3 years ago

Volume 25 Issue 4 - December 2019 / January 2020

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Welcome to our December/January issue as we turn the annual calendar page, halfway through our season for the 25th time, juggling as always, secular stuff, the spirit of the season, new year resolve and winter journeys! Why is Mozart's Handel's Messiah's trumpet a trombone? Why when Laurie Anderson offers to fly you to the moon you should take her up on the invitation. Why messing with Winterreisse can (sometimes) be a very good thing! And a bumper crop of record reviews for your reading (and sometimes listening) pleasure. Available in flipthrough here right now, and on stands commencing Thursday Nov 28. See you on the other side!

December’s Child is Brian Current I’m so grateful that my parents made me practise – I still use the piano in my work every day. Composer and conductor Brian Current is co-artistic director, along with Robert Aitken, of New Music Concerts and has been composer adviser for the RCM’s 21C Music Festival. He’s the director of the New Music Ensemble at the RCM Glenn Gould School, and the main conductor for Continuum Contemporary Music. As a conductor he leads a wide range of 20th/21st century repertoire, and is the champion of close to a hundred works by Canadian composers including commissioned premieres by Linda Catlin Smith, Brian Harman, Christopher Mayo, Bekah Simms, So Jeong Ahn, Andrew Staniland, Alice Ho and many others. Current’s compositions are programmed frequently by major professional orchestras, opera companies and ensembles across Canada and internationally. The Naxos recording of his opera Airline Icarus won the 2015 JUNO Award, Classical Composition of the Year. He was the inaugural winner of the Azrieli Commissioning Competition in 2016. Current’s 2017 opera, Missing, with Métis playwright Marie Clements, is about Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women. Missing has just completed a tour of Victoria, Regina, and Prince George and was featured on our November 2019 cover. Current was born in London Ontario, and grew up in Ottawa with his older brother Grant and younger sister Catherine. “Both my parents and siblings are very musical. My parents still sing in the Ottawa Choral Society. They may be its longest-serving members. My Dad played Gershwin and Chopin at our living-room piano, and my Mom still plays piano in retirement homes around Ottawa.” If a friendly child asks what your job is? I draw the music so people know what to play. I also wave my arms so people know when and how to play it. Where did hearing music fit into your life, growing up? In the car with my parents. Listening to my 80s cassette Walkman while delivering The Globe and Mail (before 7am! Ottawa winter!) as a teenager. Your very first recollection of making up music yourself? Trying to fake out my mom by pretending to practise Mozart and Beethoven, but rather attempting (poorly) to improvise in that style. She knew. First instruments other than your own voice? Piano, guitar and euphonium. A first music teacher? I’d go to the home of Karen Sutherland who was a fantastic local teacher with a half-dozen children of her own. Early collaborative experiences? My first ensemble experience was as a choirboy at Christchurch Cathedral where the starting salary was .10 per week. After high school? I didn’t know that formal composition as an art form was a thing, but I nevertheless somehow convinced my parents that I should study piano and composition, rather than commerce, at McGill. When did composing music arise? I knew before high school that I wanted to compose but didn’t know about any existing practices until John Rea inspiringly introduced the composition world to us in a third year undergrad introduction class at McGill. When did you first conduct? I wrote a piece for tenor, bassoon, overtone singing, bowed banjo and piano and needed to put it together for a concert, and just did it. The first time conducting professional musicians was the National Arts Centre Orchestra in my 20s and it was terrifying but a huge learning experience. Experiences that formed your adult musical appetites? When I was in the Ottawa Youth Choir, we performed Michael Colgrass’ The Earth’s A Baked Apple which was like music from another planet at the time, and in retrospect was a fantastic introduction to contemporary music. When did you began to think of yourself as a career musician? I still don’t know about this. It remains a struggle. We should all ask ourselves every five years if this life is for us. Ever think you would do something else? My secret other fantasy job is to be a political journalist in foreign countries for Harpers, The Atlantic, NPR. Music-making in your own family today? My three kids take piano and violin, but I don’t push them to be professional musicians. More, I would just like them to get a glimpse of the world that I work in daily and love. When the kids were little – one still is – we would listen to Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, or the Goldberg Variations every night as they went to sleep. We would listen to the same pieces for years and not get tired of them. What should we say to parents/grandparents hoping their young children will grow up to love and make music? They won’t regret it if they take music lessons, or if they are introduced to great works. UPCOMING Brian Current is a proud Toronto resident who bikes around to rehearsals. He has three kids, a ridiculously accomplished wife and a small white dog. Outside of music he enjoys time with his kids, reading, travel and playing (but not watching) hockey. For January 19 (21C Festival at Mazzolini Hall), and February 13 (New Music Concerts at Harbourfront), please see “Congratulations to our Winners!” on page 77 On May 7 we bring the Glenn Gould School ensemble to the movies, performing with an orchestra alongside projected film and moving images, in collaboration with the Toronto Images Festival. It’s free! Look out for a new opera about Glenn Gould climbing along the inner wall of The Royal Conservatory, way up in the air, as part of the 21C Festival in January 2021. There has been some OAC funding and other interest in producing a recording of my oratorio The River of Light, a full evening work for choir, orchestra and soloists that premiered in Vancouver last May. It looks at Dante’s vision of “light in the form of a river” from the point of view of writers across Canada from different backgrounds: Jewish, Chinese, Indigenous, secular, Christian, Islamic and Hindu. We’re planning to record it with the Amadeus Choir and a local orchestra. 78 | December 2019 / January 2020

DISCOVERIES | RECORDINGS REVIEWED DAVID OLDS Having retired from my day job at New Music Concerts and recently undergone knee replacement surgery which involves an extended recovery, I have found myself lately with a luxury of leisure time. This has given me the opportunity to listen in more depth to the discs I select for my own column. It has also enabled me to select a bumper crop to write about, without however, providing any extra space in which to do so. With apologies to the artists, I will try to keep my assessments brief. In my formative years, while immersing myself in the music of the 20th century, I set out to collect recordings of all the works of Arnold Schoenberg and Béla Bartók. Schoenberg proved to be the greater challenge, because in those days there was not yet a definitive collection of his oeuvre, so I had to gather the recordings wherever I could. The quest for Bartók was simplified by a comprehensive Complete Edition Bartók Béla issued in 33 volumes by the Hungaroton label. It was there that I first encountered the quintet for string quartet and piano dating from 1904, an unpublished student work that although well received at its first performance, was later withdrawn by the composer. I was pleased to receive a new recording of the youthful work on Veress – String Trio; Bartók – Piano Quintet featuring violinists Vilde Frang and Barnabás Kelemen, violists Lawrence Power and Katalin Kokas, cellist Nicolas Altstaedt and pianist Alexander Lonquich (ALPHA 458 Frankly, the disappointment I had felt on my initial encounter some decades ago was confirmed upon re-listening to the quintet. Although I’m sure purists would not agree, to my ear the accomplished and virtuosic work would be more at home in Brahms’ catalogue than in Bartók’s. It shows a masterful control of late-Romantic-period nuances and exuberant bombast, especially in the czardas of the final movement, but none of the subtlety of the night music, nor the harmonic and rhythmic complexity of later Bartók. I was pleased to find that the music of Sándor Veress (1907-1992), who was a piano student of Bartók and later his assistant at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, fits better into my idea of what modern Hungarian music should sound like. The trio dates from 1954 and incorporates Schoenberg’s 12-tone method of composition, thus providing a convincing hybrid of the styles of two of my favourite composers. Veress’ music was a welcome discovery for me, and I look forward to hearing more of this under-sung composer. Tchaikovsky & Babajanian features violinist Vadim Gluzman, pianist Yevgeny Sudbin and Canadian-born cellist Johannes Moser (BIS-2372 SACD The bread and butter of this disc is the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio in A Minor, Op.50 which receives a stellar performance, amply illustrating the points addressed in the comprehensive liner notes by Horst A. Scholz. But of more interest is the Piano Trio from 1952 by Armenian composer Arno Babajanian (1921-1983) who was previously unknown to me. The work is both rooted in the Romantic world of Rachmaninoff and imbued with folkloristic flourishes from Babajanian’s native land. The notes point out that it was written under the constraints of the Stalin regime and go on to say that after Stalin’s death in 1953, Babajanian’s style opened up to embrace atonality, aleatoric music and microtonality, among other modern techniques. It makes me wish we were presented with a later example of his work, but my preferences notwithstanding, this is a solid composition that holds its own in a crowded field of late-Romantic chamber music, and once again the performance is committed and convincing. The “encore” piece on this CD is Sudbin’s trio arrangement of the Tango from Alfred Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso No.1 for two violins, harpsichord and strings from 1976, which draws this eclectic disc to a somewhat tongue-in-cheek conclusion. This year saw the passing of numerous cultural icons, but two in particular are brought together on Kira Braun’s new disc Mosaic (Centaur Records CRC 3779, Glenn Gould Prizewinner André Previn and Nobel Prize Laureate Toni Morrison. Previn first set the poetry of Morrison in the cycle Honey and Rue in 1992 for soprano Kathleen Battle, jazz trio and symphony orchestra. Two years later he went to the well once more, to set Four Songs for the more modest forces of soprano, cello and piano. On this disc Braun is joined by cellist Kirk Starkey and pianist Linda Ippolito in performances recorded February 23, 2019 just three days before Previn’s death at the age of 89. Morrison died just six months later making this an apt memorial tribute, although that was not the intention of the recording. Braun’s voice is well suited to the dark opening poem Mercy, the wistful Shelter and the concluding poem The Lacemaker, but I wish there was a little nsemble ivant latin romance With Special Guests: Don Thompson, O.C., Kevin Turcotte, Luisito Orbegoso and Juan Carlos Medrano LATEST CD AVAILABLE NOW “... wonderful collection by Ensemble Vivant. The music leaps off the page in these performances, which are joyful, attentive to detail, and interpretively clairvoyant. The musicians in the ensemble are individually brilliant and, collectively, greater than the sum of their parts. Thank you Catherine Wilson and Ensemble Vivant...” Phil Dwyer C.M., J.D. Noted Canadian Jazz Musician December 2019January 2020 | 79

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