Christopher O’Riley, piano
During the past decade, Christopher O’Riley has been quite busy, hosting From the Top, concertizing, and recording his adaptations of pop songs by Radiohead, Nick Drake, and Elliott Smith. But he hasn’t released an all-classical CD since a Scriabin disc in 2004. That is, until 2013, when his two-CD recording of music by that barnstormer of barnstormers and finger-buster of finger-busters, Franz Liszt, saw the light of day. Continue reading →
We’re constantly hearing that classical music is in a state of crisis: struggling orchestras, aging concertgoers, a weakened recording industry. Sometimes I think it’s all a crock, or at least a substantial exaggeration. Whatever the challenges, the music is stubborn and continues to thrive in many ways. This year, like every year, I received many dozens of new classical recordings. Here are 10 that should stand the test: old works, new works and new works commenting on old works with affection and humor.
1. Hilary Hahn, “In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores” (Deutsche Grammophon): The violinist commissioned 26 new works from 26 composers — a bonanza of repertory, created in one fell swoop. (She also held a contest to find a 27th, and wound up choosing from among more than 400 submissions.) Brilliantly performed by Hahn and pianist Cory Smythe, the results are on these two discs — a grab bag of treasures. The composers include David Lang and David Del Tredici, Mason Bates and Lera Auerbach, Nico Muhly and film scorer James Newton Howard. I’m right now obsessed with Avner Dorman’s “Memory Games,” a sort of mad, mazelike tango that might have been conceived by Conlon Nancarrow.
2. Christopher O’Riley, “O’Riley’s Liszt” (Oxingale): I love the way pianist O’Riley moves from fascination to fascination with each new recording. This double-disc feels like a concept album: nothing but Liszt transcriptions of works by Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Wagner (“Prelude and Liebestod”) and (the pièce de résistance) Berlioz, whose “Symphonie fantastique” is rarely heard in this titanic version for solo piano. It unfolds like an ancient exploration, straight to the scaffold and the “Witches’ Sabbath.”Continue reading →
This Concerto grew from music Glass composed in 2001 for Naqoyqatsi, his third collaboration with the innovative documentary director, Godfrey Reggio. Glass had completed his first Cello Concerto (dedicated to, and premiered by, Julian Lloyd Webber) shortly before, but it was not until a decade later that he decided to turn the film score into a ‘proper’ concerto. I’m familiar with the first films in the trilogy, Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi but haven’t seen Naqoyqatsi: apparently its images were largely digitally created. And Glass wanted to composer ‘a very acoustic piece that could be played by a real orchestra’. Continue reading →
Replete with images of war, death, conflict and pain, Naqoyqatsi is arguably the darkest and most disturbing depiction of ‘life out of balance’ in Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi film trilogy. Glass’s music remains for the most part detached from the film’s disturbing images, however, acting in the composer’s words more ‘as a doorway into the film’. Continue reading →
Head bobbing and curls flying, Matt Haimovitz plays the cello like a rock star, leaning into his instrument to conjure forth a bold sound that captures your attention. A jack-of-all-trades in the classical music world, the Montreal-based cellist’s career is full of star-studded collaborations (among them Philip Glass, Isaac Stern, and Mstislav Rostropovich, to name a few) but also marches to the beat of his own drum. He was the first classical musician to play at New York’s notorious punk rock club CBGB and currently leads Montreal’s all-cello ensemble, Uccello, performing a repertoire that spans from Bartók to big band. Continue reading →
The Ontario Philharmonic led by Marco Parisotto is developing into a must-hear orchestra. Maestro Parisotto has shaped his players into a fine music-making instrument, fully capable of supporting the outstanding soloists they invite. Last year this time, in Koerner Hall, the Ontario Phil spread a gorgeous tapestry behind Shlomo Mintz for Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. This year, it was cellist Matt Haimovitz they accompanied in Ernest Block’s unique ‘Hebraic Rhapsody’ Schelomo. Continue reading →
Cellist Matt Haimovitz prepares to perform with the Ontario Philharmonic on Tuesday night at Koerner Hall (John Terauds phone photo).
The Ontario Philharmonic made a powerful statement in the first of this season’s concerts at Koerner Hall on Tuesday night, emphatically reminding us that this is no poor cousin of Toronto’s finest symphony orchestras. Continue reading →
Cellist Matt Haimovitz gets his kicks out of mixing it up, playing Arcade Fire at a pop-up concert one day, then restringing his instrument with gut strings to play period Beethoven the next. For tonight’s Toronto visit with the Ontario Philharmonic at Koerner Hall, he reaches into the heart of the repertoire with Ernest Bloch’s Schelomo. Continue reading →
“Angel Heart” was conceived by Luna Pearl Woolf and Lisa Delan.
“Do you hear it?”
At the beginning, there is only the voice of Jeremy Irons. Then, the sound of strings: high, sparkling filaments of sound that dance around the narrator’s voice like dust particles catching the light.
There is a whispering of wings in the silence of the night.
They’re coming. With feathers as white as snow and faces as bright as the moonlight:
“Angel Heart” is a tender and emotionally astute children’s story told in words and music. Last month it was released as an audiobook CD; on Monday it will be performed live at Zankel Hall with the actor Chris Noth as narrator. Continue reading →
“There! Do you hear it? There is a whispering of wings in the silence of the night. They’re coming. With features as white as snow, and faces as bright as the moonlight.
They come to chase the nightmares that gallop through the dark and to harvest the light of the stars. They spread it over roofs and beds and sleeping eyes And fill the night with music…” Continue reading →