Archive for June, 2009

Jacques Israelievitch and his Beethoven Violin Sonata Marathon reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Sunday, June 21, 2009, Gallery 345, Toronto.

Beethoven’s ten sonatas for piano and violin, over shadowed from the composer’s time until the present by his symphonies, quartets and piano sonatas, are beginning to come into their own with critics as well as performers.

Jacques Israelievitch, veteran concertmaster (now retired) of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra has undertaken the extraordinary initiative of presenting all ten sonatas in one marathon eight hour performance (breaks included). For this performance, and for a repeat performance in Chautauqua N.Y. in July, Mr. Israelievitch has partnered with an outstanding pianist, Kanae Matsumoto. Ms. Matsumoto’s playing was unfailingly crisp, warm and sensitive throughout the fiendishly difficult piano parts of two sonatas of the final set that I was able to attend.

Sonata No.9 in A Major, Op. 47 “Kreutzer”(1803) opens with a feverish movement that inspired Tolstoy to fictionalize it in his story The Kreutzer Sonata as an example of the power music has to release murderous rage in an individual. A slow, brooding, introduction in the violin’s low register creates a mood of raw, earthy passion, edged with a determined harshness. Then the piano rolls in behind the wild flourishes of violin and together they run a furious steeplechase that I found totally exhilarating. Both players bring enough virtuosity to dazzle in the technically demanding parts, complex chords, cadenzic interludes, breaks in rhythm, and changes in tempo.

The Andante that follows opens with a wonderfully lyrical piano passage that feels like a lover calling—like the voice of Echo calling to Narcissus. Beethoven develops this theme in variations ranging through moods of triple metre playfulness, minor key meditation, followed by an airy, ornamental part that resolves into solemnity that itself dissolves in the carefree coda.

The Rondo Finale is a hell-bent-for leather tarantella that recalls the first movement. The raw, gritty, dark-edged vigour of the violin contrasts with the crisp, precise, subtle, lighthearted dance of the piano. It is noticeable that this work from the early Vienna stage of Beethoven’s career (just before the Eroica) shows his innovation in making the violin part equal in importance to the piano.

The Violin Sonata No. 10, Op. 96 (1812) belongs to the post-heroic middle period of the Archduke Trio where Beethoven has shifted the focus of his chamber music away from the sweeping symphonic ideal towards a more pastoral lyricism.  Israelievitch’s tone in the arcadian idyll of the first movement matches more closely the refined warmth of Matsumoto. The players begin to feel like a duo. The music is restorative.

In the elegaic Adagio, repeated patterns of the piano create an obsessive tension over which the breathy bowing of the violin indicate a very human suggestion of grieving a loss, perhaps the loss of certainty that life will go on without interruption. The Scherzo and concluding Poco Allegro provide a kind of toe-tapping release of tension that changes places with moods that include the slow, sombre and the gruff qualities of the earlier Kreutzer Op.47. The concluding measures are a brisk, lightfooted dance.

It is always a privilege to hear chamber music in a space like Gallery 345 which combines the feeling of public concert hall with the up close and personal intimacy of a private room or ‘chamber’.  A space like this works wonders for the imagination during a first rate recital, like this Beethoven Violin Sonata Marathon. Your next chance to hear the duo Israelievitch/Matsumoto perform it is on July 19, in Chautauqua, NY.

News in Music

Monday, June 15th, 2009

TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival Is Not Cancelled

Toronto – Despite the ongoing city strike, the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival will still be taking place at Nathan Phillips Square, starting on Friday June 26 and running to Sunday July 5.  The strike will not affect any of the Festival’s 350+ performances.

“The Festival is a self-contained event, run independently from the City. It is business as usual for the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival and we are looking forward to kicking off summer for our 23rd consecutive year,” states Patrick Taylor, Executive Producer. “As the City’s largest music festival, we look forward to putting on another great event.”

For more information about the Festival visit

Fourth Annual TORONTO SUMMER MUSIC FESTIVAL From July 21 to August 14. The Full Story is Here.

Koerner Hall Grand Opening Festival, September 25-October 17. The Grand Opening on the evening of Glenn Gould’s birthday, will feature the following artists: Royal Conservatory Orchestra with pianist Anton Kuerti, conducted by Jean-Philippe Tremblay. Special guests will include the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and vocal soloists Erin Wall, Wallis Giunta, Richard Margison, and Robert Pomakov.  The programme will include Spirits of the House, a world premiere by R. Murray Schafer, especially commissioned by Michael Koerner for this occasion, and Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy

Koerner Hall will be an acoustically superb, 1135-seat venue, providing a unique audience experience for all genres of music. Every seat in the new Koerner Hall has a completely unobstructed view of the stage creating an intimate atmosphere at every performance.

View the complete concert schedule, ticket, subscription and venue information

Scroll down for PREVIEWS—Your Going Out Guide

Monday, June 15th, 2009

Five O’Clock Bells reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

Saturday, June 13, 2009,Berkeley Street Theatre, Toronto.

5 O’clock Bells is about the life of Lennie Breau, a prodigy at 6, dead at 43. Guitar legend Chet Atkins said, when he discovered Lennie in a Winnipeg club, “You have replaced me as the greatest guitarist in the world.”

Written and performed as a one man show by Pierre Brault, 5 O’clock Bells (title of the first Lennie Breau tune Brault ever heard) epitomizes the drama of Lennie’s prodigious gift (that his ever loving mother worried he’d “opened too fast”), his two marriages turned disastrous by career conflicts and hard drugs, and Lennie’s ‘untimely’ death—an unsolved homicide (he was found strangled, without water in his lungs, at the bottom of his second wife’s L.A. rooftop swimming pool.)

Pierre Breault draws you into his intention and never lets you go, right from the opening scene (image of a spread-eagled silhouette of a body revolving face down in water, projected on a screen behind Breault crouching in a fluid spin that revolves into him as Lennie’s mother with the phone to her ear pleading with Lennie to come home).

Brault morphs successively into: Lennie’s father (who let his eight year old ‘progeny’ into the family country music act and kicked him out when teen aged Lennie discovered jazz); Lennie’s frustrated first wife (“Get off the toilet with that guitar”); Chet Atkins; Don Francks who got Lennie into New York and into drugs (“To help you feel the music”); and Lennie’s second wife, a gospel singer who was suspected of but never prosecuted for finally bringing Lennie to Jesus in her L.A.swimming pool.

Brault’s pallete of vocal intonations accented French-Canadian (mother), faux-Nashville (father), 70’s Toronto hip (Francks), makes engaging music in its own way, and helps him build a texture that maintains its freshness for 75 minutes, assisted by Brian Quirt’s  razor knife direction on Brian Smith’s fine stage, with the telling of Lennie’s story ingeniously cued by Martin Conboy’s lighting. Paul Boudreau, off stage, supplies just enough (never enough) guitar riffs to give us a sense of the kind of music making that this play is all about.

5 O’clock Bells, a Great Canadian Theater Company / Sleeping Dog Theater Company production premiered in Ottawa before coming to the Luminato Festival. A lot of what we know about Lennie Breau is due to the work of his friend and student, Randy Bachman, who nurtured Lennie in life and protects his legacy through the  Guitarchives project.

There is a lot of reverence in the world for the extraordinary life and art of Lennie Breau. No doubt, Pierre Breault will take his tribute on tour. If you have a chance, catch it.

LUMINATO & SOUNDSTREAMS present R. Murray Schafer’s opera “The Children’s Crusade” reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Friday, June 12th, 2009

Thursday, June 11, 2009,153 Dufferin Street, Toronto.

R. Murray Schafer’s opera The Children’s Crusade is about entering unknown spaces.

For the audience this means locating the address of a disused warehouse, locating the entrance, and standing in a black cloth walled enclosure not knowing whether the performance will come to us or we walk to it (as turned out to be the case).

For Schafer’s characters, in particular the ‘Holy Child’ played by Jacob Abrahamse, entering the unknown means venturing to believe in a visionary figure who gives him a letter from god that instructs him to gather an army of children. It means seeking permission of the King of France to lead this army (20,000 kids according to historical legends) 600 km., on foot, to Marseilles where they can expect the sea will open and let them walk on dry land to Jerusalem. There, gates will open and admit them to the company of the Muslim and Jewish children who are waiting for them to establish world peace through love.

For the audience, this exercise in open-ness works out pretty well. We surged into a huge darkened industrial space not knowing exactly how to orient ourselves to a platform where spotlights picked out a dozen white robed girls standing in a cage, adjacent to a perch with three musicians. One of the musicians rubs the tubes of a complex TV antenna rig with gloved hands, making weird keening sounds, while his colleague bows a saw, and Ryan Scott bows the metal keys of a vibraphone.

To Schafer’s post-modern celestial music the choir of angels begins a chant in Latin. A boy wearing the clothes he put on this morning to go to school walks from the dark of right field down a long lighted ramp towards the musicians, singing that he is the ‘Holy Child’, and the ‘Magus’ (Diego Matamoros) enlists him in the mission.

The conception of this production is magical. Directed by Tim Albery, designed, lighted and choreographed by Leslie Travers, Thomas Hase and Rebecca Terry respectively, the opera dares to send actors, musicians, choirs, dancers and the audience on repeated migrations through dark and wet places (recreating, for some of us, hints of the discomfort of the children in the historical crusade).

One set the audience walks through is piled with packing cases housing dimly visible streetkids. One set is a red-light infernal brothel-like temptatorium; the court of the king is a fashion show catwalk. Huge choruses of adults and of children enter the audience from any direction and move among us singing. David Houle wearing a suit and yarmulke kicks up red sand dancing in a box where he eventually dies and is covered by his Muslim sister, Maryam Toller.

It is like being inside an audio-video 7.1 surround system.

Schafer’s music is an eclectic mix of modern atonal, classical, medieval, secular, ecclesiastical and oriental modes played on instruments ancient, electronic, exotic (George Sawa on the ‘Qanum’) and rare (Anders Adin on the hurdy-gurdy). Schafer’s libretto is less convincing and the acting/speaking performances (with the exception of Matamoros) are mostly going through the motions and don’t make it into drama.

The choirs and choruses, the musicians directed by David Fallis, all rank up there with the direction in the satisfying category. The libretto, the acting, the speaking, and Jacob Abrahamse’s singing, forceful and high but without much texture, colour or subtlety, kept me on the outside looking in on the idealistic and tragic material of this story.

At story’s end, the children are all drowned in black waters, brilliantly staged as black clad dancers flattened on the floor who rise in simulation of waves and literally drag the struggling children down to lie still beside them. Thus, ‘the orphans of France are liquidated’ and enter into the unknown attended by a choir of angels singing that they will have eternal joy because they have seen the face of god.


Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

June 26-July 5, TD TORONTO JAZZ FESTIVAL Tickets. Schedules,Venue :: June 28-July 2, 2009.  INTERNATIONAL ORGAN FESTIVAL – For complete details, please visit :: July 21 to August 14, Fourth Annual TORONTO SUMMER MUSIC FESTIVAL, Highlights, Schedule, Venues&Tickets ::July 25 to August 8, OTTAWA INTERNATIONAL CHAMBERMUSIC FESTIVAL, The Full Story ::