Orchestral excellence – Denise Djokic, Zürich Academic Orchestra; Moscow String Quartet

Posted by Liz

Something of a step away from chamber concerts to something larger this afternoon. Concert-goers at Saint Brigid’s Centre for the Arts were treated to a wonderful afternoon concert by Denise Djokic and the Zürich Academic Orchestra (AOZ). The AOZ, founded 1897, is an 80-odd strong orchestra comprising students from Universität Zürich and ETH Zürich. A fellow concert-goer noted later the smart attire of the AOZ in comparison to the occasionally less-than smart NAC Orchestra. It was refreshing to see a stage full of young people (with a good gender balance too) playing high quality music and enjoying themselves immensely in the process.

First up was an intense new work  – according to the Swiss Ambassador to Canada, Ulrich Lehner, I believe comissioned for the AOZ – by Éric Champagne, entitled Mouvement symphonique no 1. Starting with a chromatic brass element, the short piece was full of contrasts and a good amount of percussion. I thought it a shame to end so soon – the end snuck up almost unexpected.

After this invigorating opener, Denise Djokic joined the AOZ for Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor, Op 104. The crowd was spellbound by Djokic’s expressive playing and stage presence as well as excellent playing from the AOC. Whilst the final work, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 5, was of equal quality, for me it felt like a slight anticlimax after the Dvořák.

A quick venue change to Dominion-Chalmers for the Moscow String Quartet. I could only stay for the first half, but Borodin’s String Quartet No 2 was supreme and Three Pieces for String Quartet by Stravinsky excellent and unusual! These short pieces were a striking difference to the Borodin piece, but included glissandi and some spiky cello parts. The second work had something of the character of a cartoon chase!

Anyone still without a ticket for Ben Heppner on 15th July should head over to iPricedit.com. The final block of reserved seating tickets are available as a ‘set your own price’ bid.

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Song of Songs and Movie Night

Posted by Liz

This afternoon’s conceptual concert from the ensemble Tapestry was based around the text Song of Songs, described by Laurie Monahan as a love poem. The performance wove Hebrew cantillations with Latin, Hebrew and modern settings of the poem together with instrumental accompaniment and improvisation.

Whilst the festival program had a list of works, the performance was done in discrete halves with works merging together. In the end I stopped looking at the program and just enjoyed! The instrumental performances in particular were interesting and pleasurable, indeed conjuring up a garden in summer somewhere like Spain or maybe Roman/Byzantine Tripoli. The sound was interesting too – I had a brief chat with Shira Kammen in the interval to look at the small harp, which is played on the lap and strung with gut strings; also the vieille with its 5 strings.

All Hebrew cantillations were sung excellently by Daniela Tosic; the other works were either, solo, duo or group. For some of the songs, the Tapestry singers were at the back and sides of the church with impressive results. Finishing the afternoon with two catchy songs, ‘Erec shel shoshanim’ and ‘Dodi Li’, rounded off an excellent show.

Later on I went to the third showing of the 1948 film The Iron Curtain at the Bytowne Cinema. A good mix of people had turned up for a classic spy thriller and soundtrack from Russian composers Shastakovich, Prokofiev, Myaskovsky, and Khachaturian. Whilst there was a plot device to include the music, it was only featured in parts. Part proto-docudrama, part Cold War propaganda, the film is entertaining not least for the classic shots of 1940s Ottawa. Instances of bumbling public servants also drew laughter from the audience. It hadn’t occurred to me previously, but cinema prints must be very rare as the film was projected from a Mac, so there is clearly a DVD available somewhere (sadly for anyone who missed the film, Ottawa Public Library doesn’t have a copy).

Photos of previous festival events are now available on the Music and Beyond website!

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Handel’s Water Music on the Rideau Canal

Unfortunately I didn’t manage to see any of Sunday’s performance of Handel’s Water Music on the Rideau Canal, however Peter Simpson’s Big Beat column has a handy video:

 

Big Beat Video: Handel’s Water Music on the Rideau Canal

 

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Sunday’s picks: Borodin Quartet and Chinese Cultural Celebration

Posted by Liz

Before going to today’s Borodin Quartet concert I really only knew of the quartet by reputation. This concert was the second in their cycle of Brahms and Tchaikovsky string quartets, featuring Brahms’ String Quartet No 2 in A minor, Op 51 and Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No 2 in F major, Op 22. Initially I found the Brahms difficult to get into because the quartet showed very little in facial expressions or body language (though I had a conversation with a festival regular in the interval who thought that this was more preferable to the playing style of quartets such as the Jupiter). Once I stopped looking at them, the music became big and emotional; it somewhat overwhelmed me and passed very quickly, leaving me feeling wrung out. The Tchaikovsky piece was mostly in a similar vein, though the 2nd and 4th movements were emotionally calmer and even had some looser player expressions. The performance was of a high calibre throughout and the players received repeated ovations.

Curiosity and a desire to see something a little lighter led me to tonight’s edition of the Chinese Cultural Celebration. The first half of the program was generally very good, especially the songs featuring traditional instruments; dances such as Love Of Boat and Fish Net, A Rainy Alley and the 2 acrobatics displays were also very popular. After the interval, there were a few more excellent instrument solos, but the vocal/dance pieces became a little less tasteful and this part of the performance was the weakest concert I have yet attended. I found tonight’s Love Song of Kangding in particular to be rather distasteful. A little searching reveals the title to refer to either a traditional song  or a 2011 Chinese film. I assume the dance was a rendition of the former, but as there seem to be many modern remixes available online I am not sure how true the dancers were to the original. Overall, I like the idea of the cultural celebration but the result was a little mixed. Sadly I didn’t attend last year’s Music and Dance from China so I can’t compare the two.

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Saturday – Inspired by Music and Popular Pianists

Posted by Liz

Another interesting conceptual concert, this time exploring the links between music and visual art. Each piece had a brief explanation by either Julian Armour and/or the artist concerned. Julian compared today’s concept of new artworks with selected musical works with last year’s Music of Colin Mack concert, where Mack had written new pieces inspired by selected paintings in the National Gallery of Canada.

Overall the concept was well-executed, though I felt that Pachelbel’s Canon was slightly anticlimactic as a closing piece. For me, the performance (second of the festival and with the same musicians) of Rachmaninoff’s Trio élégiaque No. 1 accompanied by a new painting by Natasha Turovsky was the best- if I recall from her introduction, it forms part of a new ‘tears collection’. The image seemed to bring out the theme of grief and sharing a loss in Rachmaninoff’s composition to make the performance even more engrossing than Thursday night’s rendition. My other favourite performance was nearer the beginning, with Kimball Sykes, Julian Armour and Andrew Tunis performing Cable’s The Petty Harbour Bait Skiff with visual accompaniment by Philip Craig. Both the music and the picture were very atmospheric and immediately brought to mind images of the Eastern Avalon coastline.

Donna Brown‘s performance of Le temps des lilas (accompanying picture ‘In The Time of Roses and Lilacs’ by Barbara Gamble) was probably the crowd favourite, as well as Villa-Lobos’ O canto do cisne negro with an incredible watercolour by Sheryl Luxenburg entitled ‘Floating’.

Later, my pick of the evening’s 4 8pm concerts went to Menahem Pressler and the Jupiter Quartet. With a temporary lineup change to include Jonathan Vinocour, the Jupiters once again impressed with their open, lively playing in the String Quartet in D major, Op 44 No 1 by Mendelssohn. I particularly enjoyed the 3rd movement.

Menahem Pressler was clearly the star of the night. Loud applause greeted his wonderful performance of Debussy’s Estampes and the first encore, which puzzled quite a few concertgoers but I believe to be Chopin’s Mazurka in A minor – Op 17 No 4 (anyone who thinks it was a different Mazurka, please leave a comment).

An interesting second half especially for a non-Mozart lover like me. The Jupiter Quartet, bassist Jeremy McCoy and Pressler performed the sextet arrangement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 17 in G, K453. The more intimate arrangement was superbly played with the Jupiters’ exuberance adding to the enjoyment. I found the 2nd movement (at least in this arrangement) to be less Mozartean in its sound and therefore more appealing – after the energetic allegro, it felt like a deflation and something of a meandering soliloquy.

Another loud round of applause was greeted by a second encore from Pressler, this time Chopin’s Nocturne in C sharp min Op Posth.

After such a good performance, sadly only a small number remained for Stéphane Lemelin‘s second evening of Fauré Nocturnes. Sat waiting to enter, I was chatting to a few patrons who were of the opinion that at least one of these concerts should have been earlier in the evening. However a performance of nocturnes later in the evening is also interesting. This concert was much more the length that I would anticipate from an 11pm show, rather than Thursday’s late night epic. Lemelin was joined onstage by Alain Doom, narrating fitting French poems (English translation on screens either side of the stage). Certainly an interesting concept and Lemelin’s fluid playing was quite captivating, especially in Nocturne No 2 in B major, Op 33.

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Friday Celebrations – Pressler and NAC Winds, Jewish Composers Party

Posted by Liz

Day 3 and if anything, the quality of concerts has gone up, as has the size of the audience. Today’s daytime concerts at Dominion-Chalmers were about 75% and 85% full. First up, the ever-popular Menahem Pressler, today with the Principal Winds of the NAC Orchestra. It’s good to hear a slightly different take on chamber repertoire, although the program (Mozart and Beethoven) remained very much ‘core’. Each piece – Mozart’s Quintet for Piano and Winds and Beethoven’s Quintet for Piano and Winds – was performed excellently, with Messrs Hamann, Sykes, Vine and Millard (and Pressler!) making the performance look easy. Both pieces seemed to me to be characteristic of each composer. I preferred the Beethoven, especially the 2nd movement, but really there wasn’t a bad moment.

A break for lunch before the even more popular Jewish Composers through the Ages concert. Sponsored by longtime friends of chamber music Teena and Walter Hendelman to celebrate their golden wedding, the atmosphere was part gala, part party. The selection of works (each introduced by Julian Armour) included big names (Gershwin, Copland) to relatively obscure composers (Rossi, Meyerbeer). I particularly enjoyed the suite of cello and piano works performed by Paul Marleyn and Dina Namer: Bloch’s ‘Prayer’ from From Jewish Life; Stutschewsky’s Kihan; and Popper’s Hungarian Rhapsody. Lovely melodies and a dance edge to the Popper.

After the interval the excerpt ‘Lied’ from Korngold’s very romantic Suite for Two Violins, Cello and Piano Op 23 proved very popular, as did Gershwin’s Two Preludes performed by Namer. The closing piece, Glick’s Old Toronto Klezmer Suite, was a very fun and fitting end to the show. All 4 movements were fun in their own ways; ‘The Rabbi’s Wedding at the Palmerston Street Shul’ announced the after-concert reception with its party ending.

I am off to see The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings in concert this evening, but for string quartet fans tonight is the first of the Borodin Quartet’s Brahms and Tchaikovsky cycle.

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Day 2 Part 2 – Dance and Rachmaninoff

Posted by Liz

A complete evening of high quality performances – I heard from attendees of A Lover And His Lass that the evening was wonderful (for more detail, read Richard Todd’s review in the Ottawa Citizen).

The auditorium at the former Ottawa Technical High School was at least three-quarters full for last night’s Music and Dance spectacular. I can’t remember the last time I went to a dance program, but the evening was very entertaining and highly informative. Having just a few musicians to accompany the dancers introduced a more intimate element to the performances.

It was very interesting to see the Baroque dance sequences by Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière and Mikael Bouffart: wonderfully ornate costumes and excellent acting, especially in La Verdinguette (Jacques Champion de Charbonnières). Harpsichord accompanist Marie Bouchard received almost equal acclaim; her performance of Froberger’s ‘Lamento sopra…’ from Partita VI in C Major FbWV 612 was superb. Bouchard described the piece as an ‘unmeasured prelude’ and there was certainly a familiarity with some of the piano prelude repertoire.

Sonia Rodriguez and Piotr Stancyzk were clearly the stars of the evening, keeping the audience spellbound. Their performance of the pas de deux from Swan Lake was extremely well received, but the subsequent Lady of the Camelias (set to excerpts from the quintet arrangement of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 1) performance was even more superb.

At this point the scheduled program was somewhat mixed up, but this didn’t detract from some excellent instrumental performances by Wonny Song, Paul Marleyn and Yehonatan Berick.

Another excellent concert followed – Arianna Warsaw-Fan, Julian Armour, Matthew Larkin and Andrew Tunis playing the Rachmaninoff Piano Trios, featuring performances of the Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G minor and Trio élégiaque No. 2, the latter in the original arrangement with harmonium. Both performances had the reasonably sized audience rapt. Trio élégiaque No. 1 was incredibly atmospheric: beautiful melodies and great variation between flowing and gritty elements. Trio élégiaque No. 2 (written in homage to Tchaikovsky) was more difficult. The 2nd movement (quazi variazone) with the harmonium was very interesting and the violent piano passages were impressive, but I found the piece overall rather exhausting. A very full-on concert for a late night slot, but it was a good experience and I hope the two Fauré nocturnes concerts have as good attendance.

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