I must admit that I approached the COC’s production of Handel’s Ariodante with some trepidation. I was concerned that a never-ending opera with a Byzantine plot and arias that sound like they were written by the Energizer Bunny (“it keeps on going, and going, and going …”) would turn out to be too much of a good thing.
Any music critic knows that honesty can be a harsh taskmaster. It seems to take on physical form, sitting on your shoulder like a little devil, ready to prod you if he catches you saying something kind or agreeable, rather than exactly what you think. And if you’re feeling ambivalent or conflicted about a performance, then he gives you no rest. “Clarify your ideas!”, he insists, with a nasty jab of his trident. “No fence-sitting or fuzzy thinking allowed!”
However, “ambivalent” and “conflicted” are exactly the right words to describe my own reaction to the Canadian Opera Company’s Norma, which I saw on Tuesday night.
It’s not surprising that the Toronto Symphony’s concert last Thursday was well attended. The soloist was Yuja Wang, who, at 29, is a bright star in the pianistic firmament. (Indeed, she was just named “Musician of the Year” by Musical America magazine.) For her, Toronto’s piano fans can be counted on to turn out in droves, no matter what repertoire she’s playing.
On Thursday evening, it was Tafelmusik’s turn to launch its 2016/17 season, at Koerner Hall. There was no soloist on the program; however, there was a guest music director. The Italian violinist Elisa Citterio returned for her second engagement in two years with Toronto’s leading “period” ensemble.
For the occasion, Tafelmusik chose a sure-fire program that fell perfectly within their baroque wheelhouse: J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 4, a set of dances from Rameau’s Les Indes Galantes, and, finally, Handel’s Water Music.
From the outset, it was apparent that both Citterio and the Tafelmusik Orchestra were simpatico. They were as one in the sharply dotted rhythms of the Overture in the Bach, there was sweet concord in the stately menuets, and the boureés danced with a unanimous energy. The Rameau that followed presented the band and its guest director with fresh challenges. Especially in the second movement, Tambourins, there were some tricky changes in tempo that were tightly brought off.
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra launched its 2016/17 season at Roy Thomson Hall on Wednesday night (Sept 21). TSO music director Peter Oundjian was on the podium to lead a program that, oddly, downplayed the orchestra itself and leaned heavily on star-power.
The star in question was soprano Renée Fleming, who brought with her an assortment of musical bon-bons: songs and arias by Ravel, Rossini, Tosti, Donaudy, Leoncavallo, and Rogers and Hammerstein.
It’s no secret that the 57-year-old soprano is winding down her stage career. In the current opera season, she’ll sing the role of the Feldmarshallin in Strauss’s Rosenkavalier at the Met and Covent Garden. Then, she has announced, she will forsake the opera house, but continue her concert career.
Of late, my Facebook news feed has been full of stories and comments about Mohammad Nouman Dasu, a Muslim man who lives in Toronto. For the last three years, he has been trying to have his children exempted from music classes in a public elementary school. He has stated that music is against his religious views.
At this point in time, he hasn’t succeeded in winning an official exemption for his kids – and he’s up against a formidable barrier. The Province of Ontario’s Education Act decrees that music is a compulsory subject for all primary-school students.
This article originally appeared in Canada’s National Post newspaper. For it, I spoke to Barry Shiffman, the executive director of the Banff International String Quartet Competition. My conversation with him was one of the most refreshingly candid interviews that I’ve done in years.
Once every three years, aspiring young musicians from all over the world come to Banff, Alberta, to compete in the Banff International String Quartet Competition (BISQC). They come to the resort town in Rockies armed with their music and instruments, with years of training, and with high hopes. This year, from August 29 to September 4, 10 quartets will play before a seven-member panel of judges.
I originally wrote this article for the Houston Chronicle. It was published as part of the “115 Years” series of articles about Houston’s history.
Richard Milhous Nixon was many things to many people: statesman, scoundrel, triumphant underdog, sore loser – the list goes on. But in Houston, the 37th president of the United States became something else: the central character in an opera.
My review of the film Flora Foster Jenkins originally appeared in Canada's National Post newspaper.
Much like a car accident that people can’t look away from, there’s something irresistibly fascinating about the human failing of self-delusion.
Miguel de Cervantes knew he was on to something, back in 1605, when he invented Don Quixote, the self-styled knight whose vivid imagination completely usurped reality. More recently, the 1994 biopic Ed Wood focused on the famously inept filmmaker.
The last of the Toronto Summer Music concerts I attended was called “Hanover Square in 1801” – a reference to London’s Hanover Square Rooms, where leading European musicians appeared before fashionable audiences. And like the well-attended events that the impresario Johann Peter Salomon presented at the Hanover Square Rooms, this concert filled Walter Hall on Friday (August 6) evening almost to capacity.
The mix-and-match chamber program included a flute trio by Haydn (No. 1 in C major, Hob. IV: 1); a transcription of Haydn’s symphony No. 102 for seven musicians; and, finally, Beethoven’s Septet in E Flat Major. It was, in short, the kind of concert where “a good time was had by all” – refined, sophisticated and entirely proper. (We can overlook a confused hornist, who momentarily lost track of which movement in the Beethoven Septet was to be played next.)
I'm a composer and writer based in Toronto – and this is my classical music blog, Eatock Daily.
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