Tag Archives: Music and Beyond

Vienna Piano Trio, Ben Heppner and a look back at the last 12 days

Posted by Liz

How the time has flown – already we are on the last day! My midday outing saw me at St Andrew’s Church for the Vienna Piano Trio‘s third concert. Violinist Wolfgang Redik, cellist Matthias Gredler and pianist Stefan Mendl provided a stellar afternoon’s entertainment. I enjoyed the Beethoven Variations Op 44 on an Original Theme, with its fun opening theme (accentuated by Mendl bobbing along in time) and the many different characteristics of the variations. The Saint-Saëns (Piano Trio No 2 in E minor, Op 92) was musically less to my liking but again excellently performed; the first movement most entertained me – it almost felt like a whole piece in miniature!

The Trio had programmed a new work by Austrian composer Johannes Maria Staud. Entitled Für Bálint András Varga, it was very varied and intense, with lots of different images – creeping, sirens, spiralling notes, and a point where Mendl appeared to be playing the piano with wild swings of his arms (possibly also elbows but from my seat I couldn’t see the keyboard)! Very rousing. After repeated applause, the Trio played an incredibly beautiful 2nd movement from Schumann’s Piano Trio No. 2 in G minor as an encore.

The Gala Closing Concert ‘Künstlerleben’ featuring Ben Heppner was superb. The concept was An Artist’s Life featuring songs by Schubert, Schumann, Wolf, Wagner, Fall, Kalman and Lehár presented with witty aplomb by Heppner and John Hess on piano. There wasn’t a single song in there I didn’t enjoy (even Wagner and I am no big fan of his work). The only problem I saw was in some of the translations. Having French and English translations of the lyrics on slideshow is in itself a great idea, however the translations for Verborgenheit didn’t seem to follow the sung lyrics. There were also no translations for the last three songs.

Looking at the festival as a whole, on balance I think it was (even) better than 2011. The conceptual events seemed to me to be the standout concerts. The four part The Rivered Earth was by a long way my favourite series. Sadly I think some people were put off by the new music content, which is a shame because Alec Roth’s music was thrilling! Music and Dance and Inspired by Music come close, as does the Jewish Composers concert. I didn’t attend personally but anyone I talked to who went to Beyond the Bomb or Music and Dining thought they were fantastic. The variety of music on offer was also fabulous, with a good helping of new music and slightly unusual repertoire. Earthen Grave are highly commended for an excellent performance in front of an audience that on face value was slightly unresponsive; it’s regrettable that this concert wasn’t better attended.

There are now many more photos available on the Music and Beyond website to stimulate memories of your favourite concerts!


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Music for love and loss

Posted by Liz

Continuing yesterday’s Canadian Voyage theme, today’s noon concert entitled Ottawa and Beyond featured new works from local composers, including solo piano; solo soprano saxophone; cello and piano; and two vocal works. Julian Armour’s brief introduction outlined the increasing freedom of contemporary composers and the resulting homan connection of new works. This was evident today in particular in my two favourites, both incredibly atmospheric: Angus McLachlin‘s Piano Sonata No 2 and Colin Mack‘s Isis and Osiris, Fantasy for Cello and Piano.

A little later on, Se-Doo Park provided an entertaining concert of cello repertoire: Britten’s Cello Suite No 1 Op 72, Piatigorsky’s Paganini Variations and Gaspar Cassadó’s Suite. Sadly I had to leave early, as Park’s playing was of a very high level.

This evening’s final Vikram Seth event, An Equal Music, was a delight. Seth’s engrossing readings from the novel concentrated on the directly musical aspects, keeping back some of the plot for concertgoers who had not yet read the book. The core performers, Quatuor Arthur Leblanc, provided accomplished performances of the string quartet excerpts (Beethoven’s String Quintet in C minor Op 104 – finale; Haydn’s String Quartet in A minor Op 20 No 6 – minuetto) and a spellbinding Contrapunctus 1 from Bach’s Art of Fugue. Maria Sourjko played the same piece for solo piano as the final performance, providing an interesting contrast.  Philippe Honoré and  Sourjko provided the most inspiring performance of the night in Vivaldi’s Manchester Sonata in C major, No 1 – largo. My mind kept flicking between images of the characters Michael and Julia and of Anna Maria Della Violin. The layout of the concert and of the works seemed to me to be a good introduction to chamber music so I hope there were ‘newcomers’ there – readers of the book who may not previously have heard the music, or indeed, been to this type of concert.

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View from the Diefenbunker

Due to the clash with The Rivered Earth, I didn’t make it to Beyond the Bomb: Music of the Cold War at the Diefenbunker on Wednesday, however a fellow concert-goer, Diana, went along and here is her review:

On Wednesday evening at 6:00 pm at the Diefenbunker Museum a very large crowd was already in line for the opening of “Beyond the Bomb: Music of the Cold War”.  Visitors were provided with a pamphlet containing a map of the facility and list of scheduled performances, and were encouraged to wander at will for the next three hours.  In various rooms one encountered musical performances, films and refreshments in addition to having the opportunity to examine the fascinating Museum and its exhibits.

This first-time visitor was very impressed with the Museum, and the addition of the musical presentations made the visit very special indeed.  Most performances lasted about 20 minutes.  In some cases a sequence of different mini-concerts occupied the same space; in others the same performance was repeated several times throughout the evening.  All of the performers chose music that was either of the Cold War era or musically appropriate to the atmosphere of the venue.

Attendees were welcomed by the Maple Leaf Brass Band in the parking lot and solo saxophonist Victor Herbiet in the “Blast Tunnel” entrance (see this video).

Of particular interest to this visitor were the performances by Thorwald Jørgensen on the theremin, an instrument heard sometimes in sci-fi movies but rarely seen in person.  In the cafeteria one could hear the Mark Ferguson jazz trio alternating timeslots with the Moscow String Quartet.  It seemed incongruous but perhaps fitting to have a Russian group perform within a bastion of Cold War anti-Soviet activity!  A similar but more moving juxtaposition occurred in the “Requiem Exhibit” room dedicated to Hiroshima, where Yuki Isami performed on traditional Japanese instruments.

Four stories underground, the lowest level of the Museum had a distinct chill with an air temperature about 15 degrees less than the warm day outside.  Here this visitor enjoyed Camille Churchfield on flute accompanied by Jean Desmarais on piano (actually electronic keyboard given the logistics of the venue) with splendid resonant acoustics in the “Bank of Canada Vault”.  The adjacent “Morgue/Freezer” room featured Roland Graham playing works for organ (again via electronic keyboard).

There were quite a number of other musical performances as well; too many to list.  Film presentations on small screens or TVs included “The Iron Curtain” and “Dr. Strangelove”.  And visitors were treated to ample food, beer and wine in the cafeteria!

Huge kudos to the festival staff who organized this event.  It was truly “music and beyond”:  music, film, history, an educational excursion, and a party all rolled into one!


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Violin virtuoso part 2 – The Rivered Earth concludes

Posted by Liz

Continuing on from yesterday’s high quality performances, The Rivered Earth 3 was a spectacular, spine-tingling performance from Lawrence Wiliford, Philippe Honoré, Seventeen Voyces, Music and Beyond Festival Orchestra and the captivating young singers from Christ Church Cathedral Choir.

The Traveller tells the human story through transcriptions of sacred and secular Indian texts. The 4 ages of live – childhood, youth, adulthood and old age – were bracketed with Vikram Seth’s addition of the unborn and the dead. At the start of each chapter, a bell rang and Wiliford read a verse from the Rig Veda’s Hymn to Creation.

Right from the beginning the show was spellbinding, from the choristers and Honoré processing from the back of the church, to the children’s choir singing the nursery rhyme Ram Ram Shah – ‘woop’ glissandi included! Honoré had the treat of playing yet more excellent violin parts. The music mix was always interesting and varied from hot and angry to almost like a soundtrack; the tolling bell in ‘The Dead’ was very atmospheric.

The audience wasn’t the largest I’ve seen at Dominion-Chalmers but they were certainly amongst the loudest in applause and whooping!

The fourth and final instalment of The Rivered Earth was of a much more intimate nature. Two cycles based on the theme of The Seven Elements were performed in succession: the first, a song cycle for tenor and piano on the elements Earth, Air, Wood, Fire, Metal, Water and Space; the second a suite for violin and piano on the same elements but performed in a different order. All highly captivating and evocative; there were no introductions but the piano part (performed by Jean Desmarais) clearly brought to life each element, with excellent vocal performance by Isaiah Bell. The chord pattern in ‘Fire’ made me smile – in a small way it felt like an echo from a 1990s dance track!

The Seven Elements Suite for violin and piano, played by Desmarais and Honoré, was even more interesting and enchanting, conjuring up many mindscapes. According to my recollection, the Elements were performed in this order: Earth, Water, Wood, Air, Metal, Space, Fire. Again, I felt that this suite stepped almost into the indie-classical realm. The suite referenced the song cycle but with a different angle. For example ‘Water’ – in the song cycle the piano part sounded drippy and expansive, mimicking still water and the roar of a flood or waterfall. In the suite, ‘Water’ became smoother, more like a gurgling stream. Conversely, the themes for ‘Space’ were much more common across the two cycles. The violin parts were mostly simpler in sound than Ponticelli (Rivered Earth 2) but no less enthralling.

A short trio to finish – The Hermit on the Ice was fascinating and continued the mesmeric style of the concert, ending in a ‘repeat to fade’ motif on the piano.

All in all a wonderful concert cycle. The two CDs that currently exist would be excellent choices and I hope someone somewhere records The Traveller and The Seven Elements. Certainly with a bit of skillful marketing, Ponticelli and The Seven Elements Suite could easily appeal to fans of Amiina or Ólafur Arnalds.

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Violin virtuosi part 1 – The Rivered Earth and Earthen Grave

Posted by Liz

Today saw the start of the much-anticipated The Rivered Earth series of concerts featuring music by Alec Roth and libretti by Vikram Seth. Part 1, introduced by Lucy Van Oldenbarneveld and Seth, was a performance of Songs In Time Of War, written by Seth after the Chinese Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu. Lawrence Wiliford‘s voice was elegantly restrained and fitted with the violin, harp and guitar accompaniment of Philippe Honoré, Michelle Gott and Daniel Bolshoy. The set of 12 songs transported the spellbound audience to far away worlds. In particular I enjoyed the 4th and 8th songs, ‘A Fine Lady’ and ‘ The Old Cypress Tree at the Temple of Zhu-ge Liang’. Meanwhile, number 11 ‘Ballad of the Army Carts’ conjured up images from epic films such as Red Cliff. Roth’s music narrated along with the libretti, with effects such as ‘scratch’ violin to match the story.

Rivered Earth Part 2 featured Shared Ground and Ponticelli, each inspired by the Stuart poet George Herbert and for unaccompanied chorus and solo violin respectively. In the Ex Cathedra/Philippe Honoré recording, each work is played through, though it is possible to perform them as an interlocking sequence, which we heard today.

Seventeen Voyces, Larkin Singers and soloist Isaiah Bell provided a stellar performance, but in my mind the greatest plaudits go to Honoré for his performances. Heard alternately, each part of Ponticelli at least in some way referenced the preceding Shared Ground song. Ponticelli 1 ‘Flat Bridge’ and 3 ‘Arched Bridge’ had to my ears a fleeting similarity to some of the works of Icelandic indie-classical artist Ólafur Arnalds. The vocal settings had an almost song-like structure, with most verses having the title as a bridge/chorus.

From one super violinist to another, this time with a radically different sound: Rachel Barton Pine and her band Earthen Grave. Also a rather different setting – a metal band playing a church, albeit de-consecrated. Playing a set list predominantly from their current self-titled album, Earthen Grave executed a very professional performance and managed to engage the audience (which was mostly Music and Beyond passholders), although it did take a while mainly due to the type of venue and the relatively small crowd. There were a few of us up at the front, but compared to a more typical rock live music venue, it must have been weird for the 6 performers (including excellent stand-in drummer Chad Walls) to see people sat in pews! Some more concertgoers were standing for the final track, a rendition of Black Sabbath’s Children of the Grave. The special violin Viper definitely added an extra timbre to their sound. Based on this performance, the band and album are highly recommended!

Both Honoré and Pine are performing tomorrow in The Rivered Earth Parts 3 and 4 and Paganini: The Complete Caprices.

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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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