Archive for November, 2006

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.

For another review of Slowind goto
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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