Archive pour February, 2013

Others have left us

28 February 2013

More saddening came our way this week. French organist Marie-Claire Alain, certainly one of the most famous organists of the 20th century, died Tuesday at 86. A true ambassador of the French school of organ playing, she has recorded more than 200 discs. Three times she recorded the complete organ works by Johann Sebastian Bach, either on newly restored organs or newly accessible ones (because behind the Iron Curtain). A celebrated teacher, Marie-Claire Alain was several times in Montreal, including in 2008, for the first International Canadian Organ Competition

And then yesterday, the news of the death of the legendary American pianist Van Cliburn took the piano world by surprise. The musician died at 78, in his home in Fort Worth, Texas. Even those who are too young to remember it (like myself) still know about the blast wave he created when he won the famous Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958. His recording of Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto (which he played in the finals) on the RCA label stands in the Guiness Book of Records as the classical album to sell the most in history. He also initiated one of the most important piano competitions in the world, held every four years. No doubt that the upcoming edition, in June, will be emotionnally charged.

You can read an interesting profile of the artist in The New York Times…


Sawallisch has left us

25 February 2013

The great German conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch has left us on Friday; he was 89 years old. He was notably director (and music director) of the Bavarian State Opera, based in Munich, for 20 years. (Kent Nagano is the actual music director.) A performance of Verdi’s Requiem, under Zubin Mehta, will be given par the Bavarian State Opera Orchestra tonight.


Sawallisch has first worked with the orchestras of the opera houses in Aix-la-Chapelle, Wiesbaden and Koln. He made his debuts with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1953, and from 1957 to1962, was associated with the Bayreuth Festival. He then became general music director in Hamburg from 1960 to 1970, a decade in which he was also leading the Vienna Philharmonic. In 1971, he became general music director in Munich and from 1982 to 1992, artistic director of the Bavarian State Opera. From 1993 to 2003, he was music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Sawallisch was also a pianist, who gave numerous chamber music concerts and worked with several important singers.

Luc Beauséjour in concert Sunday

22 February 2013

Clavecin en concert presents a concert featuring works from Palestrina to Bach, this Sunday 3 p.m. at Église de la Visitation. Joining harpsichordist Luc Beauséjour is organist Marc-André Doran (the organist of the Visitation Church), as well as Matthew Jennejohn on the cornetto and Catherine Motuz on saquebute. 


The Festival MNM starts tomorrow

20 February 2013

The 6th edition of the Montréal Nouvelles Musiques, devoted to the rather unusual combination of voice and percussion, starts tomorrow. The programmation is very diverse, from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (the work was premiered in 1913) or a chamber version of West Side Story to a concert devoted to Xenakis or Reich. Numerous premieres are of course included, as well as youth concerts, a series of lectures on musical esthetics, the Salon des nouvelles musiques and some really interesting “Afterhours” programs that make you forget to sleep until March 4 (the festival is held between February 21 and March 3, in various venues).  Find the information here…

Since, once in a while, it’s nice to be able to focus on contemporary repertoire. I am happy to mention that Alexina Louie’s Echoes of Time, which one can hear on the latest album by Gryphon Trio (with James Campbell), For the end of time, is nominated for a Juno as “classical composition of the year”. All the recently announced nominations can be found here…




The road to the Oscars

18 February 2013

The annual cinema extravaganza is only a few days away (I’m sure you have marked February 24 in your calendar already.) Music of couse has always played an essential role in storytelling, especially in the “good old days” when the talkies had not yet been invented. Then music became the story’s loyal supporter and sometimes went unnoticed. And then again, some tunes became so famous (the themes from Jaws, from Star Wars, from ET, from Raiders of the Lost Ark, all courtesy of course by John Williams, for example) that they began to live a life on their own, on the air or in the concert hall.

But sometimes – though rather rarely -, music becomes the topic of the film, as it is the case of course with Milos Forman’s Amadeus, an unforgettable bioepic as we would call it today or François Girard’s The Red Violin. But let’s not forget about short films. This year, Henry, the Canadian contender in the live short film category, is centered around an old pianist, suffering from Alzheimer disease, who most days can’t remember his daughter or his wife, Maria, a violin player whom he met during the war. Mascagni and Schumann play an essential supporting role to the acting talent of Gérard Poirier. Will it win the prestigious statuette? Future will tell… Let’s keep our fingers crossed neverthelesse for Yan England.

In the meantime, we can travel back in time to 1932. The Music Box, featuring Laurel and Hardy who attempt to push a piano that doesn’t want to stay put up a flight of stairs was the first ever live-action short film winner. It has become a classic and it’s easy to understand why.


You may want to listen to some great film scores, as performed by Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà, here…

Early music training and brain connections

14 February 2013

Professional musicians probably barely blinked when they read the results of a new study rectenly published by McGill and Concordia Universities teams, but nevertheless… The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, just confirmed what most of them already knew: early music lessons (before 7) help the development of the brain, in a substantial enough way that can be detetected on brain scans. This is what surprised Professor Virginia Penhune, who oversaw the study with Robert Zatorre, the most.  “We had thought that maybe the difference would be very subtle,” she said in an interview.

The study tested 36 adults on a movement task, and scanned their brains. Half had musical training before age 7, while the other one started at a later age. Both groups had equal years of musical training and experience. The groups were also compared with people with less or no musical training.  “Practising an instrument before age 7 likely boosts the normal maturation of connections between motor and sensory regions of the brain, creating a framework upon which ongoing training can build,” Penhune said. The study also supported earlier findings that the white part of the corpus callosum was higher in those trained early in music.

Before you register your toddler in music lessons, remember that strong brain connections is not all that a musician is about: you need depth, artistry and a strong love for your instrument.

You can read more about the study in this article from The Gazette…



A new moonlight

11 February 2013

It may not be the most flawless performance you’ll ever hear of Beethoven’s famous “Moonlight” Sonata, but this has to be the most endearing. This series of one-of-a-kind performances were crated thanks to the complicity between professional pianist Andy Jackson and passers-by from the Haymarket Bus Station in Newcastle UK a few months ago.

Most of the participants had never dared touch a piano before, might even have been frightened by “the beast”, but Jackson convinced them to give it a try and share a note or two. To see the joy on some of those faces is just priceless!

Music, maestro!


The Perfect American: the new Philip Glass opera

7 February 2013

You were not able to squeeze in your schedule a trip to Madrid to attend the first performances of Philip Glass’ brand new opera, The Perfect American (composer featured by Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà in the Portrait series)? No problem. You have three months to watch the repeat performance online, thanks to, which broadcasted yesterday’s production live from Teatro Real Madrid. (You need to register, but it’s free.)

Based on the book of the same name by Peter Jungk, the opera is a biographie-fiction of Walt Disney’s last months and deals with his will to live eternally (thanks to cryogenisation) and his intimate life, often not so nice and proper as his public life. Characters crossing path with Disney include Dantine, a German animator who worked for the American on Sleeping Beauty, jealous as well as fascinated by the man, as well as Disney’s wife, brother, kids, his confidante Hazel and Andy Warhol.

Stage director Phelim McDermott offers a very efficient scenography, multi-leveled, giving at times the impression of being in a dream (and not always a pleasant one). The orchestra is under the direction of Dennis Russell Davies, who led almost all of Glass’ operatic premieres.

The quality of image is exceptional, cameras even bringing you from time to time in the orchestra pit. You can view it here…

In this video, composer and collaborators talk about the production.

A marriage between auto and piano?

4 February 2013

An association which at first sight can seem very odd was established between the famous piano makers Pleyel and Peugeot, certainly a very strong contender in the automobile industry. But really, who could think that an union between the “fast and furious” and the long tradition of piano making could work? It certainly gave birth to a rather intriguing instrument.

The brainchild of designers Cyrille Vayson de Pradenne and Sophie Gazeau, the “Peugeot Piano” weighs in at 614 kg. (For comparison purposes, a Steinway grand piano weights somewhere in between 275 and 480 kg, according to size and model.) It is made up of carbon fiber and steel and its monochromatic design becomes striking on stage. (This is the main purpose of the instrument and the first one to play it was pop star Mika, in Salle Pleyel.) Its clean lines and sharp architecture are certainly striking, but more importantly the sound produced is quite convincing.

This video shows you how it was made.