7 years ago

Volume 11 Issue 10 - July 2006

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MUSICAL LIFE asks about

MUSICAL LIFE asks about summer (Ottawa, Orford, Parry Sound, Caramoor, Casals, among others). It's hard work, usually requires learning stacks of repertoire, teaching dozens of students, and many weeks spent away from home. In fact, summers can be more exhausting than the regular season! But it's worth it, for the chance to meet and play with new people, as well as old friends, to play new works, not to mention that these festivals tend to be held in the most beautiful corners of the world. This summer, however, I've pared down to one festival. It's one I've played, taught or studied at for going on 23 years: The Banff Centre. The reason for my reduced schedule is that I had my first baby two weeks ago, a gorgeous little girl who still needs a name, I'm ashamed to say. She will be all of three weeks old when her father, Omar Daniel and I head out to the mountains for the month of July. I can't think ofa place I'd rather spend some of these early, precious days. Banff has always been a place where the boundaries of friend, family and colleague are blurred, and music and daily life are blended into one experience; Tom and Isobel Rolston have made it so. I hope this place becomes as dear to my daughter as it is to me. Alison Melville (recorder, traverso) This summer I'm involved in various musical projects, including a recording with Toronto Consort and a solo show at Harbourfront's Music Garden, but it's nowhere near as busy as the 'regular' season. I'll also be spending some time at a friend's cottage, up north of Manitoulin Island. Life in the summer differs greatly for me because I don't have to divide my time between Toronto and Oberlin. Because the summer is a quieter time, I can take some time to reflect on the past season, on how things are going and where I'm at, and on new ideas/projects/goals and how I might proceed with them. I can experiment with new music, read on various subjects, spend time with friends, and generally live life at a quite different pace in comparison to the concert and academic year. I consider myself very lucky - if I didn't have this bit of time to chill out, allow life's rhythm to change, and watch the plants grow, I would be far worse off as a musician and as a human being. This gift of 'down time' is invaluable for creative rejuvenation, though it seems slightly odd that this happens in the summer when Nature is at her most colourful and lively. 48 Back to Ad Index Whole Note Discoveries: BOOKS, MEDIA, RECORDINGS REVIEWED OPERA at Home by Phil Ehrensaft Britten's star Turn 1m.rn1~ TI 11'. R/1'1' / C I' L,-;_TRETl.\ l i ,.-, l[ • I (J' . .\•; Jl f' 1·,; 111,i,,, ,., • • . ,,,.,. _..,. , , • •. n,.,,.~,. ,·, "Necessity, Who is the Mother of fuvention" Plato The premiere of Peter Grimes in June 1945 was utterly successful and inspiring to the young Benjamin Britten. But a second opportunity for a large-scale opera launch would not present itself anytime soon. Nazi bombard~ ments and wartime mobilization brought Bntain 's economy to its knees. Major opera houses focused on core repertoire to rebuild audiences. Despite delight that British opera, after a long hiatus, finally had a major composer, managers were not taking chances on new commissions. Even for Britten. The ever resilient Britten took stock of the situation. Reduced instrumental, vocal and staging forces would make new opera practical. His imagination and disciplined compositional process could evoke a remarkable depth of sound from orchestras averaging around fifteen instruments. Lifetime collaborator, the landmark tenor Peter Pears, alerted Britten to new possibilities for extending vocal expression. A modern form of the chamber opera was born. Together Britten and Pears assembled a remarkable nucleus of talented young performers, including the likes of Kathleen Ferrier and Joan Cross. The English Opera Group, formed around this nucleus, premiered Britten's first chamber opera, The Rape of Lucretia at Glyndebourne in 1946. Peter Grimes' comic complement, Albert Herring, followed in 1947. Britten's brilliant re-orchestration of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera was completed in 1948. Astonishingly, these three intense musical years also included organizing the eminent Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts in Britten's beloved home region, Sussex. Britten's reputation and Britain's post-war recovery enabled the composer to eventually return to large-scale forces; chamber opera remained dear to his heart. After Billy Budd in 1951, and Gloriana in 1953, Britten penned the greatest of his chamber opera~ proper, an~ perhaps the greatest of his operatic output penod in 1954: The Turn of the Screw. Britten's chamber operas are a boon to ensembles and festivals with limited financial and physical means, but large imaginations. They are especially attractive to conservatories and WWW. THEWHOLENOTE.COM companies relying on young professionals. While the chamber operas were also designed to function in larger halls if opportunities materialized, they really shine in smaller venues. I had the privilege of attending two shining performances this spring: a fine Rape of Lucretia performed at the San Francisco Lyric Opera this May, and an equally fine Turn of the Screw presented by the Atelier Lyrique de !'Opera de Montreal this April. Both companies feature talented young professionals throwing heart and soul into their performances. The SFLO has as classy a venue as one could imagine: a circular 320-seat theatre in a 1924 neo-Greek building located in a park overlooking the ocean. The company doesn't seem to have a treasury for elaborate scenery. Roman soldiers wore plastic breastplates that could have been purchased from a Hallowe'en costume shop. No matter. The protagonists sang and acted to beat the band. All the performers were strong, including the secondary roles. It was sheer operatic delight. The timing for the San Francisco performance was serendipitous. The U.K. 's Pearl label, a gold standard for historical restoration, recently created a major event for recorded opera. Pearl obtained two October 1946, acetate disk recordings of Lucretia from the private collection of the Earl of Harewood. Pearl's engineers then worked their high tech magic to derive serviceable sound. As I listened to the fires in the bellies of young Peter Pears as the Male Chorus, Joan Cross as the Female Chorus, Kathleen Ferrier as Lucretia and Owen Brannigan as her husband Collatinus, I quickly forgot that the sound is just serviceable. As a bonus, there's 15' 45" of Britten conducting his hitherto lost incidental music for Ronald Duncan's play, Stratton. It's a tough choice between this Pearl restoration (GEMS 0231) and a 1970 studio recording on Decca (425 666-2) conducted by Britten himself, with Janet Baker as Lucretia. Then there's an excellent digital recording on Chandos (CHAN 0254), conducted by Richard Hickox. I lean towards 1946s fire in the belly. Let's switch gears from Lucretia to the Atelier Lyrique's performance of Britten's last chamber opera, Turn of the Screw. A noted Montreal theatre director, Rene Richard Cyr, was making his first venture into opera. The staging included doubling each role: one set of actors moving silently, with singers behind them moving in tandem. I frankly expected to be quite disappointed . Lately there's been a small Montreal plague of postmodern directors with little knowledge of opera mucking up my favourite art form. I was prepared for more of the same, and was wrong. Turn of the Screw is the eeriest of eerie operas. Britten took Henry James' dense, troubled novella, and then doubled the trouble with a score centered around compact variations on a 12-tone initial theme. The role of the two haunted children requires exceptionally talented and trained child singers. Outside of major international opera centres, that's a tall order. Doubling of the roles was a wise strategy in Montreal, and beautifully executed at that. Eyes focused on the children acting in mime. ) ULY 1 - SEPTEMBER 7 2006

The effect of mute actors backed by singers was distinctly ghostly, just what James and Britten had in mind. Conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni, who seconds Bernard Labadie at Les Violons du Roy, was masterfully at ease both with the forces of a chamber orchestra and Britten's eerie score. My reference point for Tum perfonnances is BooK Shelf by Pamela Marg/es In his latest book on Canadian music, 1111 I ·' l · , I'\. I I! I ~ I ','. ', I , There's Music in These Walls: A History of the Royal Conservatory of Music (Dundurn Press, .00) Ezra Schabas leaves no doubt whatsoever that the Conservatory's own history is fundamental to the history of Canadian music - and Canadian culture. But underlying Schabas's celebration of the Conservatory's remarkable achievements is its rocky relationship with the University of Toronto. He offers an insider's view of the university's 'subjugation' of the Conservatory, and its appropriation of Conservatory resources. For five years as principal of the Conservatory, starting in 1978, he fought hard for independence. Once the messy process was finally resolved in 1991, current president Peter Simon was able to undertake the still ongoing rejuvenation. Schabas emiches his lively narrative with extensive research, vivid recollections, and candid opinions. This book has been beautifully produced, and illustrated with terrific photographs. The stunning cover photo shows the newly cleaned building on Bloor Street glowing under a painterly sky. While a detailed bibliography would have been useful, quotations and references are well-annotated. Schabas convinces us that this is a book that needed to be written, and that he was the one to do it. A few blocks from the real Conservatory lies the fictional York-ville jazz club Chicken Alley, the setting for Toronto writer Jeffrey Miller's latest murder mystery Murder's Out of Tune: An Amicus Curiae Mystery (ECW Press, .95) Justice Ted Mariner has been kicked out by his wife. With his precocious cat, Amicus, the judge is living above the club where he had been a waiter and occasional jazz pianist while at law school. Miller's own training is in law, but his heart is clearly in music. He builds his entertaining story around a matter which involves both law and music - an exclusive contract between the victim, the pianist and leader of the club's resij UL Y 1 - SEPTEMBER 7 2 006 Back to Ad Index an exemplary co-production by Covent Garden and Germany's Schwetzinger Festspiele, captured live in 1990 on an ArtHaus/Naxos DVD (100199). Samuel Linay, the boy soprano singing the role of little Miles, plays his role remarkably. Close-in camera shots put opera singers' control of facial and body movements under the microscope. Linay passes the microdent quartet, and the main suspect, his star saxophone player, as a motive for murder. The story is told by the cat, who certainly possesses both psychological astuteness and an aptitude for wordplay. The issue for readers will be accepting a feline narrator. Those who do will enjoy tracking down the musical references, like a quote from Schoenberg, an 'abbreviated version' of Charles Lloyd's Forest Flower, and Paul Desmond's unforgettable Toronto sessions at Bourbon Street in 1975. Paul Griffiths has written a number of books on contemporary music. His music criticism has appeared in the New York Times, New Yorker, and Times Literary Supplement for the past thirtysome years. But The Substance of Things Heard: Writings About Music (University of Rochester Press, 0) marks the first time his critical writings have been collected into a book. Taken together these reviews add up to a comprehensive perspective on the classical music scene of the last few decades. Griffiths includes Canada in his extensive concert-going, reviewing Robert Lepages's COC production of Erwartung and Bluebeard's Castle in 1993. He offers a typically insightful assessment of Canadian composer Claude Vivier: 'At the point of death, of eternity, of recovered innocence - he would find music.' Like all good critics, he doesn't feel impelled to hide his enthusiasms, describing one of his heroes, the resolute modernist Elliott Carter, as experiencing 'desertion by time's skidding hurriedly backwards.' (Griffiths went on to write the libretto for Carter's recent opera, What's Next .) Griffiths is honest, which makes him reliable. And he is a terrific writer - his prose is lively, amusing, provocative and richly descriptive. The bibliography, discography, and thorough index invite further explorations. Toronto poet and literary critic Susan Glickman sets her first novel, The Violin Lover (Goose Lane Editions, .95), in London and, briefly, Vienna, against the ominous backdrop of the rise of the Nazis under Hitler. But the situation she explores ultimately has little to do with politics. r/tc\-'iol in &_-;'Cr WWW.THEWHOLENOTE. COM -.. scope test with acting abilities beyond his years. Helen Field is the very image of a vulnerable young nineteenth century governess. One can make parallel comments for each of the other roles. Conductor Stuart Bedford, who assisted Britten and later became the artistic director of the Aldeburgh Festival, commands every nuance of the score. This is Britten as Britten should be. Ned Abraham, a character based on Glickman's great-great-uncle, is a Jewish doctor whose passion is music. He plays violin with pianist Jacob Weiss, a 12-year-old child prodigy who thinks about sonata form when he hears fairy tales. When Ned has an affair with Jacob's widowed mother, Clara, the consequences are disastrous. Glickman is an elegant, vivid and imaginative writer. She is able to convincingly portray intelligent people talking about things that matter to them, even when their behaviour is not so intelligent. Her depictions of relationships between mothers and sons are especially resonant. Best of all, she gets the music right, both in the technical details and the way it infuses the spiritual Ii ves of her characters. The publication of Joseph Volpe's memoir The Toughest Show on Earth: My Rise and Reign at the Metropolitan Opera (Knopf, .95) caps Volpe's monumental career with the Met. He started as a carpenter in 1964, and spent the past sixteen years as general manager. His passion for what he variously calls the 'madhouse' and a 'magic kingdom' is palpable on every page. Volpe comes across as a proud, ruthless, resourceful workaholic. He finds solutions and carries them out. When longtime music director James Levine and Met board members object to supertitles, Volpe devises a way to put translations on seatbacks. He tells lots of entertaining stories about Met singers, including, inevitably, how he fired soprano Kathleen Battle. But his best stories are about directors. He describes the dangers of offering directors the Met's phenomenal facilities, unique in the world, 'a playgound where anything you want to happen can be made to happen'. He also tries to prevent directors from superimposing their own visions on an opera. But his taste is by no means unadventurous - he loves the work of Robert Wilson. His favourite Met production remains John Dexter's 1979 Mahagonny with the great Canadian soprano Teresa Stratas. Volpe's collaboration with writer Charles Michener results in polished, witty writing, but fortunately Volpe's take-no-prisoners personality survives unchecked . An index and bibliography have wisely been included. The photos are poor quality, but include Karita Mattila as a sensational Salome, after she has taken off the last of her seven veils. 49

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