The Montreal Gazette: Review: OSM’s Classical Spree a great way to discover music

August 17, 2014

MONTREAL — When a weekend leaves you shaking at the doctor’s with bloodshot eyes and dehydration, it’s not usually because of classical music. This one was an exception. The Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal’s Classical Spree filled Place des Arts with 25,000 people for a musical triantathalon of concerts, and us obsessives, the ones who tried to hear all of them, came to recognize each other by sight and smell.

The programming was excellent despite some unavoidable padding by mouldy or well-connected soloists. Friday’s highlight was a concert version of Leonard Bernstein’s A Quiet Place, his sequel to Trouble in Tahiti that jumps thirty years to see how the family ends up. It’s a dark work, a montage of dysfunction whose hopeful notes of reconciliation are overshadowed — literally, in this minimally-staged production, by her coffin above the stage — because it is suicide that brings the family together.

There are a few versions of the opera, which premiered in 1983. Bernstein reworked it in 1986 to include many parts of Trouble in Tahiti as flashbacks, but there’s no time for any of that on a spree, so we heard the North American premiere of Garth Edwin Sunderland’s edit, commissioned by Nagano last year in Berlin. It zips by at 90 minutes and brings out the contrast between the musically adventurous first act, which takes place between a sardonic wash of half-intelligible commentary from a group of mourners and the tense arrivals of the family — an isolated, angry father, Sam, and his two estranged kids, now adults, who live in a bisexual marriage triangle — and the clearer, more dramatic second and third acts. Baritone Gordon Bintner was electric as troubled Junior — though his character’s connection of mental illness and homosexuality is troubling — and bass baritone Nathan Berg was superb as the desperate and furious Sam. There were no duds in a cast of 14 — not bad — and the OSM winds and brass had a particularly fine outing.

Saturday put the Orford Academy Orchestra with tenor Marc Hervieux, who sounds better in recital than running around an opera, for four of Mahler’s break-up cycle, Songs of a Wayfarer, in a very full Maison. Hervieux’s German has a softness that suited the tender songs best, and conductor Jean-François Rivest’s attentiveness brought out their most delicate textures with the talented ensemble of young musicians, who were brought together only three weeks before the performance. They finished with a totally appropriate whipping of Stravinsky’s Firebird; explosions and stops like a trap door blowing open and slamming shut. Great stuff.

After that we ran to hear a rare concert of Bartok’s exhaustingly youthful Quintet. Special events like the Spree can take programmatic chances, like this one, because they have an unusual flexibility in rooms — there were empty seats even in the Cinquième Salle — and a fantastic selection of musicians. Violinists Vadim Repin and Andrew Wan, violist Neal Gripp, cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Andreï Korobeinikov produced a jewel, murky in a few facets, but one of those performances that lodge in your head for years. A strong case for this forgotten piece.

The Spree is a great time whatever my doctor says. It’s a pleasure to jostle through Place des Arts past grandparents and families gathering to see how instruments work up close. We need more of this friendliness in our concerts.

By: Antoine Saito

Read at: The Montreal Gazette

All Things Strings: Montreal Chamber Music Festival: Bravo Beethoven

May 23, 2014

Montreal Chamber Music Festival: Bravo Beethoven

Thursday, May 22, 2014, St. George’s Anglican Church

It was billed as “Bravo Beethoven,” but it might just as well have been called “Bravo Denis Brott.” For even though the distinguished cellist, who founded the Montreal Chamber Music Festival 19 years ago and has since served as its heart and artistic director, was laid up at home with a bad cold, the music that was made at St. George’s Anglican Church on Thursday night was the ideal that Brott had envisaged: teamwork and technique, all combined into a series of performances that illuminated Beethoven with eloquent poetry and stunning beauty.

Throughout the evening, the phrasing was linked to a compelling musical flow in which violinist Giora Schmidt, violist Marcus Thompson, cellist Matt Haimovitz (subbing for Brott as if he had been the intended cellist all along), and pianist Angela Cheng explored the dimensions of the music with the kind of ensemble playing.           Continue reading

Mountain Lake, PBS: Mélange à Trois

May 17, 2014
MÉLANGE À TROIS is an instrumental theater work, set for violin, cello and percussion. In this voiceless opera, each musician embodies a character in an enchanting tale of misplaced love.

MÉLANGE À TROIS is an instrumental theater work, set for violin, cello and percussion. In this voiceless opera, each musician embodies a character in an enchanting tale of misplaced love.

After first hearing Krystina Marcoux’s fiery, solo performance of Jennifer Higdon’s Percussion Concerto back in 2013, it was with a lot of anticipation that I attended Luna Pearl Woolf’s original voiceless opera Mélange à Trois with the BIK ensemble last Friday, May 16th at McGill University’s Pollack Hall. Continue reading

The New York Times: Classical Playlist: Beethoven, Shostakovich, Tigran Mansurian and More

May 15, 2014

Akoka: Reframing Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time

Akoka: Reframing Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time

‘AKOKA: REFRAMING OLIVIER MESSIAEN’S QUARTET FOR THE END OF TIME’
David Krakauer, clarinetist; Matt Haimovitz, cellist; Jonathan Crow, violinist; Geoffrey Burleson, pianist; Socalled, electronics
(Oxingale)
This brilliantly inventive recording pays tribute to Henri Akoka, the Algerian-born clarinetist who egged on Messiaen to compose when both were prisoners of war in a German camp during World War II. Framing a vivid rendition of the “Quartet for the End of Time” are two musical flights of fancy, an improvisation by the extraordinary clarinetist David Krakauer, and an electronic remix of the quartet by Socalled. (Fonseca-Wollheim)

Read at: The New York Times

JohnMontanari.com: Album du jour: David Krakauer, Matt Haimovitz, et al., “Akoka”

May 11, 2014
Akoka: Reframing Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time

Akoka: Reframing Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time

On the cold and rainy night of January 15, 1941, in the unheated Barrack 27 of Stalag VIIIA in Görlitz, Germany, an audience of some 400 prisoners-of-war and guards listened in rapt silence as four musicians, performing on ramshackle instruments, gave the first performance of one of the great chamber works of the 20th century.  While it is doubtful that even the most devoted practitioner of historically-informed performance would want to recreate the premiere of Olivier Messiaen’s “Quatuor pour le fin du temps” (“Quartet for the End of Time”), this amazing backstory adds even further resonance to a work of stunning originality, power and spirit.  (For the full story, Rebecca Rischin’s “For the End of Time: The Story of the Messiaen Quartet” is highly recommended.)

What’s that?  You’ve never heard Messiaen’s Quartet?  Well then, you’re in for an extraordinary musical experience, one which will grow with each hearing.  In eight movements, variously scored for one, two, three or all four instruments, Messiaen combines his favorite preoccupations, such as birdsong, rhythmic and melodic symmetry, synesthesia (e.g., musical rainbows) and fervent, sentimental Catholicism into perhaps this incredibly original composer’s most accessible large-scale work.  Not for nothing has the Quartet appealed over the years to audiences steeped in psychedelia, mysticism, minimalism, new age philosophy, eastern religion and just about every other alternative life- or musical style associated with adventurous youth.

On their splendid, just-released 2008 live concert recording (with violinist Jonathan Crow and pianist Geoffrey Burleson), clarinetist David Krakauer and cellist Matt Haimovitz have framed the Quartet with a works that pay tribute to the remarkable clarinetist of its premiere, an Algerian Jew named Henri Akoka.  As prologue, the four musicians collaborate on a mostly-improvised, electronically-enhanced piece (credited to Krakauer) called “Akoka,” transforming elements of the Messiaen into a Klezmer-ish lament and dance filled with clarinet smears, cello scrapes (much like those Matt Haimovitz employed in his celebrated version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Anthem”), scratchy violin off-beats and strummed piano strings.

For the epilogue, Canadian producer Socalled (Josh Dolgin) “merges live samples of the musicians with old radio broadcasts, hiphop, cantorial singing and markers of time…” into a piece called “MEANWHILE…”  Of all the album’s ten tracks, this will probably age least well, especially its rapped passages.  For the present, it’s a stimulating modern commentary on a great musical work.

But it’s the performance of the Quartet that commends and rewards most of our attention here.  Not that there aren’t excellent alternative versions in the current discography, but this one can take its place with the best of them for both individual and ensemble excellence.  To cite just a few examples:  The quiet central passage of the 2nd movement, “Vocalise, for the Angel Who Announces the End of Time” has rarely been as mesmerizing.  David Krakauer’s superb rendition of the 3rd movement clarinet solo, “Abyss of the Birds,” is filled with personality, subtly reminding us that for all its mellow mellifluousness, the clarinet was also the instrument par excellence of the red light district, the shtetl and the Roma encampment.  And Matt Haimovitz’s modulation of both tone color and vibrato in the sublime 5th movement duo, “Praise to the Eternity of Jesus” are wondrous to hear — artistry of the highest order.

Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time is best experienced live — what great work isn’t?  In the meantime, and for keeps, this fine, imaginative CD is highly recommended, and will fit right into your shelf next to your Mahler, your Moby, your Moondog and your Mozart.  At least that’s where it is on my shelf.

By: John Montanari

Read at: JohnMontanari.com

Tages Woche: Das Sinfonieorchester Basel erhält begeisterte Kritiken

April 29, 2014

Vier von fünf Sternen verlieh der Kritiker des «Guardian» dem ersten Konzert des Sinfonieorchester Basels – eine Note, die in diesem Sektor Seltenheitswert geniesst.  Andrew Clements titelt enthusiastisch «minimalist works maximise power and excitement» und betont Dennis Russell Davies Fähigkeit, «to showcase the strengths of his orchestra, the depth of its string tone, liveliness of its woodwind and security of its brass.»

Jenes Konzert wurde vorab von der BBC beworben – etwa mit einem kleinen Intermezzo für Klavier zu vier Händen von Dennis Russell Davies und Pianistin Maki Namekawa – und anschliessend live übertragen (es kann online nachgehört werden). Dies generierte sogar zusätzliche Konzertbesucher. Zwei Tage später nämlich verriet beim Konzert inBasingstoke eine britische Dame den Basler Tourbegleitern am CD-Verkaufstisch, sie habe das Konzert am Radio gehört und sofort entschieden, dass sie dies unbedingt live hören müsse. Deshalb sei sie extra nach Basingstoke gekommen.

Beeindruckte Besucherinnen und Besucher

Selbst die «Freunde des Sinfonieorchesters Basel» sind für einige Tage nach London gereist. Suzanne Pollak-Daicker (71), seit ihrem zwanzigsten Lebensjahr Exilbaslerin, hält sogar von ihrem Wohnort Liechtenstein aus Kontakt zum Orchester. Nach dem Konzert in der Cadogan Hall erzählt sie, dass ihr John Adams’ «Harmonielehre» zwar ein wenig zu laut, ein wenig zu aggressiv erschien. Doch sie sei grosser Fan von Arvo Pärt; und dass sie bei dessen Klavierkonzert «Lamentate» auch noch Dennis Russell Davies Frau, Maki Namekawa, am Klavier erleben durfte, «ihr edles Spiel, und wie sie mit dem Orchester gekämpft hat», das habe sie sehr beeindruckt.

Es ist ein freundliches, offenherziges Publikum, das hier den Baslern begegnet. Ob in den riesigen Mehrzweckhallen von Coventry und Basingstoke, ob in der edlen Londoner Cadogan Hall oder in der urchigen ehemaligen Lagerhalle «Corn Exchange» in Cambridge (die atmosphärisch der Basler Kaserne sehr nahe kommt); überall erntet das Orchester jubelnden Applaus. Nicht selten sprechen Konzertbesucher die Orchestermitglieder direkt nach den Konzerten an, um ihnen ihre Begeisterung und ihren Dank mitzuteilen.

Schöne Ansprache des Chefs

Dies hat nicht nur mit der Musik zu tun, die auf dem Programm steht: Minimalmusic ist zwar beliebt, weil sie tonal komponiert ist und schöne Atmosphären schafft, aber sie ist längst nicht so ein Zugpferd wie etwa eine Beethoven-Sinfonie.

Der Erfolg hat vor allem auch mit dem Orchester und seinem Chefdirigenten zu tun. «Harmonielehre war eine richtige Bombe», lobte Davies sein Orchester nach dem ersten Konzert.

Und nach dem dritten Konzert gab er gleich einen ganzen Apéro aus. In seiner Ansprache sagte er seinen Musikern: «Wir haben hier ein Publikum, das gekommen ist, um diese Musik zu hören. Und was sie hören ist weit über dem, was sie erwartet haben. Und das hat damit zu tun, wie das Sinfonieorchester Basel mit der Musik umgeht: Mit Leidenschaft, mit Können, mit Geduld, wenn Geduld gefragt ist, und Disziplin. Ich bewundere das, und ich bedanke mich sehr.»

All das motiviert nachhaltig. Selbst nach einer staubedingten, unfreiwillig langen Busfahrt von drei Stunden, nach der es ohne Abendessen direkt auf die Bühne von «The Anvil» in Basingstoke geht, spielen die Basler ein hervorragendes Konzert voller Energie – und steigen anschliessend ohne Murren direkt wieder in den Bus, um die Rückfahrt ins Hotel anzutreten – schmerzende Rücken und steife Beine ob des langen Sitzens ungeachtet.

Schrecksekunde beim Saitenriss

Sogar eine gerissene Cellosaite bringt die Basler nicht aus der Ruhe: Als beim gestrigen Konzert in der Cambridge Corn Exchange  dem Solisten Matt Haimovitz bei Philip Glass’ 2. Cellokonzert «Naqoyqatsi» die tiefste Saite riss, die er zuvor noch intensiv bearbeitet hatte, um seinem Cello ein gefährlich drohendes Grummeln zu entlocken, da zückte Stimmführer David Delacroix vorbildlich eine passende Ersatzsaite aus dem Jackett. Noch auf der Bühne wechselte Haimovitz die Saite, und binnen weniger Minuten konnte das Konzert weitergehen, als wäre nichts gewesen.

The Telegraph: Basel Symphony Orchestra, Cadogan Hall, review: ‘fabulous ride’

April 29, 2014
Photo: Benno Hunziker

Photo: Benno Hunziker

There were two puzzles about this concert, which was part of a UK tour by the Basel Symphony Orchestra focused on American minimalist music. The first was: why on earth it was presented in the bright neo-Byzantine elegance of Cadogan Hall? Minimalist music needs dim light and a groovy ambience. In the Roundhouse this concert would have been packed; the audience at Cadogan Hall was barely passable.

The second was the music itself. Cognitive scientists tell us we’re hard-wired to enjoy repetition in music. Which is true, but only up to a point. Minimalism delights in going beyond that point, with results that can be maddening or intriguing or moving, or all three at once.

That’s a recipe for emotional exhaustion, and to avoid that, minimalist music needs performances which are sympathetic and sensitive rather than merely accurate. The Basel SO certainly did their three pieces proud. In Philip Glass’s Cello Concerto No 2 they were joined by cellist Matt Haimowitz. He shaped the cello’s keening phrases with such care that they seemed like the outpourings of genuine lyricism, which repeats only to intensify. Continue reading

Triad Arts Weekend: David English, Mark Freundt, Hope Larson, Lemony Snicket, and Matt Haimovitz on Triad Arts Weekend

April 27, 2014

This week we revisit some of Team Triad Arts’ choice recent interviews, and get a musical look at this Earth Day Weekend. Guitarist David English is one of the performers at the Piedmont Earth Day Fair, and we’ll join him in conversation with David Ford, and learn about the art of building the cigar box guitar. Our celebration of Mother Earth continues with Mark Freundt. He’s conducting the 4th annual presentation of the Missa Gaia (Earth Mass). Then we’ll get a little silly & confusing with author Lemony Snicket – that is, if he even shows up. Mr. Snicket crafted the wildly popular “A Series of Unfortunate Events” novels, and now he’s inking out his peculiar craft in the world of detective fiction. We keep the pen close to paper with acclaimed graphic novelist Hope Larson, and a look at her adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time.” Then we wrap things up with acclaimed cellist Matt Haimovitz. Matt explores the sonic limits of the cello from Bach to Hendrix with indie rock detours along the way. … Continue reading

Classical Source: Basel Symphony Orchestra/Dennis Russell Davies at Cadogan Hall – 2: The Chairman Dances, Naqoyqatsi (with Matt Haimovitz), Prospero’s Books

April 28, 2014

This was the second of three concerts by the Basel Symphony Orchestra at Cadogan Hall as part of this venue’s Zürich International Orchestra series. Though not billed as such, each programme features what might be loosely described as minimalist music. All three works played in this second programme derived from works that were written other than for the concert hall.

By far the best known of these is John Adams’s The Chairman Dances, which uses music from the opera, Nixon in China, with driving ostinatos juxtaposed with irregular accents and rhythms, and with colourful orchestration and subtle percussion effects. Dennis Russell Davies led his smallish and efficient orchestra in authoritative fashion.

Philip Glass’s Cello Concerto No.2 is a re-working of music written for the 2001 film, Naqoyqatsi: Life as War. The work, which falls into seven sections, was first performed by Matt Haimovitz, with this conductor, in 2012. For the most part, the soloist is rewarded by music that has a lyrical quality: sometimes he seems to be making a commentary on the orchestral part, which often consists of rather less eloquent repetitive material. Two of the movements, ‘New World’ and ‘Old World’, comprise a dialogue between cello and light percussion, which makes good contrast with the heavier forces employed elsewhere. Haimovitz’s playing was remarkably beautiful throughout, despite the many demands made on his technical prowess.

Michael Nyman’s Prospero’s Books derives from his music for the eponymous film. It comprises five movements as heard in this performance: these were not listed in the programme and which contained a rather confusing short essay on the score by the composer. Here again were repetitive phrases drummed out by the ensemble adorned by single instrumental comments, in contrasting metres and rhythms. But there was a distinct lack of contrast between the movements, four of which proceeded at a similar tempo, though this was occasionally varied; and the material seemed to be carefully constructed rather than creatively inspired; in the end this and the rest of the programme left an impression of continually stunted compositional growth. The hall was not much more than half full, but all the performances were greeted with much enthusiasm, it seems fair to report.

By: Alan Sanders

Read at: Classical Source

Coventry Telegraph: Celebrating pioneers of minimalism

April 4, 2014

A celebration of minimalist music takes place in Coventry this month when the Basel Symphony Orchestra calls in on the city as part of their first UK tour.

The orchestra will be playing three works hailed as “minimalist masterpieces” at Warwick Arts Centre on April 23, 7.30pm.

Under the baton of their music director Dennis Russell Davies, they will be performing three 20th century works: John Adams’s Harmonielehre, a dream-inspired score for large orchestra; Arvo Pärt’s These Words, a meditation for string orchestra and percussion on human foibles and delusions; and the European premiere of Philip Glass’s Cello Concerto No2, featuring Matt Haimovitz, an Israeli-born cellist now based in the US and Canada.

The Coventry concert marks the start of a UK tour in which the orchestra will focus on pioneering minimalists. It reflects the passion of Davies, an American conductor and pianist who first encountered minimalist works in the early 1970s and has become a champion of living composers and modern music.

He says: “This repertoire area has been part of my musical life for over 40 years. Philip Glass and I were considered the young upstarts of our generation back then. Now we’re thought of as the senior citizens!”

Hans-Georg Hofmann, the orchestra’s artistic manager, says: “It’s special for us to play this repertoire with someone who is so closely associated with it. Audiences will be able to trace the development of minimalist music from the Harmonielehre of 1985 to Glass’s recent Second Cello Concerto.

“This is a fantastic project for us and is part of the great adventure in sound we’re enjoying with our music director. “

Davies, in turn, praises his players. “They can handle anything written over the past 120 years and, for instance, really hold the intensity demanded by Glass and Pärt.

“It’s time now to introduce the orchestra to a wider audience, which is why I’m so looking forward to our appearances in the UK. I believe a large audience will want to hear our minimalist programmes.”

Tickets on 024 7652 4524.

By: Patsy Fuller

Read at: Coventry Telegraph