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