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SCRUTINY | Brilliant Beethoven From Tafelmusik And Weil

(Photo: Dahlia Katz)
Tafelmusik. Beethoven: Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus; Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 5. Bruno Weil, conductor. Koerner Hall, Sept. 22, 2023.
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra: It is an odd name for an ensemble that opens its season with Beethoven. But there was no doubt Friday night in Koerner Hall that our beloved purveyors of period style had something significant and profoundly idiomatic to say about the great Ludwig van under the direction of Bruno Weil.
If that name is familiar, this is because the German conductor led Tafelmusik through a landmark recorded cycle of Beethoven symphonies starting in the 1990s. Some players have changed, but the sense of a special symbiosis has not faded. The first movement of the Fifth was powerful and linear, the winds speaking with precise onsets that added percussive force to the celebrated four-note motive.
Even more remarkable was the Andante con moto second movement, amply detailed in terms of colour, phrasing and dynamics yet grand in overall effect. Normally a squad that favours a silvery sound, the Tafelmusik strings on this occasion produced something akin to copper, as usual, with little or no vibrato.
The scherzo was shadowy, the finale heroic, even if I confess to an ultimate preference for modern brass. Still, the growling natural horns lent remarkable darkness to the introduction of the Fourth Symphony, and timpani rolls later in the first movement were marvellously clear. The Adagio was quick but by no means heartless, and the finale (like the Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus that began the program) was a great platform for lively virtuosity. As in the Fifth, an abundance of detail led to a cohesive whole.
The extraordinary thing about this band of fewer than 40 was the robustness of the sound at high volume. There were only two double basses. It is common now for first and second violins to be positioned on opposite sides of the conductor, but I do not recall having seen the violas seated beside the firsts. All you need to know is that the configuration worked.
As did many things, thanks to both the playing and the leadership. A stocky man of small gestures who walks slowly to the podium, Weil rarely flashed a profile and never did anything unrelated to the production of good music. He had a stool at his disposal during the Fifth, sitting for the development of the finale and standing for the recapitulation. Even in music this familiar, he used a score. Some conductors still find things in it.
Perhaps I should issue a modernist’s equivalent of a parental advisory. Playing period instruments is more about balance than blend and some of the sonorities that emerge are, by the smooth standards of a contemporary orchestra, a little funky. But they are not coarse. Tafelmusik has chosen “the sound of beauty” as a motto this season. Many moments lived up to the premise.
There are repeat performances on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Whether inclined to Baroque or Beethoven, you are advised to avail yourself of one of them. Or both!
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Arthur Kaptainis has been the classical music critic of the Montreal Gazette since 1986 and wrote for the National Post 2010-2016. His articles have appeared in Classical Voice North America and La Scena Musicale as well as Ludwig Van. Arthur holds an MA in musicology from the University of Toronto. Latest posts by Arthur Kaptainis (see all)

LEBRECHT LISTENS | Adam Fischer And The Danish Chamber Orchestra Deliver Late Haydn As The Composer Intended

Drawing of Joseph Hayden, 1791 by Thomas Hardy (Public domain)
Haydn: Late Symphonies Vol. 1, Nos. 93-95 (Naxos)
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The 12 symphonies that Haydn composed on visits to London in 1791-92 and 1794-95 belong to a world that was already gone. Mozart, who died soon after Haydn left Vienna for the first time, led his symphonies into darker, dangerous tonal territory. Beethoven, whom Haydn taught on his return, was ready to leapfrog into a new century of revolutionary ferment. The Haydn London symphonies belong mostly to a decadent age of domestic amusements on noble country estates.
In some ways, though, Haydn was transformed by London. In his early sixties, he was treated for the first time in his life as an honoured guest and not a household servant, discovered guilt-free sex with a couple of merry widows, and shopped in town for art and shoes. The first three symphonies are clearly made for innocent fun, around 20 minutes long, and pretty fast. Not every orchestra rises to the levity or speeds. It takes a Hungarian-born conductor to deliver all the jokes.
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Antal Dorati’s breakthrough recordings with the Philharmonia Hungarica on Decca in the 1960s drew a blast of hostile responses from the period-instrument movement, whose performances were generally flatter and duller, Adam Fischer returns here to basics with the Danish Chamber Orchestra, going for extreme variants of speed and dynamic in a Magyar accent that favours the first note in a phrase.
This sounds much as Haydn intended — short symphonies to restore a weary soul after a long day on the trading floor. The Surprise symphony, no 94, is refreshingly effective. The balance of the Copenhagen sound gives us a bit more percussion than is absolutely necessary, but that’s a personal quibble. This is, on the whole, an admirable evocation of the world’s last leisured moments before Napoleon overturned it.
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Norman Lebrecht is one of the most widely-read commentators on music, culture and cultural politics. He is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Standpoint, Sinfini and other publications. His blog, Slipped Disc, is among the most widely read cultural sites online, breaking exclusive stories and campaigning against human abuse and acts of injustice in the cultural industries. Latest posts by Norman Lebrecht (see all)

THE SCOOP | Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Files For Bankruptcy

The Conrad Centre for the Performing Arts (Photo courtesy of KWS)
The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony has filed for bankruptcy, as announced at the end of the day on September 21. The Board of Directors responded in a statement.
“We are absolutely devastated about this outcome,” said Rachel Smith-Spencer, Chair of the Board of Directors. “In the last three days, we have appealed to all of our major stakeholders and have exhausted all available avenues to secure the $2M required immediately to continue operations.”
The musicians of the KWS have already banded together online, and initiated a GoFundMe to support the future of classical music in the region.

Donations can be made to the Support your KW Symphony Musicians fundraiser (administered by the musicians themselves) via GoFundMe [HERE].

The K-W Symphony Foundation is a separate organization, independent of the orchestra itself. It’s still in operation as the body responsible for managing donations that have come to the foundation via long-term investments accumulated over many years.
The bright spot in the situation is that the Foundation can still play a role in supporting classical music performance in the Waterloo Region going forward.

Donations can be made to the K-W Symphony Foundation via Canada Helps [HERE].

Bankruptcy proceedings are being managed by BDO Canada Limited.
To read more from Norman Lebrecht, subscribe to Slippedisc.com.
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Anya Wassenberg is a Senior Writer and Digital Content Editor at Ludwig Van. She is an experienced freelance writer, blogger and writing instructor with OntarioLearn. Latest posts by Anya Wassenberg (see all)

SCRUTINY | Big Crowd Gives Orchestra And Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet A Warm Welcome For Season Opener

Gustavo Gimeno conducts the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (Photos: left & bottom right: Gerard Richardson; top right: Allan Cabral)
Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Lili Boulanger: D’un matin de printemps. Gershwin: Concerto in F. Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring. Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano. Gustavo Gimeno, conductor. Roy Thomson Hall, Sept. 20, 2023.
As the 21st century progresses, the 20th century is turning into what the 19th used to be, a repository of surefire repertoire. On Wednesday, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra made a vivid case in Roy Thomson Hall for music written between 99 and 110 years ago.
The signature item was Stravinsky’s eternally modern The Rite of Spring. Always a conductor who values clarity, Gustavo Gimeno gave the 1913 ballet the X-ray treatment, with good results in the opening sequence, as the fine TSO winds intertwined to evocative and even lyrical effect.
Strings in the thrusting Augurs section were coherent as well as forceful and the Dance of the Earth that concludes Part 1 built a tremendous head of steam. There were many brilliant episodes highlighted by positive brass and percussion contributions. Was something in organic drama missing? I have a feeling that the repeat performance on Thursday will summon more atmosphere.
The big crowd (including a welcome cohort of young people in the choir loft) showed no signs of sharing my reservations. Applause was robust also for Gershwin’s 1925 Concerto in F as performed with alternating dreamy allure and jazzy vitality by Jean-Yves Thibaudet. This 62-year-old Frenchman was not outfitted with the most brilliant piano in the world, but made amends with playing that was lively and precise.
The orchestra under Gimeno also was on form in a score that is scarcely less remarkable than The Rite as an exercise in inventive orchestration. Associate principal trumpet Steven Woomert had almost as much to do as the pianist in the bluesy slow movement. He did it very well. Even concertmaster Jonathan Crow had a chance to demonstrate his aptitude for this style.
As a solo encore Thibaudet offered a luminous account of Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte at a surprisingly upbeat tempo. Beginning the program was Lili Boulanger’s D’un matin de printemps, a five-minute tone poem of 1918 that deploys a huge orchestra to make delicate impressionistic effects.
TSO seasons used to start with the national anthem. The launch on this occasion was an earnest address by the orchestra’s CEO, Mark Williams, including a land acknowledgement.
Still, the energy in the room was palpable. Not all the symphonic news these days is positive. The TSO is now in Year 101. It appears to be here to stay.
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Arthur Kaptainis has been the classical music critic of the Montreal Gazette since 1986 and wrote for the National Post 2010-2016. His articles have appeared in Classical Voice North America and La Scena Musicale as well as Ludwig Van. Arthur holds an MA in musicology from the University of Toronto. Latest posts by Arthur Kaptainis (see all)

PREVIEW | Toronto’s Xenia Concerts Makes Classical Music Accessible, Season Kicks Off September 23

L: The Dior String Quartet; R: Sisu Ensemble (Photos courtesy of the artists)
Xenia Concerts opens up Toronto’s classical music community to neurodiverse and the disabled community with a regular season and concert series. The offerings are not only designed for those audiences; Xenia works with the disability and neurodiverse community in the design and production phases as well.
Their 2023-24 season launches September 23. Xenia’s programming includes two streams of concerts tailored to different audiences. Concerts take place at the Meridian Arts Centre in North York.
Amenities available for all concerts, which take place at the Meridian Arts Centre in North York, include:

Audience members can get out of their seats, make noise or stim;
Wheelchair accessible;
Gender-neutral accessible washrooms;
Take stretch breaks when needed;
Flexible seating and a break area.

A venue guide and accessible concert programme are available in PDF for, and fidget toys and noise-cancelling earmuffs are available on request.
Sisu Ensemble (Photo courtesy of the artists)
September 23: the Sisu Ensemble
Finnish Canadian Soprano Emili Losier and pianist Jenna Richards created Sisu Ensemble after meeting during the pandemic. A love of collaboration brought them together, and they share their joy of music with audiences of all kinds in productions that reach traditional audiences and the general public along with individuals with exceptionalities. The duo has performed at Ottawa Chamberfest, Concerts in Care, Kemptville Historical Society, and for healthcare workers.
At 11 a.m., the Ensemble will perform an adaptive concert. In partnership with TO Live, the season will be launched with a concert that showcases treasures of musical theatre. It’s a programme designed for audience participation, whether that’s singing, clapping or dancing along.
At 2 p.m., the Sisu Ensemble will perform in partnership with Alzheimer Society of Toronto. This concert welcomes and supports members of the dementia, neurodiversity, and disability communities in concert. An intergenerational programme of music spotlights the stories of heroines of various kinds, and their stories of self-discovery and love.
In addition to the amenities listed above for all concerts, the concert presented with the Alzheimer’s Society offers:

Scent-free environment;
A chill zone with blankets;
Sunglasses for people with light sensitivity.

Therapy Dogs
Therapy dogs will be in attendance courtesy of TO Live and One Health.
The Dior String Quartet (Photo courtesy of the artists)
October 14: The Dior String Quartet
Members of The Dior String Quartet, currently String Quartet in-Residence at the Glenn Gould School, hail from Israel, Korea-Canada, Saint Lucia, and the USA. They were recently declared winner of the 2023 Concert Artist Guild Elmaleh Competition, just the first in a series of wins. They were silver prize winners of the 2021 Chesapeake Chamber Music Competition and Bronze Medalists of the 2019 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition.
The quartet formed in 2018 while studying at the Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University. They’ve gone on to study with established ensembles such as the Pacifica Quartet, and members of the Alban Berg, St. Lawrence, Danish, Artemis, Ébene, and Belcea Quartets.
They pursue projects that align with their values and morals as four musicians of diverse backgrounds.
From 11 a.m. to 12 p.m., and from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., they will perform two concerts that combines classics and newer pieces by Canadian composers with a sense of fun. The family-friendly adaptive concerts are designed to be inclusive and accessible for members of the neurodiverse and disability communities.
More information, including their ticket refund policy, and to buy tickets to all their 2023-24 season events [HERE] at the link.
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Anya Wassenberg is a Senior Writer and Digital Content Editor at Ludwig Van. She is an experienced freelance writer, blogger and writing instructor with OntarioLearn. Latest posts by Anya Wassenberg (see all)

SCRUTINY | The 2023-24 Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio Gives Sparkling Noon Hour Concert

L-R: Brian Cho, Alex Hetherington, Wesley Harrison, Karoline Podolak, Queen Hezumuryango, Mattia Senesi, Charlotte Siegel, Ariane Cossette, Korin Thomas-Smith (Photo courtesy of the COC)
“Svegliatevi nel core” (Giulio Cesare in Egitto) Queen Hezumuryango, sop., Mattia Senesi, piano / “Bella siccome un angelo” (Don Pasquale) Korin Thomas-Smith, bar., Brian Cho, piano / “Wie du varst, wie du bist”(Der Rosenkavalier), Alex Hetherington, mezzo., Brian Cho, piano / “O amore, vieni a me!” (Medea) Ariane Cossette, sop., Mattia Senesi, piano / “Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiss” (Giuditta) Charlotte Siegel, sop., Mattia Senesi, piano / “Ecco ridente in Cielo” (Il barbiere di Siviglia) Wesley Harrison, ten., Brian Cho, piano / “Je suis Titania” (Mignon) Karoline Podolak sop., Mattia Senesi, piano. Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre, September 20, 2023.
September is an exciting time for Toronto opera fans. It marks the start of the new season of the Canadian Opera Company, with a full slate of mainstage productions as well as many enticing concerts in venues big and small. Even before opening night on September 29, opera lovers got a sneak peek at this year’s Ensemble Studio, in a delightful (and free) noon hour concert on Wednesday.
It took place in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre of the Four Seasons Centre, an informal venue where everyone sits rather uncomfortably on glorified stairs with no back support — never mind, the lovely voices made it all worthwhile. As usual, it was very well attended, albeit not quite as packed to the rafters as in the pre-pandemic days, now with fewer standees. That said, the audience was every bit as enthusiastic and for good reason — the 2023-24 Ensemble Studio promises to be a very good year.
Performing were all nine members of the COC Ensemble Studio, seven singers and two collaborative pianists. Each artist began with a brief introduction and a few words about the aria. Of the seven singers, three are in their first year in the Ensemble — soprano Karoline Podolak, tenor Wesley Harrison, and baritone Korin Thomas-Smith. Also new to the Ensemble this year is pianist Mattia Senesi.
Kicking off the proceedings was mezzo Queen Hezumuryango, in Sesto’s aria from Giulio Cesare in Egitto, which she sang with big volume, rich tone, and plenty of temperament. She must be very fond of Handel, as I seem to recall her choice last year was an aria from Semele.
Then it was Korin Thomas-Smith’s turn, singing Malatesta’s “Bella siccome un angelo,” a piece well suited to his engaging lyric baritone with a warm timbre. It’s a voice I am familiar with from his student days in the UofT Faculty of Music.
Mezzo Alex Hetherington followed with “Wie du vast, wie du bist” from Der Rosenkavalier. It’s the first voice of Octavian, first heard when the curtain goes up. Not formally structured as an aria, this soliloquy is rarely excerpted as a set piece, but it is vocally ideal for Hetherington’s high mezzo. I look forward to hearing her as Octavian in the future.
She was followed by Québec soprano Ariane Cossette, in Glauce’s aria from Medea. Cossette’s soprano is a full lyric, with beautifully focused tone and enough volume to be heard in a big house. Hearing her powerful top, I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years, her voice might well be ideal in the so-called “youthfully dramatic soprano” fach in Wagner and Strauss. I can just imagine Cossette tossing off Helmwige’s top C’s in the Ride of the Valkyries!
Soprano Charlotte Siegel, now in her third year and who will be the mainstage Musetta this season, offered a lively “Meine Lippen” from Giuditta, singing with big volume and theatricality, plus plenty of metal in her top notes. Then it was tenor Wesley Harrison’s turn. The Third Prize winner of last year’s Centre Stage, Harrison’s fine lyric tenor with good agility is well suited to Rossini, here heard to advantage in Count Almaviva’s “Ecco ridente in Cielo” from Il barbiere di Siviglia.
The last aria was sung by Polish Canadian soprano Karoline Podolak. She has the most experience, not to mention the most media attention, of the seven singers, having won last season’s Centre Stage and a long list of competitions elsewhere. She has already sung major roles such as Violetta to great success. Her “Je suis Titania” from Mignon showed in no uncertain terms the reason for her success: a voice of lovely timbre and excellent agility, combined with a beautiful stage presence and the right dramatic instincts.
I mustn’t forget the excellent work of Brian Cho and Mattia Senesi. They are not accompanists but collaborative pianists, offering solid support and contributing to the superlative music-making. With seven arias, the noon-hour concert was on the short side, but enough to whet our appetite. We’ll get to hear them again soon, on November 27 at the RBA, in Brahms’ well-known Liebeslieder Walzer and Canadian composer John Greer’s contemporary take on the same theme.
Not to be missed!
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Joseph So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University and Associate Editor of Opera Canada.He is also a long-time contributor to La Scena Musicale and Opera (London, UK). His interest in music journalism focuses on voice, opera as well as symphonic and piano repertoires. He appears regularly as a panel member of the Big COC Podcast.He has co-edited a book, Opera in a Multicultural World: Coloniality, Culture, Performance, published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group). Latest posts by Joseph So (see all)