8 years ago

Volume 21 Issue 2 - October 2015

Vol 21 No 2 is now available for your viewing pleasure, and it's a bumper crop, right at the harvest moon. First ever Canadian opera on the Four Seasons Centre main stage gets double coverage with Wende Bartley interviewing Pyramus and Thisbe composer Barbara Monk Feldman and Chris Hoile connecting with director Christopher Alden; Paul Ennis digs into the musical mind of pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, and pianist Eve Egoyan is "On the Record" in conversation with publisher David Perlman ahead of the Oct release concert for her tenth recording. And at the heart of it all the 16th edition of our annual BLUE PAGES directory of presenters profile the season now well and truly under way.

Beat by Beat | Classical

Beat by Beat | Classical & Beyond Grosvenor’s Return PAUL ENNIS Jennifer Taylor has a knack for programming. Music Toronto’s artistic producer and general manager admitted in a recent chat that while she has “a tiny reputation for piano recital debuts, just say that I am lucky.” We met in her office in an older building high above the city’s downtown core. Glancing at the list of pianists who have made their local debuts under Taylor’s watch over the last 25 years, many of the names jump out: Pascal Rogé, Misha Dichter, Nikolai Lugansky, Markus Groh, Andreas Haefliger, Simon Trpčeski, Piotr Anderszewski, Stephen Osborne, Arnaldo Cohen, Alexandre Tharaud, Till Fellner, Peter Jablonski and Benjamin Grosvenor, who returns to the stage of the Jane Mallett Theatre on October 13, a mere 19 months after his memorable debut there in 2014. Conceding that she doesn’t usually gamble on pianists as young as Grosvenor, she said: “He was the real thing.” Grosvenor’s exceptional talent was widely revealed at 11 when he won the keyboard section of the BBC Young Musician of the Year. At 19, shortly after becoming the first British pianist since the legendary Clifford Curzon to be signed by Decca, he became the youngest soloist to perform at the First Night of the Proms. The venerable magazine Gramophone bestowed its “Young Artist of the Year” on him in 2012. The youngest of five brothers, his piano-teacher mother shaped his early musical thinking. He divulged in a 2011 YouTube video that he decided at ten to be a concert pianist and wasn’t fazed at all by playing on the BBC shortly thereafter. Only when he became more self-aware at 13 or 14 did he suffer some anxious moments. An excerpt on the piano of Leonard Bernstein’s Age of Anxiety followed, the musical core of which he expressed beautifully, both literally and figuratively, before adding, “The pieces you play the best are the ones you respond to emotionally.” Just a week after his appearance in the Last Night of the Proms at Royal Albert Hall in London on September 12, the now 23-year-old pianist took time out from his busy schedule to generously answer several questions I sent him via email. Such a high profile concert was just the latest in a career that has seen the spotlight shine on this extraordinary performer for more than half of his life. The WholeNote: Your recital in Toronto last year at the Jane Mallett Benjamin Grosvenor Theatre was a revelation. I was impressed by your sensitivity and tonal palette; by the way you seemed to dig deep into the heart of each piece. When I heard you play the Schubert Impromptu Op.90 No.3, you reminded me of one of my favourite pianists, Dinu Lipatti. Has he been an influence on you? Benjamin Grosvenor: I admire a great many fellow pianists – both alive and not – and Lipatti is one of them. With all great pianists, and particularly with such pianists of the golden age, there is something that is distinctive in all their performances, whether of Bach, Liszt or Ravel, which is indelibly theirs – their own sound or ‘voice’ at the piano. Lipatti and his interpretations remain ideals of technical and musical perfection, but there are a great many other pianists whose playing I admire for various distinct reasons – Horowitz, Moiseiwitsch, Cherkassky, Schnabel, Bolet etc. They too all have their own ‘voices’ and touch me in different ways. WN: I’d like to focus on the program for your upcoming Toronto concert. Please tell me what attracts you to the Mendelssohn Preludes and Fugues. Grosvenor: The Mendelssohn pieces are underrated works, not very often played. Each of the six in this set is masterfully constructed and has emotional qualities of its own. All feature preludes with beautiful melodic material – reminiscent of the Songs without Words – and wonderfully constructed fugues, translating an archetypal baroque form into Mendelssohn’s own language. The Fugue of the E minor is a sombre work that builds in intensity as it processes. It bears a resemblance to the Franck that comes later in the program, in that the troubled quality in the music – softly spoken at first, later forcefully uncompromising – is only resolved at the very end, with a triumphant chorale, and a soothing coda in the major key. The Fugue of the F minor takes the fugue to virtuosic heights, with a frenetic energy LAURIE LEWIS 12 | Oct 1 - Nov 7, 2015

throughout. WN: With the Bach-Busoni Chaconne and the Franck Prelude, Chorale and Fugue, you seem to be continuing the baroque spirit of the Mendlessohn. The Franck is a major work that is seldom heard live here. What is your relationship to it? When did you first discover it? I found fascinating Stephen Hough’s note that Alfred Cortot described the Fugue in the context of the whole work as “emanating from a psychological necessity rather than from a principle of musical composition.” Grosvenor: I have loved the Franck since hearing the Cortot recording in my teens. It is a deeply spiritual work, and Stephen has written in that article more eloquently about its religious connotations and significance than I can do so here. When I heard it for the first time, I was struck by its raw emotion, and the scale of its journey. The chorale builds from fragile sobs to a massive outcry of pain. The Fugue sustains such intensity, the only reprieve from which is in the quietly soothing return of the chorale theme. It builds again to the climax where the themes combine – an explosive “working out” of the melodic strands. Only at the end is there a sense of resolve. It ends with joy, and with bells. WN: And I see that the baroque theme continues with Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin. What do you find to be the essence of that piece? Grosvenor: All the pieces of the first half involve composers taking elements of baroque music and presenting these in their own musical tongues. The same is true of the Ravel, where the inspiration is the dance suites of the French Baroque. Each movement is dedicated to friends of the composer who died in the Great War, and while some of the music was thought uncharacteristically joyous for such dedications, to much of the music (the fugue, forlane, menuet) there is a veiled sadness, and melancholic beauty. WN: Two of Liszt’s Venezia e Napoli from the Années de pèlerinage, Second year, Italy, are song-based, the other, the Tarantella is a wild dance. In a 2013 webcam/YouTube video at the time of your Singapore appearance, you talked about your great interest in recordings made by pianists like Moriz Rosenthal, Ignaz Friedman, Benno Moiseiwitsch, Shura Cherkassky and Vladimir Horowitz in the early half of the 20th century. “Their primary concern was in imitating the voice especially in Romantic repertoire,” you said. I look forward to hearing how you will perform those Liszt pieces given that statement. Is that how you see Venezia e Napoli? Grosvenor: The Liszt works are certainly inspired by songs, and specifically some of the popular melodies that Liszt heard himself on the streets of Italy. Venezia e Napoli is, it seems to me, quite an underrated and underperformed work. The Gondoliera is a beautifully atmospheric setting of a melody (a Venetian folk song) capturing the Oct 1 - Nov 7, 2015 | 13

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