Former Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio member, Madagascar-born, Toronto-based soprano Yannick-Muriel Noah, was one of the six top winners at the annual George London Foundation competition in New York City on Friday.
Noah, born in 1979, has done well in several international competitions in the last few years. The George London prize comes with a $10,000 cheque. Some winners also get an associated recital date.
For more information on the competition and other winners, visit: http://www.georgelondon.org/
For a short article on the competition in today's New York Times, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/23/arts/music/23geor.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper
(The photo above is from a concert with Toronto's Cantores Celestes in 2008)
For some of us, even sweeter than the arrival of spring is
the Toronto Consort’s season-closing programme, which in the last few years has
featured something Italian from the early Baroque period.
This year’s work is the dazzling Vespers of 1610 (also known
as the Vespers of the Blessed Virgin), by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643).
The Consort, augmented to 12 singers and 18 orchestra
members playing period-specific instruments, delivered a spectacularly good
reading at the first performance last night at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.
Because of the combination of forces needed, the Vespers are
not performed often. Given how carefully music director David Fallis has
crafted this interpretation, tonight’s repeat performance really is a
Monteverdi’s over-the-top setting of the Roman Catholic
evening service of Vespers was published in 1610 but not likely performed (either
whole or in part) until a few years later, when the composer took over the job
of music director at the Cathedral of St. Mark in Venice.
Since the score was rediscovered about 80 years ago, the
Vespers have been hailed as one of the Baroque-era’s great masterpieces and
have usually been performed as a large, integral work.
As with just about everything in human affairs, the musical
pendulum slowly swings between plainness and excess. The Monteverdi Vespers
come from a time when less was less and more was more.
The service of Vespers is a simple affair dating back to
Medieval times, with prayers and Scripture readings interspersed with Psalms
and the Magnificat, also known as the "Song of Mary." In Monteverdi’s day, like
now, smallchurches would not have
had the means to hire accomplished singers and an orchestra, and would have had
a cantor and small male choir sing the service in metred plainchant.
Monteverdi, aiming to please a wealthy duke or prince -- or
powerful cardinal -- took the standard plainchant and dressed it up in the
musical equivalent of richly coloured silks, lace, embroideries and shiny
Each of six vocal parts sings something different, weaving
around the chant in sometimes playful, sometimes dissonant garlands. The
orchestra follows suit, creating a glowing, pulsing aural tapestry that is
often overwhelming in its rich detail.
Augmented by many extra bits of sacred text -- which Fallis has carefully edited to fit the Feast of the Anunciation, which falls on Wednesday -- these two hours
of music amount to the most pleasant kind of sonic overload, especially when
done as well as last night.
Monteverdi rarely indicates what the full orchestration for
his large-scale sacred and operatic works should be. But Fallis has followed
current convention in augmenting the core players (called continuo -- primarily
organ, lute and theorbo) with a string section (most, members of the Tafelmusik
Baroque Orchestra) and winds, including sackbuts.
The result was a deep, dynamic sound, always in balance with
the nicely-matched voices.
Although all the voices get a chance to shine in various
solo and group permutations, the star of the performance was veteran English
tenor Charles Daniels, who displayed the full range of his expressive,
tastefully ornamented singing.
The other non-local singer present was young Flemish
countertenor Gunther Vandeven. But, curiously, he wasn’t offered any solo or
Overall, Fallis pulled together a performance as close to
ideal as one can expect -- short of hearing it in a large and
acoustically more lively space, such as St. Mark’s Cathedral.
This is one of the season’s big musical treats. Don't miss it.
For tickets to tonight’s performance, call 416-964-6337.
More info at www.torontoconsort.org
Here are two samples using similar vocal and instrumental means as the Toronto Consort, conducted by period-performance master Jordi Savall. The first is the grand opening (where the choir sings the chant alongside the same type of orchestra fanfare as Monteverdi used in his 1607 opera Orfeo). The second is the fabulous "Duo Seraphim" ("Two seraphim called to one another: Holy is the Lord God of Hosts...):
Toronto Consort’s 2009-10 season
The group has released a five-programme lineup for next
Mixing things up a bit, Fallis has chosen to open on Oct. 2 and 3 with Italian Baroque vocal masterworks sung by a
quartet of female soloists that includes soprano Suzie LeBlanc and mezzo Laura
The other four programmes:
-Les Voix Humaines, from Montreal, will perform works by
Henry Purcell on the Hart House Viols on Oct. 30 and 31.
-Spanish music for Christmas, on Dec. 11 & 12
-Music from the German Baroque, Mar. 5 and 6, 2010
-Music for lute, including the oud and pipa, May 7 & 8,
Parisian pianist Alexandre Tharaud has turned his tractor-beam attention to Erik Satie, masterminding a new 2-CD album devoted to this intriguing figure who not only straddled the 19th and 20th centuries, but who anticipated a form of artistic irony that would come into its own right around the time of Satie's death on July 1, 1925.
The first disc is devoted to pieces for piano solo. It includes the most famous of Satie's creations: the Gymnopedie No. 1, as well as the six Gnossiennes. Tharaud has reached deeper into a catalogue brimming with strange titles such as Three Real Limp Preludes (for a Dog), Automatic Descriptions, Instantaneous and Secular Hours, and Penultimate Thoughts. Tharaud has also included what is thought to be the first French ragtime: Le Picadilly.
Although Satie was a serious composer whose teenage inspirations are based on the simplicity and form of plainchant, in his 20s he worked at the piano of great Parisian cabaret houses such as the Chat-Noir and the Auberge du Clou. From that point on, no matter how deep his musical intentions, it becomes impossible to distinguish the satirist and iconoclast from the serious musical experimenter.
This strange mixture of creative inputs means that the performer has to take the music seriously -- but never too much so. The pianist has to be playful, but restrained. The fingers have to touch the keyboard lightly, but never gloss over the innovative harmonic progressions that rarely settle down into one key.
Tharaud crosses this crazed tightrope without a wobble or hestitation. This is a fabulous effort,
On the second disc, the Tharaud is joined by pianist Eric le Sage, violinist Isabelle Faust, trumpet player David Guerrier, tenor Jean Delescluse and Parisian chanteuse Juliette in a variety of duos.
The biggest shock is hearing the famous song Je te veux (I Want You). Usually performed by highly polished classical singers, the song takes on a whole new dimension of pathos as Juliette delivers it in a gin-gargled plea. It's much like hearing Kurt Weill's songs sung by his wife Lotte Lenya, where the grit of the street is but a drunken stumble away from the rouged cheek.
Rather than a complete overview of Satie's output, this album, released by Harmonia Mundi, is the tastiest of samplers, filled with pleasant, unexpected surprises.
The label has prepared a wonderful micro-site filled with background notes and excerpts from Satie's letters. You'll need the latest version of Flash to make it work:
Here is a gorgeous video of Tharaud playing Gnossienne No. 1:
Toronto-based opera director Tom Diamond forwarded a link to a free live-streaming production of George Frideric Handel's Giulio Cesare that he directed recently at the University of Indiana.
The orchestra and singers are uneven, as is normal for a student production, but the two performances on offer are great examples of fabulous programming on the web.
Check it out at: http://music.indiana.edu/iumusiclive/streaming/
Diamond is back in Toronto to direct the four brand-new works featured in Tapestry New Opera Works upcoming Opera to Go, March 26 to 29 at Harbourfront's Enwave Theatre. More info at www.tapestrynewopera.com
There's a staggering amount of work that goes into making each organ sound the way it does.
One of the most impressive new instruments to be built in Canada in recent years is the $1.5 million Casavant currently being installed at All Saints, Kingsway, Anglican Church in Toronto's west end (see background article below):
I met this morning with Jacquelin Rochette, tonal director for Casavant Freres, Canada's famous organ building firm, located in Ste.-Hyacinthe, Quebec. Rochette's title says more in French: he is "directeur artistique," which explains far more about what he does.
Rochette's job is to give each organ its individual voice and make sure that voice is compatible with its surroundings -- home, concert hall or church.
Voicing means fine-tuning the sound of each pipe so that it blends with the hundreds or thousands of others it has to play with inside the organ chamber.
After each pipe is built and given its preliminary voicing at the Quebec factory, the whole works are installed at their new home. Rochette works in situ with his assistants to further refine the sound. He says that, for the approximately 3,000 pipes that make up the All Saints organ, it will take 20 days of continuous work to make sure that the Sunday congregation and audiences for concerts will enjoy listening "to as many colours as possible," says Rochette.
Rochette is, in practice, no different from an orchestra conductor who needs to mould a particular sound from a large collection of very different sounding instruments. Like each conductor, each "tonal director" comes up with a different result, depending on skill and the needs of the moment.
Although there are several different kinds of pipes -- wood and metal, some with metal tongues inside called reeds -- the principles of changing the quality and volume of their sound involves one of two actions, according to Rochette.
To make a pipe louder, let more air in. "Even a 1 mm change in the opening will make a tremendous difference," he explains.
To change the quality of the sound, such as making it rounder or more strident, or giving it a sharper attack, the voicer will work the various surfaces on which the air resonates.
At All Saints, the new instrument has several different "trumpet" stops, dispersed among the three manuals and pedal. Each is voiced to a slightly different sound -- some well-suited to accompanying a congregational hymn, others best reserved for fanfares and processions.
Rochette describes some sounds as having a more "French" quality, which tends to be a bit more defined or brash. Other stops are more "English," which means a rounder, mellower tone. The objective with this high-end organ is to give the organist the means to find the right combination of stops to play the full range of repertoire, which spans nearly seven centuries now, and to leave the organist with a wide choice of tonal colours for all.
The man from Casavant says he has been with the company for 25 years. Asked when the moment came when he felt like he finally knew what he was doing, in terms of feeling like a true master of his craft, Rochette laughs. "I'm still learning," he says.
He says that one of the many lessons under his belt is that "one should know the rules, but not be dogmatic about them," referring to the classical tonal characteristics of different schools of organ building. That extra flexibility in adjusting sound is key to giving each instrument its particular charm.
The first official musical event to feature the new organ at All Saints will be a choral evensong on April 19, featuring the Amadeus Choir and their director, Lydia Adams.
On May 24, at 4 p.m., 23-year-old German phenomenon Felix Hell will give the first major solo recital on the organ. (Tickets are $25. For more information, go to www.allsaintskingsway.ca or call 416-233-1125.)
Here is an excerpt from an upcoming film documentary on J.S. Bach, featuring Felix Hell:
There are going to be many opportunities to hear the many different kinds of pipe organs in Toronto later this spring. Based on hearing the work in progress this morning, the new Casavant at All Saints is likely to be one of the big stars.
You can find out more about the Casavant story at http://www.casavant.ca/new_temp/img/home/HomeFrame.htm
Here is the background article I wrote in October, 2007 in the Star:
As fashions come and go, the pipe organ's star had faded quite a bit by the end of the 20th century. But if the money being lavished on the king of instruments is any indication, it's in for a swift ride back up the musical escalator in this part of the world.
The University of Toronto has just completed a $200,000 refurbishing of the nearly century-old Casavant organ at Convocation Hall. American organ master Todd Wilson will perform the inaugural recital on Oct. 19.
The Church of the Holy Trinity, behind the Eaton Centre, is getting an organ transplant, courtesy of the closing of Deer Park United Church. This is one of the city's finest instruments, a three-decade-old organ also made by Quebec builder Casavant Freres.
Just west of the banks of the Humber River, All Saints Kingsway Anglican Church is about to receive the most expensive new organ to be built in Canada since the 1980s. At $1.5 million, this instrument - also by Casavant - should give the grey beast inside Roy Thomson Hall a run for its concert abilities.
Even that organ, built by Gabriel Kney for the opening of the hall, is on the verge of a major overhaul next summer.
This doesn't include the dozens of smaller new organ builds and renovations recently completed or underway in the GTA.
All of this work has been made possible by massive private donations, in turn made possible by the just-expired economic boom. "We have never been so busy, " says Robert Hiller, who's overseeing the installation of the organ at Holy Trinity. "Over the last year, the phone has been ringing off the hook."
But will this make any difference to classical music in Toronto?
Only the Roy Thomson and Convocation Hall organs function outside a sacred setting. But the churches are about to open up new musical programs to the wider community, joining Metropolitan United, St. Paul's Anglican and St. James Cathedral in offering public concert series.
Becca Whitla, who heads the music ministry at Holy Trinity, said the parish had a lot to consider before replacing its battered former organ. For one thing, $200,000 is more than a typical church's total yearly budget, and many people might think the money better spent on charitable ends.
Whitla says that, in the end, the organ project fulfilled several needs. "I thought a lot about the question of the relevance of the organ in this day and age, " says the calm-spoken musician. "I came down to the theory of 'both-and.' I think that epitomizes everything that goes on at Holy Trinity. It's not justice or music, it's justice and music. It's history and the future. It's classical music and music from around the world."
As the congregation tries to raise the final $50,000 needed to pay for the installation, Whitla is planning the instrument's concert future. Visitors to the church's long-running children's Christmas Story in December will be among the first to hear the instrument in action. The official inaugural concert next May will be followed by many more.
Shawn Grenke, the music director at All Saints Kingsway, has planned concerts this season in anticipation of the new Casavant, with the inaugural event scheduled for April 19.
The new organ will also star in a multimedia concert organized by the founders of the three-year-old springtime Organix festival, William O'Meara and Gordon Mansell.
"People don't really go to hear Bach and Franck anymore, " says the 30-year-old Grenke. "We need to make the organ feel cool again in 2008."
Things are a bit tamer at U of T.
John Tuttle, one of the world's finest organists, has been the house musician at Convocation Hall for more than 20 years.
"I have the honour of playing 24 convocations in the spring and four more in the fall, " says Tuttle. "Ask me about convocation speeches, and I can tell you a lot. Actually, they're all the same, " he says, smiling.
But the music is always different.
"I try to vary it a lot. Every day for two weeks, I play everything I know. I practice for months and play a Mendelssohn sonata one day and Durufle the next, " Tuttle recounts.
"Sometimes, I go home despondent, thinking, 'Oh, what's the point, '" he says of the chattering graduates who are more in the mood to party than to listen to classical music. "But then I'll get a note or an email with someone saying how much they loved the Bach on Thursday, so you never know."
Because Convocation Hall is used for lectures five days a week, it's hard to get practice time on the big, old instrument - much less schedule a concert.
Fortunately, there are now a number of churches ready to pipe up in its place.
An excellent animation of how an acoustic organ works, from YouTube:
I'm happy that Britney Spears is back on stage, doing what she's supposed to. But I'm puzzled that her fans don't mind that the bulk of The Circus show is lip-synched. The show she did in Boston last night will be the same one we see in Toronto tomorrow and Thursday -- not just in the stopwatch-timed choreography but in the singing.
Everything fans hear has been pre-recorded -- which means that flaws have been patched and massaged in a recording studio. A recording can be perfect. A live performance never can -- but it offers a special energy, and the promise of the unexpected. Isn't that why we spend the big bucks on tickets?
Imagine the opera equivalent: cast troops into recording studio to record, so they can focus on acting while lip-synching on the real stage. No more worries about sudden colds. Less chance of sprained ankles. Thousands saved on not having to pay understudies and a live orchestra.
It's a short hop to the next step: record the opera using the best talent available. Pull a vintage recording by Herbert von Karajan, Mirella Freni and Nicolai Ghiaurov off the shelf, pump it through a decent speaker system, hire some cuties from the Ford Agency to move appealingly around the stage and, voila!, an opera company that can be run by the marketing department alone.
The Baltimore Opera wouldn't have had to close last week.
The audience wouldn't know the difference anyway. Right?
In the March 11 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, a group of researchers and specialists -- including Canadians -- divided a group of 6-year-old children into two, gave one group keyboard lessons for 15 months and then compared various areas of brain function.
Unlike some other recent studies, which have suggested that music education makes kids smarter, the only verifiable finding in this effort was that the youngsters who took lessons had corresponding development in the areas of the brain related to motor skills and hearing.
That's pretty much like saying that push-ups help develop pectoral muscles. Our brains are like muscles. Exercise them and they will develop.
You need to pay if you want to read the whole article. Here's a link: http://www.jneurosci.org/cgi/content/abstract/29/10/3019?lookupType=volpage&vol=29&fp=3019&view=short
Toronto new music presenter Arraymusic announced today that it has set up an
online resource for the local new music community, called www.smashedpiano.com
The site includes basic profiles of its members, as well
as a listing of upcoming events.
Here is what Arraymusic has to say about the new website:
"Encompassing a vanguard of today's music rebels,
revelers, investigative cognoscentes and open-hearted patrons who share a
desire to 'be true to one's musical self', music found on smashedpiano.com is
smart, nervy, full of surprises and fascination, authentic in its desire to
express life in new ways using sounds as its palate. Its creators can capably
synthesize a superabundance of musical sources because they're open and
gamesome and sometimes extremely rigorous or intellectual. They write music
that takes turns being minimal, serial, static, extreme and often
preternaturally beautiful or even downright weird.
John Terauds started at the Toronto Star as a freelance writer in 1988, and has been on staff since 1997. He began writing on classical music in 2001, and has been the full-time classical music critic since 2005.
He is also the organist and choir director at St. Peter's Anglican Church, a parish founded in 1863 in downtown Toronto.
If he's not listening to, writing about or playing music, it means he's either asleep, unconscious, walking his dog -- or all of the above.
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