2 years ago

Volume 26 Issue 5 - February 2021

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  • Toronto
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  • February
So, How Much Ground WOULD a ground hog hog? community arts and the Dominion Foundries end run; the vagaries of the concert hall livestreaming ban; hymns to freedom; postsecondary auditions do the COVID shuffle; and reflections on some of the ways the music somehow keeps on being made - PLUS 81 (count them!) recordings we've been listening to. Also a page 2 ask of you. Available in flipthrough format here and in print February 10.

Classical and Beyond

Classical and Beyond Regulatory Whiplash on the Livestream Scene PAUL ENNIS On January 14, the Herculean efforts of The Royal Conservatory to save as much of their extensive 2020/21 concert season as possible suddenly turned Sisyphean when the Ontario government extended and tightened restrictions for everyone in the province. It was a cruel act of whiplash, after the RCM had managed to slow-walk a schedule that included four remarkable mid-December concerts (which I had the good fortune to attend virtually) celebrating Beethoven’s 250th birthday. In a subsequent press release detailing the postponement and rescheduling of all concerts and livestreams until February 11, RCM added that because of the restrictions they were no longer able to have artists or production staff create livestreams. “This is a profoundly disappointing blow to all of us at The Royal Conservatory and to our artists who were so looking forward to performing.” I contacted Mervon Mehta, RCM’s executive director, performing arts, to share his perspective with WholeNote readers. He confirmed that everything had changed since January 14. “We cancelled 18 days of concert livestreams, rehearsals and recordings from January 14 to February 11… Our entire 21C Festival has been postponed.” Is the RCM lobbying the government, I wanted to know. “Yes,” he said. “Us along with many others.” Contextualizing the situation, he said that RCM is acutely aware of the crisis, not only as a venue that has lost its ability to present concerts but also as a school. “Obviously,” he said, “the safety of our students and audience is our highest priority. We have spent months pivoting, spent thousands on PPE and plexiglass shields, cancelling [and/or] postponing foreign artists and, since mid-October, presenting concerts of our own and hosting others – such as the TSO, Against the Grain’s Messiah/Complex, Opera Atelier’s fall opera and our own Beethoven Festival of eight full concerts.” Importantly, he points out, a huge amount of work was generated for exclusively Canadian artists. When government regulations last October required that the RCM’s doors be closed to audiences, the Conservatory lobbied to allow rehearsals and livestreams and were granted that privilege. “We have had health inspections and musician union reps drop by,” Mehta said, “and all were very impressed with our protocols and preparedness. “Hundreds of artists and crew – not to mention students – have been in the building” he said, “and we have not had a single COVID case. In fact, concert halls across Ontario have not had a single case as far as I have heard. Why are we now singled out and had our only means of revenue taken away (from us, artists, crews etc)?” He does not downplay the seriousness of COVID. “We all understand, and we want to do all we can to help Ontario get back to business. But where is the science that led to this recent decision?” In the meantime, the RCM is not just waiting to see what happens when the current restrictions run out; they are advocating and hoping for a reversal to the pre-January 14 regulations. “It must be a world-class juggling act to keep up with the new protocol,” I said. “Yes, it is,” Mehta replied. “Now multiply that by ten to get artist schedules, Glenn Gould School schedules, quarantine rules etc all to align.” The four December Beethoven concerts mentioned earlier illustrated all that was good about the RCM Koerner Hall experience in Mervon Mehta these restrictive times. Despite the lack of an audience, there was a feeling of intimacy and the frisson of live performance – I treated each of the concerts as a destination event, watching them being performed for the first time in three consecutive evenings (December 10 to 12) followed by a Sunday matinee (December 13). The changes in repertoire and performers due to travel restrictions ended up – fortunately – enhancing the experience. Violinist James Ehnes led a top-notch coterie of string players in a rare foray into Beethoven’s under-performed Quintet for strings, Op.29. With its breathtakingly beautiful opening notes, the second movement’s lovely, innocent, aspirational main tune and the jaunty lightness of the brief third movement, by the finale, you could feel the music – its intense building of thematic fragments – vaulting into a new century, even as it glanced back to the 18th. Pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin joined Ehnes and the strings for the welcome opportunity to hear Chausson’s Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet, which Ehnes called “a totally unique unicorn of a piece.” Richard-Hamelin carried off the demanding piano part with aplomb while Ehnes’ beautiful phrasing showcased the work’s melodious content. The pandemic prevented Ehnes’ regular pianist, Andrew Armstrong, from participating in the three-day chronological traversal of Beethoven’s ten violin sonatas, setting up Stewart Goodyear as his stellar replacement. Goodyear had less than four weeks to prepare for works he had never played and four days of rehearsal with Ehnes, with whom he had played only once before. It reminded Mervon Mehta – who spoke briefly with Ehnes and Goodyear before each concert – of Goodyear’s time studying at the Curtis Institute when Leon Fleisher, his teacher, asked him to learn one of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas each week over 33 weeks – he was given two weeks for NICOLA BETTS 10 | February 2021

VIRTUAL CONCERT SERIES Thur. February 18, 2021, 7:30 pm St. Lawrence Quartet 2 Beethoven quartets KUNÉ in a Koerner Hall livestream with plexiglass barriers and distance protocols already business as usual, Saturday, November 14, 2020. We all understand, and we want to do all we can to help Ontario get back to business. But where is the science that led to this recent decision? “The Hammerklavier.” Minutes before, Goodyear told Mehta that he considers Beethoven to be his spiritual soul brother. Ehnes and Goodyear did not disappoint. They were totally engaged in the music and its variety of tone and dynamics. It was a musical conversation in a historical context, covering Beethoven’s early and middle periods stopping at the precipice of the late period. Musical confluence and conflict were enthusiastically conveyed. Much of their playing felt authoritative, from the optimistic gentility of No.6 to the forcefulness of No.7, the exuberance of No.8 to the sublime “Kreutzer” No.9 and the sunny intimacy of No.10. Listening to them in such a concentrated way felt almost like being in the hall – a high point of my 2020 concertgoing, shattered a few weeks later by the new protocol of January 14. Tues. March 16, 2021, 7:30 pm Vadym Kholodenko Piano recital including Schubert and Rachmaninoff SPONSOR: NAE FUND Toronto Community Foundation Thur. April 15, 2021, 7:30 pm Castalian Quartet Haydn and Brahms quartets All concerts broadcast FREE online! OUR 2021 – 2022 SEASON will be announced at the end of February. Watch the website for details. VISIT for more information on how to watch each concert. RCM has produced a playlist freely available on Spotify called “In the Flow at Home” a wide-ranging selection from artists originally scheduled to appear in the RCM 2020/2021 season. Included are pianists Vikingur Ólafsson, Seong-Jin Cho, Stewart Goodyear, Joey Alexander, Nicholas Angelich and Marc-André Hamelin; violinists James Ehnes and Angèle Dubeau; and the Gryphon Trio. For further information please see February 2021 | 11 www

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