Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

ARNOLD SCHOENBERG: A PORTRAIT reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Friday, November 10th, 2006

Thursday, November 9, 2006,
Art of Time Ensemble, Andrew Burashko, artistic director.
Presented by BMO Financial,
Harbourfront Centre Theatre, Toronto.

Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt–readers, Robin Engelman–conductor, Marie Bedard & Ben Bowman–violin, Josef Tamir–viola, Thomas Weibe & David Hetherington–cello, Joseph Orlowski–Clarinet, Susan Hoeppner–flute, Andrew Burashko–piano.

Andrew Burashko lives in the challenge. His goal is to gather lovers of classical and popular music into one audience, as they were in the past, before classical music went atonal and became unpopular. To accomplish this goal, Burashko challenged the opening-night audience of his Art of Time Ensemble’s ninth season with a concert celebrating the very man who made classical music unpopular: Arnold Schoenberg.

The concert was totally a success. This is the fourth season Burashko has presented “Arnold Schoenberg: A Portrait,” always with a crew of the finest players in the country. The Art of Time Ensemble revealed the lush, sensuous, side of Schoenberg’s music that anyone could enjoy. The 12-tone side that had alienated audiences in the distant past they played directly to our taste for subtlety and intelligence.

The programme presented Schoenberg’s works in reverse order of composition, beginning with the most challenging one, “Ode to Napoleon Op.41 (1942)” for speaker, string quartet and piano. Schoenberg set the English poet Byron’s spew of contempt for Napoleon in defeat (1814) in a quasi 12-tone scena with a miniature overture that echoes the relentless questioning of Byron’s text. The fall of the mighty and it’s native contrast of power and impotence animate this intense, dramatic, piece that Schoenberg wrote in almost in a single sitting while extricating himself from Hitler’s web.

It opens wonderfully with Burashko pounding out staccato tones on the piano while the violins and viola emit screeching lines, and the cellos pulse pizzicato. In the midst of this din of battle, Ted Dykstra ‘speaksings’ Byron’s poem from a text notated for rhythm and pitch, whose pages he lets fall to the floor, like pages of history. The instrumental and vocal passages range in mood from chaotic turmoil that ramps down to mortal terror, which in turn, gives way to slower passages of mourning, tender pathos, and finally, to silence.

The message of Schoenberg’s music is in the form: the message is ‘freedom’. Each instrumental voice is freed from the confines of tonal harmony, sounding like itself, alone, and in concert with the other emancipated instrumental voices, all expressing the working out of the composer’s journey towards freedom–in every sense of that word.

Schoenberg’s 1925 arrangement of by Johann Strauss’ Emperor Waltz, Op. 437(1888), takes us back to the musical splendour of Imperial Vienna. Strauss represents wildly successful 19th century pop music. The potency of Strauss’ single tonal progressions, and their immensely skillful architecture attracted Schoenberg’s mentor Gustav Mahler, and inspired Anton Webern and Alban Berg, Schoenberg’s students in the Second Viennese School, to do arrangements of Strauss, if only to breathe new life into traditional Viennese culture.

The stately “Introduction” to the waltz in slow march time (2/4), leads via a cello solo into the first theme which Schoenberg and Art of Time Ensemble make into something gorgeous, lugubrious, lyrical, and lightly self-mocking. Schoenberg has spiked Strauss with an elixir of expressive freedom, creating new textures, timbres, daring theatricality and humour that has the musicians grinning at each other. The second theme is introduced by clarinet and flute, which are clarion voices of the enhanced intelligence Schoenberg has brought to the waltz. In the closing section, solo violin and trilling piano recall the first waltz theme arranged to show the glory of Imperial Vienna fading into memory. A magical moment.

This grand evening finishes on a Romantic note with “Verklarte Nacht, Op.4 (1899)”, Schoenberg’s ‘greatest hit’. Inspired by the compositions of Brahms and Wagner, this piece is still within the tonal system, though on the edge of it, and is still close to the Romantic programme style of compositions developed by Berlioz, Wagner, and R. Strauss

The music expresses the feelings of a young couple in a poem (written by Richard Dehmel in 1896) who are walking in the moonlight to talk about her pregnancy by another man. The cello goes low and the viola follows in a throbbing largo that introduces the motif of the woman’s anguish in a minor key. The consoling words of the man shift the composition into a brighter, though dissonant major. The violins and violas converse elegantly among dark swells of low register tones. The violins sing plaintively, the cellos rumble, the violas are plucked like living nerves, and a couple of soft, dark chords seal the end of this old fashioned walk.

For a chaser, here is a different view of the evening in this mini-interview with an audience member.

STM: What did you think of the performance?
Vladimir Payewich: I am very satisfied. The “Waltz”, the adaptation of Strauss, is a little commercial. The real Schoenberg is in “Verklarte Nacht.”
STM: Are you a musician?
VP: Unfortunately not. But I am addicted to music.
STM: What did you think of the “Ode to Napoleon”?
VP: I never heard it before, but that is what I was expecting. It is almost the real Schoenberg. I prefer his earlier sprechtgesang piece “Pierre Lunaire.”
STM: What does Schoenberg’s music give you?
VP: To be perfectly honest, I am from Europe. I grew up with this kind of music. It is rare in Canada to find performances that are similar to this. That is one reason why I enjoyed this concert– it made me feel at home, absolutely. One more reason is that I understand completely what made Schoenberg write his “Ode” back in 1942.

LINK: For another thoughtful review of this performance by Joyce Corbett


Monday, November 6th, 2006

Sunday, November 5, 2006
The Music Gallery, Toronto

Ales Kacjan–Flute, Matej Sarc–Oboe, Jurij Jenko–Clarinet, Metod Tomac–Horn, Paolo Calligaris–Bassoon

The photograph shows three members of the Slowind Wind Quintet working together during their New Music Concerts recital at the Music Gallery in Toronto. The piece they are playing, “Augustin, Good is the Wine” composed in 2002 by Slowind’s fellow Slovene, Vinko Globokar, is “ a search for acoustic phenomena, which occurs with the connection of various wind instruments.”

This search for range and connections of wind instruments was characteristic of the thoughtfully themed programme that included important works by celebrated composers such as Ligeti, Jurg Wittenbach, and Robert Aitken.

Another unifying thematic element was the dramatic component employed extensively during Slowind’s outrageous performance of the Wittenbach as well in as the Globokar piece. The sense here is that we were not listening to ‘Darmstadt School’- art for art’s sake music to which no social meaning could be attached. This is music that, in Globokar’s words, has a role, “as a critic of today’s society. Every form of organization and culture can be brought into the life in music.

The power of this music, performed by incredibly competent musicians like Slowind, was evident last night in its spontaneous impact. This mini-interview with Lucio Amato speaks for itself in that regard:

“It was extremely unexpected. I didn’t know anything about it until about an hour before the show when my friend here invited me to come. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Entirely unexpected. I didn’t understand it at all. Still, I enjoyed it and I’m happy I came. I can’t say the music is something I’d sit down and listen to very often at all, but still I’m extremely happy that I came.”

Continuing with our audience survey, Allan Pulker, flautist and publisher of “WholeNote” had this to say:

AP The dramatic element was present–unusual for a chamber music recital, of course, like putting the instruments together in a line, the clarinet into the oboe, into that the flute, and the players moving their fingers to alter the oboist’s sound. It was an interesting idea. I don’t know if it was an everlasting, eternal work of art, but it was certainly fun.

Wittenbach makes the point that in a string quartet you have four homogenous sounding instruments. In a woodwind quintet, you have five very different sounding instruments so you write around the contrasts, rather than the consonance of the instruments. I think we heard that in all the pieces. It was nice that in the beginning of Bob Aitken’s piece, “Folia” each instrument began by itself and you could hear its voice.

STM Ligeti’s monumental “10 Pieces for Wind Quintet (1968)” which we heard, is also structured to give voice to the 5 individual instruments. The other five movements are written for the ensemble in general. In this way, each of the instrumental ‘ego’s’, to use Wittenbach’s phrase has it’s moment of rulership. How would you as a flautist see the challenge of working with this music?

AP There was multiphonics for the oboe, clarinet, and even horn. There was a lot of moving around between piccolo, flute and alto flute, particularly in the Ligeti piece. I think it would be very challenging and therefore interesting to master the challenges and work together. There is a strong element of teamwork, regardless of the outer personality differences between the instruments. I could see myself playing that music in an ensemble. I also like it that you felt the effects viscerally–they penetrate your whole body. These instruments are capable of very intense explosions of sound.

STM Did you have a favourite piece?

AP The beginning of Bob Aitken’s piece, “Folia (1980)”.

STM Yes. I enjoyed the relationship between the seemingly random order of notes and the seemingly random distribution of foliage on autumn trees. Aitken has written about this piece, “the music follows an idea of all things relating and flowing into each other….” The full humanity of the music struck me suddenly, viscerally—as you put, it near the end of the piece when Metod Tomac, the horn player alternated poignant voicings of his horn with vocal voicings that sounded like “HELP ME.” That rivetted me.

His playing also reminded me of how the late great Sonny Terry would blow fast riffs on his blues harp and shout in the spaces between them so he sounded like two people. That same memory came back to me in a different way during the finale of Wittenbach’s zany theatrical piece “Serenade vor Luftschlossen (Serenade Before Castles in the Clouds, 2003/05/06)”

In addition to playing the notes, the musicians were jiving, doing hand jive, and jiving with their instruments, dancing around and jiving with words, and all sorts of toys and props. At first I thought they were sort of just having fun, but near the end I started to hear some melancholy strains that had a bluesy sound, and it hit me: they were doing all that jive to chase the blues away. The message was not just musical, but personal and social at the same time. Then, the sonic boom of a low-flying jet zoomed across the room, came back, boomed us a second time, and the room went black. That was it. That is how the concert finished. With a boom from the Balkans. Wow.

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Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

Tuesday, October 31, 2006, 8pm, Jane Mallett Theatre.
, pianist.

As Simon Trpceski shapes the closing section of Chopin’s “Fourth Scherzo, in E Major, Op. 54”, one has the sense of a lovely sea-breeze blowing through french doors that open onto a patio overlooking a starlit sea murmuring of endless love. The audience in Jane Mallett Theatre rises to its feet and their applause earns four encores, including Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”, which Trpceski plays wearing a mask in honour of Halloween.

The four Brahms Intermezzo’s (Op.117 and Op.118 No.2) that opened the evening introduced the Toronto audience to Trpceski’s touch which is polished smooth and even: whether he’s playing fortissimo or pianissimo there is a signature sense of control and rightness. These works, being from the composer’s later years, are gentle, poignant and reflective. Brahms referred to them by phrases such as “cradle of my sorrows,” and “lullaby of all my griefs”. Trpceski’s playing somehow brings out the narrative or recitative quality of the melodies. Oddly, one has the thought that Kurt Weill and Jacques Brel knew these pieces and learned from them how to tell a nostalgic story.

A member of the audience we interviewed at intermission had this to say about the performance:

“I felt that the Brahms “Three Intermezzos, Op. 117” were played as if they were a bit of an exercise for what was to come later. I didn’t feel they had any meaning or that Trpceski had anything to say with them. Trpceski’s strength is his very fine feeling about things, but he needs to play a piece that has something to say before that feeling finds a vehicle. The Brahms “Op.118” was quite interesting and had something to say to me. The Debussy “Images II” was just marvelous, clouds floating, dispersing and changing. Technically fabulous and warmth with feeling: my kind of Debussy. Mind you, in the third piece from “Images”, when he became very fast and forceful, there was something very not right about it. I liked the first two Debussy pieces better.”

After the intermission, Trpceski played Scriabin’s “Piano Sonata No. 2 in G sharp minor, Opus 19”, published in 1897, after Scriabin’s honeymoon trip to the Black Sea (the Sea’s moods provided the composer with an underlying programme for the music). The first movement, Andante, begins with romantic echoing effects, followed by two nostalgic lyrical sections. After a rhapsodic, stormy climax, the piece subsides, modulating to E major and the lyrical liquid tones of the first sections are restated. The second movement Presto, in sharp contrast to the first movement, is very fast and intense. Alternating crescendos and decrescendos suggest the impression of waves, or the hectic traffic of the bloodstream. Trpceski navigates the rapidly shifting velocities and densities in a masterly fashion and brings the final crashing chords to quietus in a safe harbour.

Chamber Music Downtown, presented by Music Toronto, in its 35th season with the assistance of many private and corporate donors including Toronto Arts Council, Ontario Arts Council, Canada Council for the Arts, Canadian Heritage. For more information contact:, and


Friday, October 27th, 2006

Thursday, October 26, 2006 1:30 p.m.
I MUSICI DE MONTRÉAL baroque chamber orchrestra
Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building, University of Toronto.

A performance that nudges your insight deeper into the musical code of a composition is a good performance. Yuli Turovsky conducting his I Musici de Montreal accomplished this clarifying nudge for me in “Chamber Symphony, Op 73a” by Dmitri Shostakovitch.

The piece is a transcription of Shostakovich’s “String Quartet No.3 in F Major, Op. 73”(1946), instantly recognizable by its insouciant opening theme. Being insouciant in the Stalinist USSR was hazardous. Music was supposed to be “transparent and understandable.” However, this piece is full of a kind of veiled mockery, creepy carelessness of correctness, and a sense that some standard or other is being burlesqued. These are the qualities that Turovsky seems to emphasize, particularly through the growl of the low register strings towards the end of the first movement.

He brings out the coded joke in the music, and the audience showed they got the joke by chuckling when the movement ended.

The work of transcription was done by conductor and violist Rudolf Barshai, a friend of Shostakovich and violist in the Borodin Quartet. This same transcription was performed and recorded by the Tapioloa Sinfonietta under the baton of Jean-Jacques Kantorow on the Bis label in a more lightly coloured version. In Kantorow’s version, you don’t quite get it as the ‘what, me worry?’ passages accelerate into staccato strains of desperation and outright panic. But Turovsky’s low register strings bring collective doom down on the plaintive, lyric voice of the violins. Nevertheless, this voice endures and persists in the end as a niggun-like melody, free from any dogmatic principles, that sings itself into a mood of ecstatic irrationality.

I was interested to find a high contrast of opinions during the interviews that took place at after the performance. Here, first, is M. Walker, violist with the York Symphony:

MW: Very precise, very well played, but the first violins are not communicating very well with the rest of the group. In the Sinphonia Toronto, the first violinist has something really special about her that kind of radiates through the group, and their conductor, Nurhan Arman is very personable—he gets out there and talks to the audience. Turovsky is not so sweet and it affects what goes on in the group. I Musici’s concertmaster, though she’s tremendously competent, she doesn’t seem to have a lot of real involvement with the music, in the sense of being genuinely overwhelmed by it. That is what Etsuko Kimura, concertmaster of the Sinfonia Toronto has. Other than that, the groups are very similar. And I have to repeat; I Musici’s playing is flawless. Turovsky’s conducting is conventional but very nicely done.

Here is what Bev Chernoff of Toronto had to say:

BC. I loved the program. Some of it I was familiar with, but I did not know Skalkottas and the “Five Greek Dances.” I enjoyed that particularly. I know I Musici from their CD’s and I think they are fantastic. They have a beautiful, mellow sound. Turovsky appears to me to be very enthusiastic and to be enjoying the music himself very much. That comes through his body language. The music he elicits from the group is very cohesive. His cello playing of de Falla’s “Spanish Folksongs” was very precise and, yes, emotional. I also noticed that during “Bartok’s Rumanian Folk Dances” several members of the ensemble looked like they were about to break out into dance.

ESPRIT ORCHESTRA reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

ESPRIT ORCHESTRA, Sunday, October 22, 2006. SANCTUARY

The magic of Gyorgi Ligeti’s “Melodien”, as performed by Esprit Orchestra conducted by Alex Pauk, is that it allows the individuality of each sound to arise distinct and separate before it merges with the texture of the whole sonorous fabric Ligeti has woven. The effect is similar to the way Ezra Pound conveyed how he experienced faces of Parisians in his poem “In A Station of the Metro”:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Both artists democratize their perceptions, rather than lose them in broad general forms. Ligeti’s composition develops a massive but dignified energy that naturally resolves into a quiet peace.

One of Canada’s most highly regarded and most often performed composers, Alexina Louie, kindly offered these observations at intermission:

Ligeti thought of music in a different way. His concept of multiple voices, instead of having each voice clearly understood as in a Bach fugue, the voices were in small incremental lines that all the players would have that they would weave together into a texture. It is wonderful how the music in tonight’s performance of “Melodien” dissolved into its quintessential note at the end. That takes skill and art—to take the listener on this journey from very intricate lines with all of these textures to one single note at the end. It is remarkable–and hard to play–by the way.

STM: How about the George Benjamin piece “Three Inventions for Chamber Orchestra”? If the orchestra is one instrument, then the timbres he gets out of it –one has never heard them before. It is like a completely new instrument.

AL: If you heard my pre-concert talk, I mentioned that Benjamin studied in France, and that is where colour, texture, and timbre are really practiced. Benjamin’s palette is unique in getting new sounds out of the instruments. In the piece we just heard, Benjamin is working with blocks of sound and color rather than separation and purity within a texture as Ligeti does. Benjamin is working with the sound of the brasses, or the answering of the percussion from one side of the stage to another. He is also working the instruments in these filigrees of texture. He has the woodwinds joining with the strings at one point and everything is rising up, and cymbals begin to sound gently and there is this surprising big bang on the drum at the end.

Following intermission, we heard two pieces by our own Paul Frehner and Brian Current, two composers who are rapidly rising above the musical horizon. Frehner’s “Sanctuary” is full of new orchestral timbres, arising peacefully from textures of bell-like harp tones, whispering strings and pulsing tom-toms to the martial tones of blaring horns. This dramatic and compelling music is, surprisingly, inspired by a somewhat programmatic storyline, an account of which follows in a paraphrase of Frehner’s own telling in the pre-concert talk. “Sanctuary” is my reaction to the tsunami that struck the countries around the Indian Ocean in 2004. “Sanctuary” is a reflection on sanctuary lost and an expression of hope. The piece is divided into two movements. In the first expansive movement, I am trying to depict an imaginary haven in a vast landscape that evolves over time. Many solos emerge and fade back into the texture, like voices of individuals that are heard briefly before passing on. The second movement shatters the idyllic mood. It depicts a situation spiraling out of control as people lose power of decision to irresistible outside forces. At the end, there is a brief, fragmented return to soloistic material from the first movement.

“Kazabazua” by Brian Current is exciting music, finely-grained and dense stretches of sound released by huge percussive shocks into a poignant quiescence. In his commentary, Mr. Current speaks of experimenting with “ constantly accelerating tempos…as if written for a metronome that only gets faster. The piece phases through cycles of momentum to renewal.

After the concert, Ellen Nichols offered this comment: “ My rule of thumb is always if instantly I want to hear it again, then it’s music that really struck me, and I feel that way about both pieces. I would give anything to have them play it again.”

TAFELMUSIK reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

Sunday, October 22, 3:30pm, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre
FRESH BAROQUE:Tafelmusik’s Brilliant New Talents

Baroque music is a stairway to heaven that rises by orderly degrees, or plumbs the depths with dignified, stately steps. No ensemble conducts these journeys with more precision and grace than Tafelmusik. Mary K. Schauntz, a regular patron had this to say about the FRESH BAROQUE concert:

“The music satisfies a part of me that needs quiet, a certain order, because I tend to be a person who is very intense. I find a great peace in this music. I like it that Tafelmusik is constantly introducing new composers and new pieces that I have not heard, and this is very special. For instance, I enjoyed the new piece composed by Allen Whear. He includes some modern, dissonant elements, but he also has tradtional musical elements like melody and rhythmic pulses for the body to enjoy.”

Other pieces newly introduced were “Overture in G Minor” by John Helmich Roman (1694-1758), and “Overture no. 6 in G Minor” by Francesco Maria Veracini (1685-1768). The highlight of the programme was the premier of the piece entitled “Short Story”, composed on commission for Tafelmusik by resident cellist Allen Whear. Here is what the composer had to say about the piece in an interview.

ALLEN WHEAR: The ‘Story’ in the title refers to the experience of having melodies you’re familiar with from playing so many times flow through you, and in the process the melodies break down and change as you go home after concert and rehearsal. These elements mix in with all the other music you know, and you play around with that process.”
STM: Is there some kind of story or whole that emerged from this process?
AW: It did kind of form itself loosely into a structure, a kind of sonata rondo structure in that I had an introduction, a principal theme which returns, a secondary theme in the dominant key, and I had short developments so it’s very concentrated. I didn’t write it with a form in mind, but eventually the motives kind of took form. That’s the story.
STM: Is it helpful to think of “Short Story” as ‘modern baroque’?
AW: Not really. It’s written for a Baroque ensemble, I use Classical principles of composition, and it has a romantic sentiment. It’s a mixture of all of those things, and that too is the story, I guess. When I was studying cello in school, composers were expected to write in a more academic style to be accepted. Now, luckily, we live in more eclectic times, and now you are free to write a melody and write it in with more strident themes. The other connection with the Baroque is in that time many of the composers were performers, and there wasn’t such a divide between composers and performers and audiences. My idea was to write accessibly for the performers that I know and for the audience that I know.

The program included pieces from the standard repetoire. One was J.S. Bach’s “Concerto for 3 violins in D Major, after BWV 1064” featuring the finely tuned and eye-catching trio of Julia Wedman, Aisslin Nosky & Christina Zacharias. Vivaldi’s “Concerto for bassoon in A Minor, RV 498” with Dominic Teresi had many of the ensemble players grinning with delight. SF