the earth’ that often speaks most readily to the listener. Everything was refreshing and uplifting about this concert, and the choir and orchestra were at their best. The documentary film and video of the composer’s ‘Sun’ shown in the first half only added to the radiance of the proceedings...See more.
REVIEW: A MEMORABLE PETER GRIMES FROM BRAMWELL TOVEY
Benjamin Britten, PETER GRIMES: David Pomeroy (Peter Grimes), Erin Wall (Ellen Orford), Brett Polegato (Balstrode), Gregory Dahl (Swallow), Susan Platts (Mrs. Sedley), Francesca Corrado (Auntie), Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Bramwell Tovey (conductor), UBC Opera Ensemble, Nancy Hermiston (director), Orpheum, June 9, 2018.
For his penultimate performance as Music Director of the VSO, Bramwell Tovey arrives at one of the truly enduring masterpieces of 20th-century opera: Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes. The maestro’s Britten sympathies have long been evident, not least with two performances of the War Requiem in his tenure with the VSO, the last in 2014. As with the fine Bernstein Candide of a few years ago, this performance of Peter Grimes was set in opera-in-concert format. While this deprives the audience of sets, costumes and stage action, the compensating virtue is that a listener can concentrate more fully on the qualities of the singers, instrumentalists and the music as such: the experience may bring to light details of the vocal writing and orchestration that might be lost in a staged performance. Tovey’s persuasive vision of the work, together with the outstanding performances by David Pomeroy and Erin Wall – and a first-rate UBC chorus – made for an experience as powerful and theatrical as any inside or outside the opera house...See more.
REVIEW: BRAMWELL TOVEY’S GALA FAREWELL CELEBRATION
Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Bramwell Tovey and Friends, Orpheum, May 31, 2018.
Eighteen years is a very long tenure for any music director, and Bramwell Tovey leaves the VSO as the longest serving maestro in the orchestra’s history. He will retain the ‘Music Director Emeritus’ title. One does not want to mark his leaving with too much nostalgia, but one registers that the maestro originally came on board in 2000 when the orchestra was in rather bleak financial circumstances. It was the great synergy of his efforts with those of President Jeff Alexander, Vice-President Alan Gove, concertmasters Mark Fewer and Dale Barltrop, and many others that built an inspired, visible organization with a uniquely-appealing product. A dominating ingredient in this success has been Tovey’s reach and presence within the community, extending beyond the engagement and charisma of his concerts to the inspired formation of the VSO School of Music in 2011, the Whistler Institute more recently, and to local and international arts concerns, where he has always fought for equity, voice and the preservation of heritage. This celebration was largely emceed by the maestro himself, allowing him to spin all his much-loved anecdotes and chestnuts to the delight of the audience, highlighted by performances by members of his closest musical family, including his two daughters...See more.
REVIEW: ALEXANDER GAVRYLYUK’S RECITAL IGNITES MEMORABLE FLAMES
Alexander Gavrylyuk, piano: Works by Bach/Busoni, Haydn, Chopin, Scriabin and Rachmaninoff, Playhouse, May 16, 2018.
Alexander Gavrylyuk’s excellent concerto performances have always been distinguished by strong emotional and intellectual involvement, mingling with a sometimes Horowitz-like virtuosity and fire. Nonetheless, they are still relatively relaxed events compared with his solo recitals. I had momentarily forgotten the unique intensity level that this 34-year old Ukrainian/ Australian pianist achieved in his 2013 Wigmore Hall debut – when he played Pictures at an Exhibition – but was soon reminded of it here. Gavrylyuk clearly lives every moment of his solo experiences, and communicates so viscerally and with so much immediacy (and indeed with so much patent honesty) that the listener can hardly avoid being taken into his world. Perhaps the only downside to the ‘Gavrylyuk Experience’ is that it one might come away from a recital so consumed by the pianist’s tonal thunder and riveting bravura that the sheer thoughtfulness and sensitivity of his playing is missed. While thunder and bravura were never far away here, this concert explored a useful balance of styles, mixing Bach, Haydn and Chopin with Scriabin and Rachmaninoff – and it added up to great effect...See more.
REVIEW: PAUL LEWIS FINDS ADDITIONAL DELIGHTS IN HIS SECOND HAYDN-BRAHMS SOJOURN
Paul Lewis, piano: Works of Beethoven, Haydn and Brahms, Playhouse, May 13, 2018
Paul Lewis’s first concert in this series revealed particularly strong insight into Haydn, while allowing him to explore a unity between the late Beethoven Bagatelles Op. 126 and the six Brahms pieces that comprise Op. 118. The format of the second concert was essentially the same: two Haydn sonatas, this time placed between the Beethoven Bagatelles Op. 119 and the four Brahms piano pieces of the same opus number. Yet this concert had a slightly different feel to it. Perhaps because the initial Beethoven pieces were smaller in scale, the playing often emphasized thoughtful refinement and it was the beautifully-unaffected purity of Lewis’s pianism and his fineness of detailing in Beethoven and Haydn that made this second outing special. The Beethoven pieces now emerged as more clearly linked to Haydn. The latter emerged as the most finished of the pianist’s exploits, and this recital effectively celebrated the April release of his new CD for Harmonia Mundi that features the four Haydn sonatas performed in the two concerts...See more.
REVIEW: RUSSIAN WHITE NIGHTS: OPERA ARIAS FROM 18TH CENTURY ST. PETERSBURG
Karina Gauvin, soprano, Pacific Baroque Orchestra/ Alexander Weimann: Works by Fomin, Bortniansky, dall’Oglio, Araja and Berezovsky, Chan Centre, May 6, 2018.
It was an inspired idea for Vancouver Opera to invite Early Music Vancouver to collaborate on a ‘white nights’ project as part of their nine-day Russian-themed festival. The resulting concert, featuring opera arias from the late baroque and classical eras, gave the audience a sample of the music heard at the St. Petersburg court more than a hundred years before Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. Though not distinctively ’Russian’ opera, it was revealing to hear Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin give persuasive advocacy to compositions by Russian composers that had been neglected for two and a half centuries. She was sensitively supported by Alexander Weimann and the Pacific Baroque Orchestra...See more.
REVIEW: CONSTANTIN TRINKS BRINGS A GREAT SENSE OF OCCASION TO WAGNER AND SCHUBERT
Sarah Chang, violin, VSO/ Constantin Trinks: Music of Wagner, Bruch and Schubert, April 28, 2018.
Young German maestro Constantin Trinks impressed greatly last year when he stepped in to conduct the VSO at short notice for Pietari Inkinen, and elicited a very strong response from the orchestra in Dvorak and Prokofiev. I am happy to say that the same level of artistry was confirmed in the current concert that featured Wagner and Schubert’s challenging ‘Great’ C major Symphony, with violinist Sarah Chang contributing the Bruch concerto. Trinks seems to secure fine discipline and a transparent balance in whatever he conducts, but it his natural musical understanding and keen dramatic sense that make his performances special. The maestro’s performance of the Schubert was undoubtedly the finest we have seen here for years. Sarah Chang aimed at some interesting extremes in the Bruch concerto though executional deficiencies let the interpretation down to a degree...See more.
REVIEW: MORE EXALTED SINGING FROM THE TALLIS SCHOLARS IN ‘WAR AND PEACE’
The Tallis Scholars: Works by Guerrero, Lobo, Mouton, Victoria, Palestrina, Pärt, Taverner, and others, Chan Centre, April 21, 2018.
It always amazes me how one can hear the Tallis Scholars so many times, and yet each successive concert finds the same freshness and radiance of the last. One explanation may be the continuing addition of enthusiastic, talented new singers over the decades, yet a fundamental reason must surely be the unflagging inspiration of director Peter Phillips. He has carried this ensemble since its inception in 1973, consistently maintaining the highest standards of vocal unanimity and expressive balance. The Tallis Scholars first visited Vancouver in 1988, and it was interesting to see a committed army of devotees present, many of whom had likely followed the group since their debut concert. The ensemble’s current exploration of polyphony was a ‘War and Peace’ commemoration of the centenary of the end of World War I. The music mainly drew from 16th century composers, though some contemporary contributions from Arvo Pärt and Sir John Taverner joined in. While more tangible aspects of war were exposed early on, it was more the spiritual shadings overlaying war and its aftermath that left their mark, moving ultimately to the wonderfully transcendent reaches of Tomás Luis de Victoria’s Missa pro Defunctis...See more.
REVIEW: A WELL-TAILORED OVERCOAT FROM VANCOUVER OPERA
James Rolfe, THE OVERCOAT: Geoffrey Sirett (Akakiy), Peter McGillivray (Petrovich / Head of Department / Personage), Andrea Ludwig (landlady), Caitlin Wood, Magali Simard-Galdés, Erica Iris Huang, Courtney Stevens and Colin Heath, Members of the Vancouver Opera Orchestra, Leslie Dala (conductor), Morris Panych (libretto and director), Wendy Gorling (movement director), Ken MacDonald (set designer), Alan Brodie (lighting designer), Vancouver Playhouse, May 4, 2018.
It’s good to see contemporary Canadian operas at this year’s opera festival, and no more so than The Overcoat by James Rolfe and Morris Panych, a co-commission of Vancouver Opera and Toronto’s Tapestry Opera. Panych has adapted his highly acclaimed wordless play based on Nikolai Gogol into a fascinating and idiosyncratic operatic experience. His libretto is quite literary and witty and calls for a great deal of stylized acting, with much caricature and movement that derives from the world of clowns and mimes. This aspect is brilliantly done, thanks to the skills of the cast and the movement director, Wendy Gorling. Add to this an inventive score from James Rolfe and you have a work that satisfies on all fronts. The cast– led by Geoffrey Sirett and Peter McGillivray – was uniformly excellent while Leslie Dala’s conducting was fully attentive to the caprice and colour in the music...See more.
REVIEW: A SUPERB EUGENE ONEGIN ADDS MOMENTUM TO THE 2018 VANCOUVER OPERA FESTIVAL
Tchaikovsky, EUGENE ONEGIN: Svetlana Aksenova (Tatyana), Carolyn Sproule (Olga), Leah Giselle Field (Madame Larina), Megan Latham (Filippyevna), Alexei Dolgov (Lensky), Konstantin Shushakov (Onegin), Peter Monaghan (Zaretsky/Captain Petrovich), Martin Renner Wallace (Monsieur Triquet), Goderdzi Janelidze (Prince Gremin). Vancouver Opera Orchestra, Jonathan Darlington (conductor), Vancouver Opera Chorus, Kinza Tyrrell (director), Tom Diamond (stage director), Scott Reid (set and projection designer), Harry Frehner (lighting designer), Parvin Mirhady (costume design consultant), Queen Elizabeth Theatre, April 29, 2018.
A second Vancouver Opera Festival comes round, and one cornerstone is Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, the most loved of Russian operas. Based on a novel by Pushkin, Tchaikovsky’s own presentation moves the focus away from the eponymous hero towards the heroine Tatyana, a teenage country girl who opens her heart to a suave young aristocrat who condescendingly rejects her, only to be likewise spurned by her at the end. Its sad lesson is that ‘Heaven sends us routine in place of happiness’. This Onegin called forth a magnificent production from Vancouver Opera. From the conducting of Jonathan Darlington to the direction by Tom Diamond, the performance provided the deepest satisfaction. It was a traditional production in the best sense, honouring the composer’s vision faithfully – and aided by uniformly strong casting. Svetlana Aksenova as Tatyana was superb, with her lush soprano voice and splendid acting; her ‘letter scene’ was the best I’ve seen. Carolyn Sproule as Olga used her lovely mezzo voice to covey a great sense of fun, while Alexei Dolgov’s burnished tenor conveyed a perfect combination of idealism and insecurity as Lensky. Konstantin Shushakov used his firm baritone to convey Onegin’s sentiments strongly and persuasively. The sets were both minimalist and stunning, with lovely lines and supportive lighting, perfect for the action. So, a wonderful success overall! See more.
REVIEW: RAFAL BLECHACZ BRINGS SPLENDOUR AND EXCITEMENT TO THE CHOPIN SOCIETY’S 20TH ANNIVERSARY
Rafal Blechacz, piano: Works by Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann and Chopin, Playhouse, April 22, 2018.
Rafal Blechacz was the artist invited to celebrate the Vancouver Chopin Society’s 20th anniversary gala, and he gave an absolutely splendid recital. It will be recalled that the Polish pianist won every prize in the 2005 Warsaw Chopin Competition, and a more mature form of the same dazzling pianism was on display here, featuring a disarming level of tonal beauty and clarity in articulation. It is now 13 years since that event, and the 32-year-old Blechacz has smoothed out some of his youthful extremes and moved steadily towards the core of German masters; his latest CD for Deutsche Grammophon was of Bach. Yet he remains a pianist glowing in tonal splendor and romantic involvement, as evidenced here in his deeply-committed Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann. The luminosity and fluency of his playing cast a spell throughout, yet this was also playing of great sensitivity. Some attendees would have doubtlessly liked to hear a little more Chopin; nonetheless, his blockbuster 6th Polonaise and selection of finely-chiseled Mazurkas at the end affirmed the occasion in style...See more.
REVIEW: KARINA CANELLAKIS: A CONDUCTOR IN LOVE WITH THE BEAUTY OF MUSIC
Esther Yoo, violin, VSO/ Karina Canellakis: Music of Dvorak, Sibelius and Brahms, Chan Centre, April 14, 2018.
The Vancouver Symphony has displayed such a variety of young conductors over the last two years that it is always redeeming to find one that has a particular sensitivity to musical beauty, and can put this appreciation into practice. Such is the case with conductor/ violinist Karina Canellakis, a graduate of both the Curtis Institute and the Juilliard School, and winner of the 2016 Sir Georg Solti Conducting Competition. She has a particularly fine idea of musical line and balance, a love of lyrical expanse, as well as the ability to secure sufficient orchestral refinement to allow the music’s subtle shapes and moods to be revealed. For this concert, she was paired with one of the ‘rising star’ violinists of today, Esther Yoo, originally the youngest prize winner ever in both the Sibelius and Queen Elizabeth Competitions. Everything at this concert turned out with illumination: Canellakis directed Dvorak and Brahms with a special eye for colour and lyrical shape and secured an elegant and committed orchestral response; Yoo showed a keen grasp of the Sibelius concerto in a reading that sought a more mellifluous beauty rather than a sharper dramatic fabric...See more.
REVIEW: SIR ANDRAS SCHIFF MASTERFULLY SUSPENDS US IN HIS WORLD OF ‘LATE’ WORKS
Sir András Schiff, piano: Works by Bach, Mozart, Schumann, Beethoven, and Brahms, Playhouse, April 10, 2018.
Sir András Schiff’s traversal of the ‘last’ sonatas of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert yielded three sterling concerts over the past two years. and it would be difficult to ask for anything more. Nonetheless, the pianist’s fascination with late works continued unabated in the current concert, featuring two of the same composers, dipping back to Bach, and adding, most significantly, Brahms. For all one might think of Schiff as a supreme custodian of the piano music of all the German masters, the remaining gap is Brahms. It was well worth waiting for the composer’s Piano Pieces Op. 117, 118, 119: this performance was truly special, revealing a masterly absorption of the composer’s architecture and spirit. The only complication for the listener was Schiff’s decision to play his mixed programme essentially without pause. This seems to be Schiff’s way now, offering long and concentrated recitals where the contrapuntal and harmonic synergies of all the composers from Bach to Brahms can be made to mingle together to create a certain unity and transcendence. It has a magic all its own! See more.
REVIEW: THE BENEDETTI-ELSCHENBROICH-GRYNYUK TRIO MAKES A MOST IMPRESSIVE DEBUT
Benedetti-Elschenbroich-Grynyuk Trio, Music of Schubert, Brahms, Turnage and Ravel, Playhouse, April 8, 2018.
Celebrated British violinist Nicola Benedetti has visited Vancouver regularly over the past decade but this concert marked the Canadian debut of her piano trio collaboration with German cellist Leonard Elschenbroich and Kiev-born pianist Alexei Grynyuk. Formed in 2009, originally out of associations at the Yehudi Menuhin School, it is a trio with a gorgeously large and well-appointed sound, offering playing of strong unanimity, colour and blend. For all of the charismatic qualities of its individual members, the ensemble displays a strong seriousness of purpose on stage. This outing made quite an impression, revealing a piano trio that not only scores through its interpretative strength but also is endearing in its pursuit of romantic ardour. The results are glowing but naturally reveal some innocence as well: their youthful intensity worked particularly well in the sensual, passionate terrain of the Ravel Trio, but less decisively so in the Schubert Notturno and the Brahms Second Piano Trio. Nonetheless, it all charmed in the end and Benedetti and Elschenbroich also came together for a stunning performance of a duo piece on ‘modern love’ written for them in 2015 by esteemed British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage...See more.
REVIEW: JON WASHBURN DIRECTS MULTIPLE CHOIRS IN AN IMPRESSIVE RACHMANINOFF ALL-NIGHT VIGIL
Dolores Scott (mezzo-soprano), Fabiana Katz (contralto), Eric Schwarzhoff (tenor), Vancouver Chamber Choir, Vancouver Cantata Singers, Pacifica Singers, Vancouver Chamber Orchestra, Jon Washburn (conductor), Orpheum, March 30, 2018.
Rachmaninoff’s All-night Vigil (often mistranslated as Vespers) is an hour-long work in fifteen movements for unaccompanied chorus, and poses formidable challenges for performers and audience alike. To keep an audience engaged over this long span of a cappella singing in an unfamiliar language, it is incumbent upon the performers to exploit to the full its many dynamic, harmonic, and textural contrasts. For the most part, Jon Washburn’s sensitive direction of the combined forces of the Vancouver Chamber Choir and Vancouver Cantata Singers did just this, giving a most persuasive account of this magisterial score. It found a desirably-wide expressive range while maintaining accurate intonation, clear textures, and a careful attention to balance. The second part of the concert lightened the intensity by performing Gabriel Fauré’s charming Messe basse, with the Pacifica Singers joining in for Morten Lauridsen’s popular Lux aeterna...See more.
REVIEW: LEONARD BERNSTEIN AND THE PLEASURES OF THE VSO SPRING FESTIVAL
2018 VSO SPRING FESTIVAL: Joyce Yang (piano), Augustin Hadelich (violin), Pinchas Zukerman (violin/viola/conductor), Amanda Forsyth (cello), VSO/ Bramwell Tovey: Music of Bernstein, Mahler, Richard Strauss and Mozart, Orpheum, March 17-26, 2018.
The Bernstein centenary is being celebrated throughout the world, and the VSO played its part by making the composer a dominant focus of its Spring Festival. While one might have wished for a more extended Bernstein-fest, core works such as ‘The Age of Anxiety’ and the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story were presented, and one clear highlight was violinist Augustin Hadelich’s performance of the Serenade. The Chichester Psalms also figured in the first concert and Candide has been performed in a previous season. As with many younger conductors, Bramwell Tovey shares a strong spiritual identification with Bernstein: his in-concert discussion fondly recalled their first meeting at the Bernstein Festival at London’s Barbican Hall in May 1986. Recognition of Bernstein’s pioneering advocacy of Mahler in the 1960s also came through a performance of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. The final concert yielded a different sort of ‘family day’ event as violinist Pinchas Zukerman and cellist (and wife) Amanda Forsyth joined Tovey for Strauss’ Don Quixote, while Zukerman played and conducted Mozart...See more.
THE 2018 JUNO AWARDS
Featuring Isabel Bayrakdarian, Robert Koenig, Philippe Sly, John Charles Britton, Johannes Moser, Jan Lisiecki, Jocelyn Morlock, Alice Ping Yee Ho, Mark McGregor, Rachel Iwaasa, David Gillham, Corey Hamm, ARC Ensemble, Paolo Pietropaolo (host): CBC Studio 1, Vancouver, March 24, 2018.
It has been decades since the Juno Awards were held in Vancouver, and while the popular music side invariably dominates the public’s interest, the sponsorship of both the CBC and the Canadian Music Centre inspired a very worthy ‘on-air’ Juno Classical Showcase this year. The concert took place at the CBC studios and was hosted by Paolo Pietropaolo in front of a small group of invitees. The event featured a distinguished selection of current nominees and indeed some of Canada’s finest classical musicians and composers. As to the awards, the biggest cause for celebration locally was the Juno received by the Vancouver Symphony’s Composer-In-Residence, Jocelyn Morlock; her composition My Name is Amanda Todd was voted ‘Classical Composition of the Year’. The Junos received by Jan Lisiecki and Janina Fialkowska for their Chopin recordings, and Barbara Hannigan for Crazy Girl Crazy further highlighted the variety and strength of Canada’s classical recording artists, where the likes of James Ehnes, Louis Lortie, Johannes Moser, Isabel Bayrakdarian and Gerald Finley figured among the nominees...See more.
REVIEW: CELEBRATING BACH’S GOLDBERG VARIATIONS: ANGELA HEWITT AND SCHAGHAJEGH NOSRATI
Angela Hewitt, piano: Chan Centre, March 7, 2018.
Schaghajegh Nosrati, piano: Vancouver Playhouse, March 18, 2018.
It is feast indeed to hear two Goldberg Variations in just over a week, and we were very fortunate that both Angela Hewitt and Schaghajegh Nosrati arrived to give us just that. Hewitt of course has dominated the last two decades with her readings, recording it originally for Hyperion in 1999, and following it up with another effort in 2015. It remains a model interpretation, full of endless variety, technical ingenuity and searching depth. Her current concert perhaps went even further: I felt it was one of the finest examples of Bach on the piano I have ever witnessed. In contrast, Schaghajegh Nosrati is a young 29-year-old German pianist whose career has recently taken off from her award-winning showing at the 2014 Leipzig International Bach Competition and her mentoring and concert collaborations with Sir András Schiff, another exalted pioneer of Bach on the piano, Though less detailed and refined than Hewitt, she gave a beautifully-toned reading of commitment and feeling, one that was communicative in more youthful way...See more.
REVIEW: STERLING BRUCKNER FROM MICHAEL SANDERLING – THAT TRANSPORTS THE VSO TO EUROPE
David Fray, piano; VSO/ Michael Sanderling, Works by Wagner, Bruckner and Mendelssohn, Orpheum, March 3, 2018.
The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra has not performed Bruckner frequently over the years, and it would be difficult to say that it has yet established its credentials as a Bruckner orchestra. In the past five years, it has done the popular Fourth Symphony (Bramwell Tovey) and the Seventh Symphony twice (Mark Wigglesworth, James Gaffigan). Enter Michael Sanderling, stepson of the great German conductor Kurt Sanderling (1912-2011), and part of a remarkable family that includes maestros Thomas and Stefan as well. With the legacy of these musicians, one cannot help but step right into the Brucknerian heartland. And so it proved in this performance of Bruckner’s Third Symphony, sounding more authentic, sheerly beautiful, and spaciously majestic than any Bruckner performance we have yet encountered. The sound of the orchestra even took on a Central European glow, which is possibly not surprising since Michael Sanderling is currently music director of the Dresden Philharmonic...See more.
REVIEW: BEAUTIFULLY SUSPENDING LISZT AND DEBUSSY FROM MARC-ANDRE HAMELIN
Marc-André Hamelin, piano: Works by Liszt, Debussy, Godowsky and Feinberg, Chan Centre, March 4, 2018.
Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin is, in many respects, one of the marvels of the 21st century. There are simply few living pianists that can match his transparency of articulation, rhythmic and tonal control, and his staggering virtuoso strength. These characteristics have been widely illustrated in his performances and recordings of 19th and 20th century repertoire, not least in the more obscure composers he has pioneered from the beginning of his career. This concert yielded yet another example of the artist’s exalted pianism, nicely mixing shorter virtuoso works with the more serene postures of Liszt’s ‘Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude’ and Debussy’s Images Book One, and adding the little discovery, Samuil Feinberg’s Fourth Piano Sonata. While audiences are always awed by Hamelin’s ability to dispatch ultra-demanding virtuoso pieces with consummate ease, I actually felt I learned a little more about the pianist’s subtle quest to find the tonal balance, shading and motion that distill the essence of each work. This was his first appearance for the Vancouver Recital Society since 2012...See more.
REVIEW: THE SZYMANOWSKI QUARTET FINDS STRENGTH AND BEAUTY IN MOZART’S STRING QUINTETS
Szymanowski Quartet, with Richard O’Neill (viola): The Complete String Quintets of Mozart, Playhouse, February 18 and 20, 2018.
It has been many years since the complete Mozart String Quintets have been performed here, and this traversal by the Szymanowski Quartet was especially rewarding. One recalls several fine concerts from these artists in the romantic repertoire, but only Haydn among the earlier masters. The current interest in Mozart likely follows from the quartet’s recent change in membership, and the need to reconsolidate repertoire and performance standards by a return to ‘the classics’. The quartet’s warm, burnished sound, transparency in voicings, and structural awareness remain as conspicuous as before, and these are certainly attributes that can be put to good work in Mozart. Playing the six string quintets together is nonetheless a major challenge: the works have almost unrivalled diversity and depth – for many, they constitute the most sublime reaches of the composer’s art – and demand unflagging concentration. Overall, the Szymanowski’s traversal found many instances of great beauty and insight, mining the rich diversity in the constructions, and putting the finishing touch on the cycle with a strong reading of the heavenly G minor Quintet...See more.
REVIEW: JOYOUS MAHLER FROM THE VANCOUVER BACH CHOIR AND WEST COAST SYMPHONY
Robyn Driedger-Klassen, Melanie Krueger, Sarah Templeton (sopranos), Emma Parkinson, Leah Giselle Field (mezzo-sopranos), Martin Sadd (tenor), Kevin Armstrong (baritone), Peter Monaghan (bass-baritone): Vancouver Bach Choir and Children’s Chorus, West Coast Symphony Orchestra, Leslie Dala (conductor), Orpheum Theatre, February 17, 2018.
Performing Mahler’s Eighth Symphony represents a profound challenge to any ensemble, and it a very special event when it is undertaken. The VSO under Bramwell Tovey proved relatively successful in their attempt a few years ago, and now it is the Vancouver Bach Choir and the West Coast Symphony under Leslie Dala that take a turn. If Mahler thought this symphony should be ‘everything’, then it is fascinating to consider how this might be achieved. The key problem is how to physically convey the vast scope and size of the work while also successfully balancing the mass of the choral forces with the orchestra and vocal soloists. While these difficulties were not fully overcome in this performance – and in fact seldom are – everyone surely came together to participate in the joyous spirit and power of the work. The Bach Choir turned in a worthy contribution and the soloists were distinguished...See more.
REVIEW: REAL MORNING SPLENDOUR FROM PIANIST JAN LISIECKI
Jan Lisiecki, piano: Works by Ravel, Rachmaninoff and Chopin, Koerner Hall, Vancouver Academy of Music, February 14, 2018.
It was an inspired idea for Vancouver’s Music in the Morning to sponsor this visit by Jan Lisiecki, one of Canada’s most celebrated young pianists and originally winner of Gramophone’s Young Artist of the Year award in 2013. The pianist had just performed a large portion of the current recital in Europe and, as he remarked, it was an interesting prospect to return to Canada to perform the ‘night music’ of Rachmaninoff and Ravel in the light of morning. Being a young star of the piano is exceedingly difficult these days: in virtually every case, some critics cite an artistic maturity far beyond the pianist’s years while others find merely technical brilliance – and Lisiecki has weathered this storm of critical scrutiny early on. Having produced 4 cds for Deutsche Grammophon since 2011, and consistently giving over 100 concerts a year, one would now have to regard this 22-year-old as very much a mature pianist that even the most seasoned listener can learn from. He strikes the keys so cleanly and beautifully, articulates complex lines in such a balanced, transparent way, and has a lyrical projection in his playing as natural as his bravura finish. Most importantly, one sees real interpretative absorption and perspective in the end product...See more.
REVIEW: TIGHT-KNIT MUSIC MAKING FROM ALEXANDRA SOUMM AND PERRY SO – AND A LITTLE SCHUMANN SURPRISE
Alexandra Soumm, violin; VSO/ Perry So: Music of Morlock, Lalo and Schumann, Orpheum, February 5, 2018.
I have always been impressed with the orchestral control of young Hong Kong conductor and inaugural Dudamel Fellow, Perry So. He arrived on the Vancouver stage almost accidentally, deputizing for an indisposed John Storgårds in 2014, and gave a stirring performance of Sibelius’ First Symphony. He has now performed with a number of major orchestras and released a disc that includes Prokofiev’s Chout with BBCNOW in 2016. In his third appearance here, he was joined by the sparkling 28-year old French/Russian violinist Alexandra Soumm in Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole. Equally intriguing was the conductor’s adventure into the earlier 1841 edition of Schumann’s Fourth Symphony, previously championed by John Eliot Gardiner and Roy Goodman, and actually preferred by Brahms. I was impressed with the tight-knit music making throughout, and the orchestra displayed fine cohesion and discipline...See more.
REVIEW: VIOLINIST NIKOLAJ ZNAIDER SEEKS DRAMATIC EXTREMES IN A ROLLICKING RETURN VISIT
Nikolaj Znaider, violin; Robert Kulek, piano: Music of Beethoven, Brahms, Prokofiev and Shostakovich, Playhouse, February 4, 2018.
It is has been over a decade since violinist Nikolaj Znaider last performed for the Vancouver Recital Society, and he certainly returned as very much of a celebrity. In fact, this concert often seemed like a ‘celebrity show’, the violinist tossing humorous asides to the audience, taking the full house under his wing, and then dazzling it with his stunning passage work, silken lyrical lines, and passionate bursts of power. This could hardly fail to seduce. While Znaider has launched his conducting career in earnest these days, it is wonderful to be reminded of what a great violinist he is. I very much enjoyed his recordings of the Elgar Violin Concerto (with Sir Colin Davis) and the Brahms Violin Sonatas (with Yefim Bronfman) but, in those instances, it was the wonderful purity of his tone and dramatic/lyrical line that was most noteworthy. This concert was more unbuttoned, more a study of ‘the art of the violin’, with Znaider consistently pushing his instrument to the extremes of both delicacy and romantic ardour...See more.
REVIEW: SOLOISTS BRING DISTINCTION AND CHARM TO THE 2018 VSO NEW MUSIC FESTIVAL
Rachel Barton Pine (violin) and soloists, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Bramwell Tovey (conductor); Pacific Baroque Orchestra, Alexander Weimann (director/harpsichord), Orpheum, Christ Church Cathedral, Annex, January 18-22, 2018.
Each year the VSO New Music Festival has tried something different. One approach has been to focus proceedings around one world-renowned composer or ensemble. Another has been to veer towards ‘crossover’ experiments and compositions with a certain trendiness or political empathy; still another direction has been to offer sort of a vast tasting menu of short North American works. All these approaches have merits, but the current festival, curated by the VSO’s Composer-In-Residence, Jocelyn Morlock, was unusually successful because it highlighted a number of distinguished soloists in concertante works and featured a mix of both homegrown and international composers. The soloists, led by estimable violinist Rachel Barton Pine, added real interest to the proceedings, as did the concert of ‘New Music for Old Instruments’. The festival’s success served as a wonderful parting gift to Bramwell Tovey, who initiated the VSO festival in 2014. A touching moment came in the last concert when Morlock thanked the maestro for the great inspiration he has given countless young Canadian composers over the past quarter-century. Tovey was also honoured with the Barbara Pentland Lifetime Achievement Award, as presented by Sean Bickerton for the Canadian Music Centre (BC)... See more.
REVIEW: A DAZZLING L’ELISIR D’AMORE FROM VANCOUVER OPERA
Gaetano Donizetti, L’ELISIR D’AMORE, Andrew Haji (Nemorino), Ying Fang (Adina), Brett Polegato (Belcore), Stephen Hegedus (Dulcamara), Elaina Moreau (Giannetta): Vancouver Opera Orchestra, Jonathan Darlington (conductor), Vancouver Opera Chorus (Chorus Master: Leslie Dala), Brenna Corner (director), Queen Elizabeth Theatre, January 21, 2018.
Performing Donizetti’s lovely L’Elisir d’amore poses obstacles for the uninitiated, but Vancouver Opera’s production surmounted these to dazzling effect. The singing and acting of Ying Fang (as Adina) were wonderfully clean and stylish but always invested with strong feeling. Andrew Haji gave a convincing performance as the love-struck Nemorino, and his signature tune—Una furtive lagrima—was glorious. Brett Polegato (as Belcore) assumed his role with appropriate swagger. producing a wonderful sound with his suitably manly baritone, while bass Stephen Hegedus contributed a Dr. Dulcamara of character. Behind the singers, the insightful direction of Brenna Corner (after James Robinson) combined convincingly with the conducting of Jonathan Darlington, who drew a consistently glowing sound from his band and sparkle in the ensembles. Leslie Dala’s chorus was also excellent. With the inventive set of Allen Moyer creating appealing space and tangibility, we left the theatre full of the same warm glow that emanates from the work itself...See more.
REVIEW: SOPRANO TARA ERRAUGHT BRINGS GREAT VOCAL SPLENDOUR – AND IRISH CHARM TOO
Tara Erraught, mezzo-soprano; James Baillieu, piano: Vocal works of Liszt, Richard Strauss, Mahler, Quilter and Rossini, Playhouse, January 14, 2018.
We have recently seen celebrity singers such as Joyce DiDonato and Bryn Terfel create a wonderful personal engagement with their audience – making each patron feel as if the singer is communicating directly with them. This return recital with young Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught achieved very much the same spell, and added a beguiling youthful charm and honesty on top of it. The obvious attraction is that Erraught sings so beautifully, with remarkable range, poise and dramatic sense. But she is such an able story-teller too, not only in introducing her repertoire to the audience but also in projecting her singing – almost as an intimate secret – to alternating sections of the right and left hand sides of the hall. Behind her is accompanist James Baillieu, a comrade every step of the way, playing with great sensitivity and imagination. This was a most fetching programme, ranging from Liszt, Mahler and Strauss to Rossini and Roger Quilter, and finishing with two loving Irish folk encores...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.
BEST MUSICAL EVENTS OF 2017
Vancouver produces such a feast of musical riches these days that singling out any set of best events makes one immediately regret that other equally-distinguished performances have been ignored. Here we simply identify the year’s most ‘memorable’ musical events, relative to genre, though we still use the term ‘best’ since that is the tradition. More than one performance will typically be nominated for each category. Many of the reviews are presented in their international form – as on our affiliate site Seen and Heard International: all were published originally on Vancouver Classical Music. In a delightful way, 2017 has turned out to be the year of the ‘cello’ and we highlight above three wonderful exponents of the instrument that have given us the greatest enrichment...See more.
REVIEW: MONICA HUGGETT’S ALL-FEMALE TROUPE BRINGS RAVISHING VIVALDI FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON
Jane Long, Arwen Myers, Danielle Sampson (sopranos), Laura Pudwell, Vicki St. Pierre, Debi Wong (altos) Debra Nagy (oboe), Kris Kwapis (trumpet), Ensemble directed by Monica Huggett, Chan Centre, December 23, 2017.
Early Music Vancouver’s final concert of the Christmas season has traditionally featured Bach’s festive cantatas. Nonetheless, we heard Michael Praetorius’ Christmas Vespers a year or two ago, and this time it was Vivaldi’s famous Gloria and Magnificat, performed under the direction of Monica Huggett. The intrigue of this concert was that it was undertaken by an all-female ensemble of 15 instrumentalists and 14 vocalists, affirming the historical insight that Vivaldi often relied on female troupes – at the convent Ospedale della Pieta – for the performance of his works. It would be difficult to convey just how ravishing this experience was: the excellence of the vocal and instrumental contributions, the freshness and depth of feeling throughout, all put together under Huggett’s inspired direction. It is nice that audiences in Portland, Seattle and Victoria also got to see this concert...See more.
REVIEW: THE TAKACS QUARTET BRING GREAT THOUGHT TO MENDELSSOHN AND SHOSTAKOVICH
Takács Quartet: Music of Mozart, Mendelssohn and Shostakovich, Playhouse, December 12, 2017.
The Takács Quartet have presented many intriguing programmes in their annual pilgrimages to Vancouver, but the current one stands right at the top of the list. It featured the ensemble’s first ventures into both the Mendelssohn quartets and the late quartets of Shostakovich, as accompanied by the first of Mozart’s ‘Prussian’ Quartets. The purity of the playing in the Shostakovich was quite stunning while I doubt I have heard a finer performance of the Mendelssohn. The Mozart had an unusually wistful quality. All the performances evinced the greatest thought in preparation...See more.
REVIEW: THE SPLENDOURS OF ‘AUTHENTIC’ AND TRADITIONAL PERFORMANCES OF THE MESSIAH
Yulia Van Doren, soprano; Krisztina Szabó, mezzo-soprano; Charles Daniels, tenor; Tyler Duncan, baritone; Vancouver Cantata Singers; Paula Kremer, artistic director; Pacific Baroque Orchestra; Alexander Weimann, music director; Vancouver Playhouse, December 2, 2017.
Melanie Krueger, soprano; Emma Parkinson, mezzo-soprano; Isaiah Bell, tenor; Gregory Dahl, baritone; Vancouver Bach Choir; Vancouver Symphony Orchestra; Leslie Dala, conductor; Orpheum Theatre, December 9, 2017.
Period instruments or modern instruments? Smaller chorus or larger chorus? Faster tempi or slower tempi? These questions have dogged the performance of Baroque music for several decades, and the answers are usually presented in absolute terms, as if one approach – historically-informed performance or conventional ‘modern’ performance – were necessarily better than the other. However, it is worth considering that either performing style may be effective in communicating the music. In the past two weeks, Vancouver audiences had the rare opportunity to experience two contrasting approaches to Handel’s Messiah: Early Music Vancouver’s historically-informed rendition, with the 40-strong the Vancouver Cantata Singers and approximately 20 musicians playing on authentic instruments, and the Vancouver Bach Choir’s more traditional performance, featuring about 80 singers and 30 musicians from the VSO. Both had their different virtues, and one could only rejoice in the opportunity to witness such choral, instrumental, and soloistic splendour...See more.
REVIEW: A STUNNING CELLO DEBUT FOR THE YOUNG SHEKU KANNEH-MASON
Sheku Kanneh-Mason, cello; Isata Kanneh-Mason, piano: Works by Cassado, Beethoven and Shostakovich, Playhouse, December 3, 2017.
Having won the BBC Young Artist’s Award in 2016 and with a Decca recording contract safely in hand, one guessed it would only be a matter of time until the long fishing-rod of Leila Getz and the Vancouver Recital Society put the stunning 18-year-old British cellist, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, on stage here. An additional treat was seeing him perform with his sister Isata, three years his elder. There could be few more riveting experiences than witnessing the strength, passion and assured virtuosity in a cellist so young. Even more important was how much love and feeling he expressed for the music he was playing, never shying from lyrical depth and expressive nuance, and supported to a tee by his sister...See more.
REVIEW: PAUL LEWIS STARTS HIS HAYDN AND BRAHMS JOURNEY WITH ENTHUSIASM AND INSIGHT
Paul Lewis, piano: Works by Haydn, Beethoven and Brahms, Playhouse, November 19, 2017
Pianist Paul Lewis’s new odyssey into Haydn and Brahms is off and running: four concerts in total for the Vancouver Recital Society, two this year and two the next. After playing a great deal of Beethoven and Schubert over the last decade, this is an inspiring project and a definite freshness and sense of discovery informed Lewis’s playing. This first concert was cunningly designed: a Haydn sonata on each end with the Beethoven Bagatelles Op. 126 and Brahms Op. 118 Piano Pieces in between. What impressed greatly is the way the pianist mixed dramatic awareness, playfulness and lyrical restraint to reveal differences in the two Haydn sonatas, while showing the Beethoven and Brahms miniatures were closer in spirit than one might have thought. Always on display was enthusiasm – and that proved infectious...See more.
REVIEW: CHOPIN COMPETITION GOLD MEDALIST SEONG-JIN CHO DISPLAYS GREAT BEAUTY AND ASSURANCE – BUT ALSO SOME INNOCENCE
Seong-Jin Cho, piano: Works by Debussy, Beethoven, and Chopin, Chan Centre, November 12, 2017.
There is always excitement in monitoring the progress of Chopin International Piano Competition winners and the latest Gold Medalist, 23-year-old Seong-Jin Cho, is no exception. He is already on the way to releasing his third CD for Deutsche Grammophon, following up his debut and Chopin Concerto/Ballades discs with a new Debussy recital. Moreover, he is now touring in Asia with Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic, deputizing for the injured Lang Lang. Worse fates have happened to competition winners – and for a pianist that only started playing the instrument seriously at age 10! This concert featured both Chopin and Debussy, alongside Beethoven, and amply illustrated the pianistic virtues we are already familiar with: Cho’s enviable keyboard balance, refined tonal control, and his natural sense of musical integration. Yet it was also revealed where the pianist has room to develop: in particular, in not allowing the elegance and prettiness of his execution to override the prospect of digging for real emotions...See more.
REVIEW: ALBAN GERHARDT AND STEVEN OSBORNE FIND STUNNING MUSICAL RICHES AMIDST ADVERSITY
Alban Gerhardt, cello; Steven Osborne, piano: Works by Bach, Beethoven, Debussy and Brahms, Playhouse, November 5, 2017.
One always speculates on what special conditions make for a great performance on concert night. Is it the preparation and full absorption of the pieces to be played? Is it the synergy between the artists at that moment? Is it the electricity in the audience? In this case, esteemed pianist Steven Osborne and cellist Alban Gerhardt performed after great difficulties in travel, arriving from different directions with major delays and little sleep – and in Osborne’s case, little concert dress and only running shoes. Yet they gave one of the most communicative recitals we have seen in a long time. This was rare music making, fully at the service of the composers, perceptive, individual, and transparent – with not a hint of the artists’ intrusion...See more.
REVIEW: A LOVELY DEBUT FOR THE ROLSTON STRING QUARTET: 2016 BANFF COMPETITION WINNERS
Rolston String Quartet (Luri Lee and Jeffrey Dydra, violins; Hezekiah Leung, viola, Jonathan Lo, cello): Music of Schubert, R. Murray Schafer and Tchaikovsky, Dunbar Ryerson United Church, October 26, 2017.
It is always a cause for celebration when a Canadian ensemble wins the Banff International String Quartet Competition, and this seems to be a coming thing: after the St. Lawrence Quartet initially won in 1992, the Cecilia Quartet triumphed in 2010, now followed by the Rolston ensemble last year. The Rolston Quartet certainly gave an impressive showing in this Vancouver debut in the Music in the Morning concert series. The ensemble has very fine balance, flexibility and resilience, and its relatively lean tonal fabric allows for subtle dynamic gradations and transparent detailing. Most important, the group shows individuality in performing standard repertoire. For me, the highlight of the concert was the most sensitive performance of R. Murray Schafer’s String Quartet No. 2 (1976), a wonderful piece from a still underrated Canadian composer who started his career here...See more.
REVIEW: ‘MUSIC AS INTIMATE CONVERSATION’: THE ZENITH OF THE BORODIN QUARTET
Borodin Quartet: Music of Schubert, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, Playhouse, October 17, 2017.
This was a very special concert, the finest string quartet playing I have heard in a long time. One seldom talks about ‘intimate conversation’ in quartet playing anymore, except possibly when referring to the legendary Busch and Vegh Quartets, or to the Quatuor Mosaiques and Lindsay Quartet in their heyday. With these exalted performers, time seemed to stand still as refined, yet expressive, voices spoke to each other with greatest inner concentration and suspension. I had never really thought of the Borodin Quartet in these terms. Under Rostislav Dubinsky in the 1960s, there was a biting sharpness wedded to elegance and strong emotional readiness; under Mikhail Kopelman in the 1980s, there was comparable depth and perhaps even more virtuosity. This current (and third) Borodin Quartet comes with a difference: in their complete cycle of the Shostakovich quartets performed here in May 2015, what stood out was their unaffected purity of expression, architectural command and, notably, greater warmth. But that was only five years after the last player, violinist Sergei Lomovsky, joined the ensemble. Now, two years later, an even more uniquely-compelling range of expression and intimacy emerges...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.
VANCLASSICAL GOES INTERNATIONAL
Vancouver Classical Music has established a reciprocal relationship with Seen and Heard International, a division of MusicWeb International – one of the premier classical music review sites in the world. What this means for Vancouver is that all our local reviews and interviews will immediately go world-wide, and be featured alongside those of London, New York, and other music capitals. For reviews and interviews already published on Seen and Heard, go to:
Scroll down to bottom of any review to find to the site’s home page. Seen and Heard provides a valuable information resource for anyone interested in the international concert scene, international music festivals (such as the BBC Proms) and also provides a direct and up-to-date link to reviews, and breaking news, published in leading newspapers and other online media sites.
THE GREAT CANADIAN ARTISTS: AN INTERVIEW WITH VIOLINIST JAMES EHNES
There are few more celebrated musicians in the world right now than Manitoba-born violinist James Ehnes, and few have failed to succumb to his wonderful tonal luster, silken lyrical lines, and insightful virtuosity. After initial training with Francis Chaplin, the violinist made his solo debut with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal at age 13, following this up with studies with Sally Thomas at Meadowmount and Juilliard (1993-97). Ehnes won the Peter Mennin Prize upon his Juilliard graduation, and subsequently received the first-ever Ivan Galamian Memorial Award and an Avery Fisher Career Grant (2005), in addition to the highest Canadian honours. The turning point in Ehnes’ recording career likely came in 2006-2007 when his ‘homegrown’ recording of the Barber, Korngold and Walton concertos with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (under Bramwell Tovey) won both Juno and Grammy awards. This was followed up by the widely-praised Onyx recording of the Elgar Violin Concerto with Sir Andrew Davis.
The past decade has seen a remarkable flood of recordings: the Complete Works for Violin of both Bartok and Prokofiev for Chandos, and the Tchaikovsky, Khachaturian, Shostakovich and Britten concertos, plus a number of violin sonatas and the Paganini Caprices, for Onyx. The Beethoven Violin Concerto with conductor Andrew Manze is forthcoming. Alongside the many duo recordings with long-time partner Andrew Armstrong, still more new releases come from the Seattle Chamber Music Society and from the Ehnes Quartet, bringing his total to almost 50 recordings as he approaches his 41st year. On the occasion of the 2017 Vancouver Symphony Spring Festival, the adventures continued: Ehnes appeared as conductor and violinist in one concert and the violist in the Walton Viola Concerto in another. With such a bewildering array of talents and accomplishments, one can hardly run out of things to talk about! See more.
CELEBRATING THE WEST COAST COMPOSERS: ELLIOT WEISGARBER (1919-2001)
by Karen Suzanne Smithson, the composer’s daughter
Throughout the latter decades of the 20th century, Vancouver was home to composer Elliot Weisgarber, best known for his pioneering work in the field of world music. His profound study of Japanese music in particular led to the foundation of the ethnomusicology program in the School of Music at the University of British Columbia in the late 1960s. This article celebrates his remarkable life, following on the concert of his music performed at the Canadian Music Centre in Vancouver in April 2017...See more.
FEATURED INTERVIEW: ‘GOING DEEP’ WITH PIANIST KIRILL GERSTEIN
Pianist Kirill Gerstein has become an increasingly esteemed visitor to North American and European concert halls these days, moving quite a distance from his original Gilmore Young Artist’s Award in 2002, his debut recording for Oehms Classics, and the initial intrigue over his jazz training. Gerstein was awarded the coveted Gilmore Artist Award in 2010 and subsequently has produced an enviable string of CD’s for the German company Myrios. Virtually all of these have received strong acclaim, and include the Brahms Viola Sonatas with Tabea Zimmermann, the 1879 version of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto, the Liszt Sonata, and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. His recording of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes has just been released. Very much in the spotlight, we thought it was time to sit down and really examine the artist’s development. In this interview, we spare niceties and move to some depth in revealing Gerstein’s perspective on his own progress, his repertoire choices and recording experiences, and his personal response to some current tendencies in the culture of classical music and performance. The interview took place in conjunction with his performance of the Brahms First Piano Concerto with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra under conductor Lahav Shani...See more.
CELEBRATING THE WEST COAST COMPOSERS: JEAN COULTHARD (1908-2000)
By David Gordon Duke (with critical notes by Geoffrey Newman)
This is the first in a series of portraits of West Coast composers, featuring Vancouver composer and former UBC professor Jean Coulthard. While her work rightly achieved strong and widespread appreciation during her lifetime, she is perhaps gaining even more reverence now. Just a year ago, BBC Radio 3 added Coulthard to its long-running series Composer of the Week – the first Canadian to be so chosen. The BBC has been currently interested in showcasing female composers, but one must presume that it was the sheer scope and quality of her compositions that was ultimately persuasive. Here was a 20th century woman from distant British Columbia who wrote in all the great classical genres, a composer who developed a unique (if conservative) voice, and whose best music has stood the test of time and critical scrutiny. This article examines Coulthard’s musical background, the distinctive features of her musical voice, and discusses a number of her works performed at an inspired concert at the Canadian Music Centre in Vancouver in early February...See more.
THE REJUVENATION OF THE CANADIAN MUSIC CENTRE: AN INTERVIEW WITH BC REGIONAL DIRECTOR SEAN BICKERTON
The Canadian Music Centre (CMC) has been a most valuable resource for Canadian composers, musicians, and educators ever since it formed in 1959. It has archived scores and recordings of Canada’s finest compositional efforts, and (since 1981) documented these through its ‘Centrediscs’ recordings, which now total just under 200 releases. It is a cause for celebration that the local CMC-BC has moved forward proactively this year by opening a 40-seat concert hall in downtown Vancouver – the Murray Adaskin Salon – and presenting a four-concert season. The organization has also furthered educational initiatives and located another B.C. ‘Creative Hub’ in Victoria. All of this is very adventurous, so it seemed worthwhile to sit down with British Columbia Director Sean Bickerton and find out where all the new ‘fire’ came from, how it was all made possible, and how it is progressing so far...See more.
FOUR DECADES OF HISTORICAL PERFORMANCE: AN INTERVIEW WITH VIOLINIST MONICA HUGGETT
If one wanted a broad picture of the evolution of historical performance, with intriguing little nuances revealed along the way, there would be few better musicians to talk to than Monica Huggett. She has been an unremitting force for four decades, well known early on from her associations with the Academy of Ancient Music and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and these days as Artistic Director of the Portland and Irish Baroque Orchestras, and Adviser to the Juilliard Historical Program. This interview traces the violinist’s experiences right from her early days when the authentic movement was just gathering momentum. Most important are her insights about how historical performance has developed out of a number of contrasting approaches that have cross-fertilized each other. Equally interesting are her ideas on where historical scholarship and performance practice still have room to grow, what she wants to achieve from an orchestra in interpretation, and how she has maintained an undiminished inspiration all this time. The interview took place in conjunction with the Vancouver Bach Festival in August 2016, where Monica Huggett directed the Pacific Baroque Orchestra in the Complete Bach Orchestral Suites...See more.
IN MEMORIAM: SIR NEVILLE MARRINER (15 April 1924 – 2 October 2016): AN APPRECIATION OF A 20TH CENTURY PIONEER
When a great performer reaches their 90’s, one knows that things cannot go on forever. But when the end finally comes, it is often interesting to note the reevaluations that one makes of a formidable and enterprising musical life. For many of us early on, Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin’s in the Fields was the prolific performing and recording force that knew no bounds, set estimable standards, and managed to achieve success in virtually any repertoire. Becoming a household name, it became easy to take the Academy for granted and, even by the 1970’s, some critics began to think that the ensemble’s performances had become a little too expert and polished for their own good. Yet the consistency in performance and recording was disarming and, while one seldom received earth-shaking interpretations from Sir Neville, one always got musicality, balance, and judgement – and a refreshing degree of innovation in repertoire and style. The level of technical execution was enviable. In retrospect, Sir Neville’s original objective to set up a small, conductor-less ‘egalitarian’ orchestra in 1958, flexibly bridging chamber music and the orchestral, turned out to be an a path-breaking template for small orchestral design and flexibility...See more.
THE PURSUIT OF DISCOVERY: AN INTERVIEW WITH CONDUCTOR JOHN STORGARDS
Over the last 5 years or so, Finnish conductor John Storgårds name is seemingly everywhere: his compelling performances with the BBC Philharmonic, his Proms appearances, his recent recordings of the complete Sibelius and Nielsen symphonies for Chandos, and many other recordings on Ondine, including his new Zemlinsky. Yet Maestro Storgårds, now 52, really only picked up a baton just over 20 years ago, spending most of his early career as a violinist and concertmaster. Even his early focus as a conductor was hardly standard: he endlessly sought out the scores of hitherto-neglected Finnish and Nordic composers, often premiering their works and putting them on record for the first time. These projects are still ongoing, perhaps even accelerating, and have been sufficiently extensive that the conductor already has over 50 recordings to his name. While Storgårds currently continues as Artistic Director of the Lapland Chamber Orchestra – an ensemble that is very close to his heart -- the conductor may be at a minor turning point at this moment. He has just relinquished his post as Music Director of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and, while carrying on as Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic, has now added the same appointment with the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa. Our discussion began with the latter, but quickly moved to the conductor’s general quest for discovery…See more.
FEATURED INTERVIEW: ENTERING THE ECLECTIC UNIVERSE OF PIANIST STEPHEN HOUGH
Having now recorded more than 50 widely-praised CDs, and known throughout the world for his stimulating concerts and vast repertoire, Stephen Hough has probably gained the status of Britain’s foremost pianist. He is certainly is its most visible. A unique winner of a MacArthur Fellowship in 2001, and an unrepentant blogger for the past 6 years, he has forged out almost a personal relationship with the international classical music community, offering perspectives on a myriad of topics, both musical and beyond. At the same time, one can hardly help but be impressed by his eclectic talents, not only as a pianist, but also a composer, and sometimes painter and novelist as well. This interview aims, like many of its predecessors, to probe and understand this endless variety of accomplishment – and what impels it -- while engaging on the equally difficult task of finding things that the artist has not already commented on. What is nice about talking with Stephen Hough is that no matter where you start, you seem to go in directions that you didn’t intend, and this can provide a continuing bounty of insight. So we started from obvious ‘events’: first, his just-released Hyperion recording of Janacek and Scriabin, and soon-to-be-released Dvorak Piano Concerto and, second, his world premiere of his own Piano Sonata No. 3 only a month or so ago. The interview took place during rehearsals for the Schumann Piano Concerto in Vancouver in November 2015, performed splendidly indeed...See more.
INTERVIEW: MATTHEW WHITE DISCUSSES THE NEW ENERGY AND INTEGRATION IN ‘EARLY MUSIC’ IN THE NORTHWEST
Over the past two decades, 42-year old Matthew White has been one of Canada’s most celebrated counter-tenors, singing at Glyndebourne, the Boston Early Music Festival, the New York City Opera, and also appearing with the Boston Baroque, Les Violons du Roy, and Tafelmusik. His over 20 CD’s are highlighted by collaborations with Phillipe Herreweghe, Dorothee Mields, and many other distinguished artists, and include his own Montreal-based ensemble Les Voix Baroques, which he directed from 1999 – 2014. His recording, Elegeia won a 2004 Cannes Classical Award for best new early music solo recording.
Starting in 2011, the singer started restricting his performance engagements, and moved with increased passion into administration. He assumed the position of Artistic Director of Early Music Vancouver in 2013, succeeding José Verstappen, who had led the organization with distinction for 35 years. Matthew White has all the youthful energy needed for such a position, and we were interested in finding out how all his art in singing could be transferred to an administrative calling. Catching up with him after a very successful 2015 Vancouver Summer Early Music Festival , this interview reveals the unflagging work Matthew has done to make early music more vibrant and integrated in the Northwest, as well as identifying some of the important economic challenges to doing so...See more.
FEATURED INTERVIEW: THE BORODIN QUARTET SPEAK ON THE SHOSTAKOVICH QUARTETS AND THEIR LEGACY: A CELEBRATION OF THE 70TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR
The Borodin Quartet has always been one of the world’s greatest chamber ensembles. Formed in 1945 with original members that briefly included the likes of cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and violist Rudolph Barshai, the string quartet has now gone through three incarnations. The linking force was cellist Valentin Berlinsky, who was a member of the quartet for 62 years before his retirement in 2007. The current group is in some respects relatively recent. First violin Ruben Aharonian and violist Igor Naidin joined in 1996, while cellist Vladimir Balshin took over for Berlinsky in 2007 and second violin Sergei Lomovsky came later in 2011. Vancouver was fortunate to be the only city in North America where the ensemble performed the entire quartet cycle: the works were played in consecutive order over five evenings this May. One reason for this celebration was doubtlessly that Eric Wilson, Artistic Director of Vancouver’s Friends of Chamber Music, had also invited the ensemble to perform the 11 then-written quartets in the much tougher times of the late 1960s. We were able to sit down with the Borodin Quartet between their second and third performances and talk all things Shostakovich. I thought this was a remarkably relaxed and wide ranging interview, and we were fortunate that violist Igor Naidin could communicate the essence of the group’s thoughts in English...See more.
THE GREAT CANADIAN ARTISTS: AN INTERVIEW WITH PIANIST ANGELA HEWITT
Angela Hewitt grew up in Ottawa, beginning her piano studies at the age of three. She gave her first full-length recital at the age of nine at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, where she studied from 1964 to 1973. She later studied with Jean-Paul Sevilla at the University of Ottawa. The pianist is now universally recognized for her path-breaking series of recordings of Bach’s keyboard works for Hyperion which began in 1994 and finished in 2005. She recorded the ultimate masterpiece, The Art of the Fugue, in 2014. Between those dates, many new discs of Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Debussy, Fauré, and others were also released. In 2005, Angela Hewitt launched the Trasimeno Music Festival in Umbria near Perugia, of which she is Artistic Director. A 10th anniversary concert takes place in London this spring. The pianist is also an Ambassador for The Leading Note Foundation’s ’Orkidstra’: a social engagement and development program in Ottawa’s inner city. Angela Hewitt was named ‘Artist of the Year’ at the 2006 Gramophone Awards and was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours of the same year. She was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2000...See more.
ARTICLE: THE RISE OF THE FEMALE CONDUCTOR
One of the outstanding trends over the past thirty years is the strides that women have made in gaining education and skills, allowing them to enter many new fields with high qualifications. With some success, women have been able to penetrate many of the world’s symphony orchestras too. However, there has long been resistance, especially in Europe, to the idea that female musicians could gain the ultimate prize: an appointment as Principal Conductor and Music Director of a major orchestra. Indeed, it was not that many years ago that the illustrious Herbert von Karajan resigned from the Berlin Philharmonic over the orchestra’s refusal to allow the appointment of a single female instrumentalist: clarinetist Sabine Meyer. And up to only a decade ago, the Vienna Philharmonic simply did not accept female appointments at any position...See more.
UBC School of Music
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