7 years ago

Volume 21 Issue 4 - December 2015/January 2016

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What's a vinyl renaissance? What happens when Handel's Messiah runs afoul of the rumba rhythm setting on a (gasp!) Hammond organ? What work does Marc-Andre Hamelin say he would be content to have on every recital program he plays? What are Steve Wallace's favourite fifty Christmas recordings? Why is violinist Daniel Hope celebrating Yehudi Menuhin's 100th birthday at Koerner Hall January 28? Answers to all these questions (and a whole lot more) in the Dec/Jan issue of The WholeNote.

mention of Stravinsky,

mention of Stravinsky, even though his style and compositions in different genres changed many times over his 88 years. DG has assembled a 30-CD cube set, Stravinsky Complete Edition (DG 4794650), containing, presumably, everything published. The first dozen discs are devoted to the 19 stage works on which his fame mostly rests, beginning with The Firebird (1909/10), Petrouchka (1910/11), Le Sacre (1911/13), The Nightingale (1908/09,1913/14) etc., through to The Flood, written for television in 1962. The list also includes The Rakes Progress (1951), an opera in three acts. Conductors include Boulez, Chailly, Abbado, Rozhdestvensky, Bernstein, Levine, Knussen, Nagano, Gardiner and Ashkenazy. The six discs of orchestral music and concerted works include the Circus Polka for a young elephant, first performed by a ballet of elephants in the spring of 1942. With things being what they are, today it is performed without the elephants. The suites from Firebird and Petrouchka are here as is the Ebony Concerto from 1945 written for the Woody Herman band. Altogether some 36 shorter, jaunty pieces make entertaining listening. Conductors are Boulez, Mackerras, Ashkenazy, Pletnev, Davies, Craft, Bernstein, Bychkov and Knussen, with Rafael Kubelik minding the elephants. Three discs of choral music include the Symphony of Psalms and 15 other works including Threni and Mass for mixed chorus and double wind quintet, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner, Craft and Bernstein. There are two more discs devoted to solo vocals and two each for chamber music and piano music. Two discs of historic recordings plus a bonus disc of Le Sacre for two pianos played by Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim recorded in April, 2014. Watch the video trailer at So there it is… splendid performances of all he wrote occupying only 133 mm of shelf space. I really had my doubts about a new collection, The History of Classical Music in 24 Hours (DG 7494648), claiming to be just that. When it was announced I expected a mishmash of bleeding chunks of this period or that, that would really limit its appeal to one audience and revolt another. Today it arrived. It is a 3” (73mm) box containing 24 CDs in 12 hinged double sleeves (called a “mint” in the trade) in chronological order, each devoted to one or two periods. Each mint is titled thusly: 1&2, Music of the Middle Ages/Music of the Renaissance; 7&8, A Trip to France/The Romantic Symphony; 11&12, The Virtuoso II/The Romantic Cello…and so on. It’s funny that after a lifetime of listening to music in both concert and recorded contexts, some fresh experience will turn back the years and once again I become excited by something new or long forgotten. It is never too late to at least rethink certain eras or even artists when you hear them again or for the first time. The symphonies and concertos included are complete, as are symphonic works like Finlandia and The Planets. There are complete song cycles by Wagner, Mahler and Richard Strauss; string quartets, and a stunning array of arias and duets. All performed by the finest musicians and artists. The breadth of repertoire is enormous and the performances are taken from the DG catalogue in the latest mastering. In fact, there are more than 24 hours of music, closer to 30 hours. It comes to mind, that except for some complete operas, this package is a true basic repertoire performed by the world’s greatest artists. You can hear samples of every piece at Here is a unique basic library for you or a friend at three dollars or less per disc. Messiah continued from page 9 fabled city to teach at the Yunnan Arts University and to conduct the Kunming Symphony Orchestra.) To my amazement, the festival organizers wanted a performance of Messiah. The Kunming Symphony Orchestra was eager to play, but I would have to bring my own choir, Consort Caritatis. Maggie and I travelled to Kunming about ten days prior to the festival to give me sufficient time to rehearse the orchestra which was unfamiliar with the baroque style. We had 60 hours of rehearsal time. They responded quickly and with great enthusiasm. During our stay in Kunming, we learned about China’s minorities or distinct ethnic groups. In addition to the dominant Han group, there are 55 minorities, many of which are concentrated in the mountains of southern China. One of these groups, the Miao people, had been visited by what we think must have been Methodist missionaries sometime during the late 19th century. These missionaries taught the musically illiterate Miao to sing extensive sections of Messiah, by rote, in four-part harmony! And they continue to sing these excerpts to this day. Of course I was determined to meet them. It turned out that word had reached them high in the mountains that a choir from Canada would be coming to Kunming to perform the entire oratorio. A contingent of 20 or so from one village made the arduous fourhour journey on foot, then ox cart, and finally, bus. The performance being completely sold out weeks in advance, they came for the dress rehearsal. As the rehearsal proceeded, I could see that they were transfixed by what they were hearing. They had never before heard an orchestra, so this was a revelation for them. Not sure exactly which movements they knew, I was confident that they must surely be familiar with the Hallelujah Chorus. When we got to that point, I stopped the rehearsal and invited the Miao mountain people to join us onstage. I had them stand among my singers and we sang together. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room! The Chinese television crew who were covering the entire festival were dumbfounded. These people live very much on the margins of Chinese society, and yet here they were, obviously bonding with a group of fellow musicians from 12 time zones away. The TV people insisted on doing a mini-documentary, which was promptly telecast throughout the People’s Republic to a potential audience of 1.4 billion! The soldout performance itself was an unqualified success. Everyone in the audience had a cellphone. Hundreds of calls were made during that performance, audience members holding up their phones so people at home could hear the concert as well. As part of that festival, I was invited to give a lecture on Messiah at the Yunnan Arts University. Seventy-five students and faculty listened intently as I held forth on the musical and theological aspects. In the Q & A which followed, a young student got to his feet and said to me, “Mr. Dyck, when you conduct Handel’s Messiah, do you have Christmas in your heart?” I was deeply moved by the honest simplicity and the profundity of the question. It was a wonderful reminder to me never to take this great masterpiece for granted. All that was in 1999. Thirteen years later, when I returned to Kunming, people would walk up to me, smiling and humming bits of Messiah. Handel’s magic had taken root in one of the most remote parts of China, oblivious to time and place. And of course this music of promise and joy and redemption continues to nourish us year after year. Enjoy this season’s sumptuous Messiah banquet. Hallelujah! PHOTO COURTESY OF HOWARD DYCK Howard Dyck is a Canadian broadcaster, conductor and music educator. 84 | December 1 2015 - February 7, 2016

Reserve your seats now— shows are limited! TICKETS FROM .75 “[The TSO’s Messiah] is a grand, majestic spectacle that should be seen and heard by every Torontonian.” - Toronto Life This Christmas, rediscover the magic of music with the TSO as Conductor Laureate Sir Andrew Davis leads a grand-scaled, must-see edition of Handel’s holiday classic at Roy Thomson Hall. Hallelujah! Order now! 416.593.4828

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