6 years ago

Volume 22 Issue 7 - April 2017

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  • April
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In this issue: Our podcast ramps up with interviews in March with fight director Jenny Parr, countertenor Daniel Taylor, and baritone Russell Braun; two views of composer John Beckwith at 90; how music’s connection to memory can assist with the care of patients with Alzheimer’s; musical celebrations in film and jazz, at National Canadian Film Day and Jazz Day; and a preview of Louis Riel, which opens this month at the COC. These and other stories, in our April 2017 issue of the magazine!


PODCASTING at THE WHOLENOTE Russell Braun: 17.03.02 Russell Braun dropped by our studio on March 2, just back in town after his umpteenth Mendelssohn Elijah in Ottawa (around two and a half decades after a prescient Robert Cooper first picked him out of a University of Toronto student lineup to perform the role). “No-one in their 20s should do it,” he says now, with a laugh. Unsurprisingly for those who know him, with rehearsals for Louis Riel due to start March 19, he wasn’t exactly planning to rest up. Both of his sons, he told me, are heavily involved in baseball so he’s heading off the next day on a side trip to their respective spring-training camps in Florida, “en route” to London for a March 13 performance of Senza Sangue (Without Blood), a one-act opera by Peter Eötvös, based on a novella of the same name by Alessandro Baricco. His character in Senza is in his 70s, he informed us. “In the last few years,” he mused, “my operatic career has tranformed a little bit from playing basically passionate adolescents to richly, fully developed adults.” The upcoming role in Louis Riel, by contrast, requires him to play a character who goes from his late 20s to his late 30s. But Riel is no typical 30-year-old, and Braun has been immersing himself in preparation for the role for a couple of years now. “I like to really do 90 percent of the work on my own with the opera, whether it’s Mozart or Debussy or Somers or Eötvös. I love the interaction between the score and the piano; luckily I can play the piano well enough to really establish a relationship with the score before I open my mouth. “This particular score is rhythmically very, very challenging. Very often if you are a competent musician you can read through a score, and then on second, third, fourth reading master more and more. The Louis Riel score…it almost requires a mathematical analytical approach before you can even open your mouth and utter a word.… whenever a composer notates in a particular way I ask myself why. You know, whether it’s Bach, which is almost devoid of notation sometimes, or Hugo Wolf, which is extremely specifically notated, or Massenet, a French composer, also very specifically notated in terms of interpretation…I always ask myself ‘What is it that this composer compels me to do?’” In the case of Somers, he says, “The end result that I think he wants is to eventually find a natural flow of quasi-recitative and speech again, and it’s very, very busily notated but you can reach a level of saturation quite quickly unless you have this goal in mind - that basically the result [he desires] is a natural rhythmic flow of speech: now, it looks on the score like it’s a septuplet on a triplet that has a dotted eighth and a sixteenth note underneath the triplet, within the septuplet which is actually a five-sixteenth bar [laughs]. But with difficult music the effort it takes to learn it pays off in the understanding of it.” Interestingly, too, at the time we spoke he hadn’t permitted himself to view or listen to the one available recording of the work, featuring Bernard Turgeon as Riel, and a cast of performers who have inhabited Braun’s world, as teachers, mentors and family friends, some for as long as he can remember. For him, there are no shortcuts to finding his character. “I need to make my own mistakes,” he says. To hear the full conversation with Russell Braun, or any of our other podcasts, search for “The WholeNote” in your favourite podcast app, or go to 16 | April 1, 2017 - May 7, 2017

Beat by Beat | Early Music No Silver Lining DAVID PODGORSKI In professions that are physically and mentally challenging as well as competitive, there’s no experience quite as disappointing as discovering that you’re second best. Back in 1995, a team of psychologists observed and ranked the emotions displayed by Olympic athletes right when the final results in their events were announced, and then again when they were standing on the podium. What they found was not only that the bronze medal winners seemed significantly happier than the silver medallists, but that winning a silver actually caused negative emotions in the athletes who won them. Instead of celebrating an achievement – and how many people even know who are the second best in the entire world at something? – they expressed both sadness and contempt, and harshly critiqued their own performance, listing their mistakes and replaying the event in their heads, wishing they had acted differently in order to win gold. The career of Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704) is an excellent example of the frustrations of being almost the greatest. Despite a professional lifetime of artistic patronage in some of the best courts in 17th-century France, a mid-career collaboration with Molière, an appointment as maître de musique for the Jesuit order in France, and a lifetime composing music with over 500 compositions to his name, he was still a (distant) second, career-wise, to the greatest French composer of the period, Jean-Baptiste Lully. It’s important to keep two things in mind about being second-best to Lully: one, that it doesn’t mean Charpentier, or any of his other contemporaries, was any less of a composer, and in many cases Charpentier was arguably better. Two, that being anything other than the best composer in Louis XIV’s France came with significant creative limitations on what composers were allowed to write. Lully, one must bear in mind, was not simply Les Violons du Roy, with founding conductor Bernard Labadie (left) interested in writing better music than everyone else. He was also determined to be the richest and the most influential and, to the best of his ability, the only composer in France, and the centralization of French cultural and political life around Versailles made sure he could maintain an artistic monopoly. The result for Charpentier was that he couldn’t legally produce an opera, or indeed any other piece of music, with more than two singers and six instrumentalists, without the express written permission of Lully. Although working for the prominent House of Guise meant that Charpentier could somewhat circumvent this, he still had to wait until he was 50 years old before he could get an opera produced at court after Lully finally died in 1687. The opera in question was Médée (Medea) and although Charpentier had to wait most of his life to get a chance to write something like it, the wait was well worth it for the French court. Listening to Médée, the listener can tell right away that Charpentier was able to perfectly imitate the style developed by the old Italian monopolist and, although the opera only ran for a few months, Médée was critically DAVID CANNON April 1, 2017 - May 7, 2017 | 17

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