Archive pour April, 2010

How to sell classical music to the masses

30 April 2010

Isn’t it about time that we rethink the way that Brahms, Beethoven and Bruckner are presented? Plenty of reflexion has already been done in the UK it seems. The Southbank Centre recently supported the premiere of a new concerto for beatboxer and orchestra. The Barbican puts orchestral scores to films and the Roundhouse’s Reverb series introduces classical music to a pop venue. So is there a way to reinvent the concert?

Some of Britain’s classical taste-makers tell all in this article published in The Times...

The first time…

28 April 2010

You always remember your first time… Generally, that sentence refers to your first kiss but it also could be adapted to hearing Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Some may have heard the piece for the first time in front of the TV set, enthralled by the dinosaurs’ story in Fantasia. Volcanoes erupting, dinosaurs stomping, the lost world has everything to capture a kid’s imagination and Walt Disney masterfully used the music of Stravinsky to bring us millions of years back. Others may have seen the ballet choreographed by Marie Chouinard (her Rite of Spring quickly became a “classic” of Québécois dance) or the older version, by Maurice Béjart. This was my case. I was maybe nine or ten but the emotions felt that evening remain very vivid. A tad traumatised (more likely by the movement of the bodies than by the music itself), I nevertheless didn’t wait very long before listening to the work again. I was so convinced of its qualities that it was on one of the first – if not the first – LPs I bought with my pocket money. Since that day, I’ve listened to it countless times, and my love for the work never diminished. If a local orchestra is playing it, you can bet I’ll be in the audience that evening.

Even nearly a century after the premiere, its pagan subject matter, its strong tribal imagery, and its marked rhythms and dissonances still manage to take one by surprise. Nevertheless, once you have heard it, it seems you only wish to repeat the experience and immerse yourself more completely in this cornerstone of 20th century music.

To listen to it, in a totally different disguise so to speak, in its solo piano version, gave me the chance to still hear new things in it. Even when you think you really know the Rite of Spring, the pas de deux between the work and the listener has just begun.

To listen to Serhiy Salov’s solo piano version…

André Mathieu highlighted this week

26 April 2010

Pianist Alain Lefèvre will once more immerse himself into the musical world of André Mathieu this week as he gives two concerts with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, to be held tomorrow night and Wednesday morning. Our informers tell us that tomorrow’s performance has been sold out for a while but that a few tickets may still be found for the morning performance, if your schedule permits it. On the program: André Mathieu’s Piano Concerto No. 4, premiered and recorded in the Spring of 2008 by Alain Lefèvre and the Tucson Symphony Orchestra.

Georges Nicholson, who has put in countless hours working on Mathieu’s biography, will be chatting with Alain Lefèvre at the pre-concert lecture tomorrow night. After the concert, a signing session will be organised in the foyer of Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier.

To listen to Mathieu’s Piano Concerto No. 4…

Serhiy Salov plays his own transcription of Stravinsky’s Sacre

23 April 2010

In the nineteenth century, transcriptions for piano or small ensemble of pieces from the symphonic or operatic literature constituted a privileged means of making large-scale works accessible to music-lovers. Several composers chose to make these transcriptions, one of their aims being to promote their own works. But for others, including Liszt, the process afforded the means to revisit the works of composers they admired.

In transcribing The Rite of Spring for solo piano, Serhiy Salov’s purpose was to find a new way to convey Stravinsky’s wild imagination. To achieve this, he immersed himself in the work, exploring its most minute inner workings and deconstructing it to better rebuild it afterward.

“I did this above all out of love for the Rite, since the piano offers a greater freedom,” he stresses. “And it seems to me that a single player can bring a more focused energy to the work, which seems somewhat diffuse with an entire orchestra. Of course, one cannot reproduce everything one hears in the orchestra, with its huge range; but on the piano, one can dive into the very heart of the piece.”

In reworking the The Rite of Spring, Serhiy Salov paid particular attention to the various strata of sounds that needed to be reproduced:

“Because there is a limit to what ten fingers can accomplish, I chose to use the sostenuto pedal (the middle pedal on the piano), for example, to help clarify the textures. Stravinsky also plays around with the traditional roles of orchestral instruments, such as using horns and strings as percussion instruments, or by treating multiple strata of strings as broad aggregates of harmonics. My aim here was to convey the colour and mood of the work, for example by playing around with the range of perceived frequencies, letting low notes convey something mysterious and almost indeterminate, such as the timpani might do.”

I invite you to discover this remarkable new take on the masterpiece here…

Alain Lefèvre in a new role

21 April 2010

We knew him as guest soloist, recital pianist, chamber musician, artistic ambassador of the Lanaudière Festival. With the release of the original soundtrack of the movie L’enfant prodige: l’incroyable destinée d’André Mathieu, a film scripted and directed by Luc Dionne, a Cinémaginaire production featuring Patrick Drolet, Alain Lefèvre acts as music director, composer and pianist.

“The incarnation of pure genius” is Alain Lefèvre’s unequivocal assessment of André Mathieu. For the last several years, Lefèvre’s ambition was to revive the public’s interest in Mathieu. He has done so on the concert stage, on disc and in interviews, including with the famous Charlie Rose. As a pianist, he has played Mathieu in Canada and everywhere else in the world. In May 2008, he gave the premiere of Mathieu’s Concerto No. 4 with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra (recording available on the Analekta label) before performing it in Paris with the Orchestre National de France at the Theatre des Champs-Élysées.  Recent winner of a JUNO for his recording with the London Mozart Players, Lefèvre will give the London premiere next October of Mathieu’s Concertino No. 2 at Cadogan Hall with the prestigious chamber ensemble, a few days after the German premiere in Berlin of Mathieu’s Concerto No. 4. On May 27, he will open the Canadian Pavilion at EXPO 2010 in Shanghai, performing the same concerto with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, followed the next day by the world premiere of the film on the composer’s life.

Discover the soundtrack here…

Analekta wins two JUNO Awards

19 April 2010

The excellence of two Analekta albums was recognized this weekend at the JUNO Awards in St. John (Newfoundland).

Indeed, in the category “Classical album of the year: solo or chamber ensemble”, double bassist Joel Quarrington’s Garden Scene beat the competition (which included two other Analekta recordings, Philip Glass, Portrait and Souvenir de Florence). In the “Classical album of the year: large ensemble or soloist(s) with large ensemble accompaniment”, the Mathieu, Shostakovich and Mendelssohn recording by Alain and David Lefèvre, accompanied by the London Mozart Players, won the JUNO. Congratulations to the winners!

You can listen to Joel Quarrington here…

… and to Alain & David Lefèvre and the London Players here…

Design your own concert

17 April 2010

On Saturday, April 10, the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony’s Design a Concert program has its 2nd annual outing.  The program, inspired by a similar program offered by the Pittsburgh Symphony, offers 30 high school students (from 6 different schools) the opportunity to work with staff on the theme, program, marketing, fundraising and stage production elements of an orchestral concert.

The students select a specific workgroup: Marketing, Artistic, Development and Operations (Production), and each workgroup is mentored by at least one KWS staff member at all times. Orchestra management provides the students with the venue, the orchestra, a conductor and soloist(s). The rest is designed and run by them, starting with determining the theme which leads to the programming, which then determines the marketing, fund raising and stage production elements of the project.

The students work on a deal sheet with KWS staff which determines budgets and ticket prices. The golden rule is that the bottom line does not show a deficit so the students quickly learn how simple decisions can have a major impact on the budget.

The staff have been challenged and inspired by this project. Teaching is not always a role that they were prepared for, but they have all enjoyed working with the students. They have many stories about the students who get ‘bitten by the bug’ and will likely use this work experience as part of their future careers.

So, which composers were selected for this concert? Mozart, Vivaldi, Brahms, Tchaïkovski, Dvořák, Bartok and Vaughan Williams. Our future arts administrator do have some taste. And if music could lead to just about anything?

Marianne Fiset will be Mimi

15 April 2010

A week ago, the Opéra de Montréal unveiled his 31st season. Six productions will be presented: Verdi’s Rigoletto, the seldom-heard Roberto Devereux by Donizetti, Menotti’s The Consul, Massenet’s Werther, Strauss’ Salomé and Puccini’s La Bohème. Soprano Marianne Fiset will breath life in the ever so touching Mimi character.

You can listen to her singing Dvorak in the recent 2-CD boxset celebrating the JMC’s 60th anniversary.

Vallée d’Obermann

13 April 2010

Vallée d’Obermann, the most substantial work of the first collection of Années de pélerinage, is also the most sublime. Inspired by Senancour’s novel Obermann—set in Switzerland and passionately read, reread and annotated by the two lovers—this piece contains some especially daring harmony that occasionally foreshadows the upheaval brought about by Wagner. Liszt cites Byron again, but also Senancour: “Que veux-je? Que suis-je? Que demander à la nature?” (What do I want? Who am I? What do I ask of nature?).

Despite its imposing stature and unlike the Dante-Sonata, whose massiveness somewhat unbalances the “Italy” segment, Vallée d’Obermann seems to sum up the cycle’s very essence. This long metaphysical meditation can be split in four parts, though it remains a great example of cyclic form (one theme developed from beginning to end), as his Liszt’s famous B Minor Sonata.

I invite you to access the work, performed here by André Laplante, and then come back here to follow the meanders of the piece while listening.

The piece starts with a very lyrical statement of the theme, the left hand creating the illusion that it has become a singing cello, the right hand accompanying the theme with sombre, insistent chords. A very chromatic, heart-rending motif is juxtaposed to the main one. The theme is repeated, forte this time, but soon disappears into a chromatic complaint, surrounded by chords in the extreme low register of the instrument. The theme is then once more presented in its original form, and then very slightly manipulated, the D natural replacing the D sharp giving it a luminescent quality.

The second part (5 min) features lighter textures and ambiance. The theme, almost scintillating, becomes more serene when stated in C major. After a triumphant forte, it dissolves into a pianissimo chromatism once more.

The recitative (6 min 55) that follows is certainly the most troubled section of the piece, with its almost omnipresent tremolos. The theme is forceful and emphatic, in the minor mode. Numerous chromatic passages surround it and fortissimo octaves shake its very foundations. A dramatic dialogue between right and left hands emerges. After a climax bursting with octaves, the material seems to crumble and a pianissimo statement, rhythmically very fluid, takes its place.

Explosion turns into serenity. The theme of the second section reappears (9 min 32). First almost shy, it soon rises, luminous, one last time, dissolving itself into harmonious chords, almost wind-borne. The piece concludes by the victory of the serene theme, sustained by flamboyant chords.

Serhiy Salov to play with OUM tonight

10 April 2010

The Ukrainian pianist Serhiy Salov, winner of the Grand Prize of the Montreal International Musical Competition in 2004, will play tonight the concerto who brought him gold almost six years ago, Brahms’ Second. He will be accompanied by the Université de Montréal Orchestra (OUM), under the direction of Alain Trudel. The concert, in Salle Claude-Champagne, starts at 7:30 and also features Holst’s Planets.

I’ll tell you more about Salov’s newest recording, to be released in about 10 days, very soon.

You can listen to him playing with I Musici here…