Category Archives: Music

Supercrawl 2013

Hamilton, Ontario is a city undergoing rejuvenation and transformation. While I have blogged about the legacy from the past–the Lift Bridge and the Hamilton Farmer’s Market–I find it refreshing to read a young person’s perspective of the city and its events.

Bea's Bites

A couple weeks ago, I went to Supercrawl in Hamilton, a city about an hour away from Toronto.  Supercrawl was a two-day festival over Friday and Saturday, celebrating music, art, and culture. While I had heard about the emerging art scene in Hamilton, this was my first time experiencing it, and I was excited to explore Hamilton!

Each year, Supercrawl gets bigger and I can definitely see why. The biggest draw to Supercrawl for me initially is the music line-up. This year they had some big bands such as Passion Pit, Yo La Tengo and Said the Whale. But I fell in love with so much more.

Supercrawl took place along a blocked off James Street North, so there was no need to worry about cars except for one crossing. We spotted interesting art in strange places.

SupercrawlA functional merry go round made out of scrap metal.

Supercrawl-003Sculptures made out of…

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Symphony of A Thousand at the Brott Music Festival

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Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 is also known as the Symphony of a Thousand. Although there is no absolute requirement to have a thousand musicians to perform the piece, it certainly requires a considerably big orchestra and a choir to produce the desired musical force. The National Academy Orchestra (NAO) chose this piece to be the grand finale of their season at the Brott Music Festival. This was an ambitious project and I was among the audience to support the NAO in this performance at Hamilton Place, Hamilton, Ontario.

In this composition, Mahler departed from the conventional form and divided the symphony in only two parts. He composed his music to the 9th century hymn Veni Creator Spiritus (“Come, Creator Spirit”) in Part I and for Part II, the words came from the closing scene (Act V, Scene 7) of Goethe’s Faust. I knew neither Latin nor German, and so I was delighted to  receive a copy of the words with English translation with my programme notes.

The first part featured Apprentice Conductor Brandan Hagan, who led the orchestra and the combined Arcady Singers and Junior Arcady Singers to a powerful and convincing performance. The baton was handed over to Maestro Boris Brott after the intermission. Maestro Brott guided the audience in a journey through the penitent and the mystical passages to the climax of the symphony. The brass instruments blared and thus announced the triumph of the human spirit and salvation (of Faust’s and all humankind) made possible by a woman’s love.

The vocal parts were beautifully sang by the soloists. The sopranos made it look easy when they sustained their parts in high range with superb tonal control, and all the voices, particularly the tenor, performed brilliantly over the might of the orchestra and choirs.

It was a dazzling musical feast with an orchestra about 100 strong and two hundred members in the choirs. The NAO brought back some of their graduates and the leadership came from professional musicians who took the principal parts. Concertmaster was Mark Skazinetsky, Associate Concertmaster with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Existing NAO members were undoubtedly mentored by a superb team. Although Mahler acknowledged that this was his “biggest” work, he never endorsed the number “a thousand”. I whole-heartedly enjoyed what I experienced with the NAO this evening.

I also liked the departure from the black attire orchestral members normally wore during performances. Female musicians wore colourful evening dresses which enlivened the mood. (They did the same when they played the Brandenburg Concerti.) After all, Mahler’s Symphony 8 rejoiced in the enlightenment of the human soul, and definitely it was not the most sombre and saddest of his symphonies. Besides, this was a summer music festival–Why not brighten our world with some colours?

The last note brought the audience immediately to a standing ovation. It was said that when Symphony 8 was first performed, the audience applauded for almost half an hour. This record had yet to be matched, but the NAO, the Arcady Singers and the Junior Choir were on their feet for over five minutes while the audience brought the conductor and soloists back on stage for three or four curtain calls. The NAO rounded up another triumphant season.

POSTSCRIPT

When I want to hear Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, this is my favourite YouTube clip, because Leonard Bernstein is one of my favourite conductors.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSYEOLwVfU8

Brandenburg Concerti at the Brott Music Festival

1-IMG_0559 The Complete Brandenburg Concerti featured The National Academy Orchestra, now celebrating its 25th anniversary under the artistic direction of Boris Brott.  The orchestra presented the six Brandenburg concerti in two concerts (matinee and evening) on the same day. I was only able to attend the evening concert with Concerti No. 2, 6 and 5 on the programme. The venue was the Studio Theatre of the Burlington Performance Arts Centre which housed 200 people, and it was a full house that night. The theatre provided the perfect room-size and good acoustics for chamber music.


(Source: Burlington Performing Arts Centre Facebook)

Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 is famous for its trumpet part, which is reputedly the most difficult part in the entire repertoire. It was a bright piece of music to open the concert with over twenty musicians on stage.  When the trumpet was not playing in the second movement, the violin, clarinet and flute trio blended in to a calmer movement, before the trumpet returned in the third movement. The trumpet soloist gave a brilliant and commanding performance tonight.

The atmosphere became more intimate when the instrumentation called for only six musicians in Concerto No. 6. Only two violas were playing at the beginning and other instruments were graduatlly brought in . The energy built up, and the flow of the music continued. Overall, it was a mellow and beautiful piece featuring the violas and the cello, which was muted to produce the effect of the ‘viola da gamba’.

Concerto No. 5 brought back the rest of the orchestra and was a treat for harpsichord lovers. Bach probably was writing this piece for himself, and the harpsichord soloist gave a virtuoso performance. Since the concert went without an intermission, this was a warm and affectionate piece to close the evening with.

The reason I support the National Academy Orchestra of Canada was the opportunity and support it has given to young musicians, mostly recent graduates from music programmes, who still need the mentorship of established musicians in how to become a professional musician. This orchestra provides a unique platform for these musicians to work with experienced professionals before they join major orchestras in North American and around the world. This evening’s concert is the best illustration of this philosophy. Emerging musicians were performing with professionals, who took on the leading or principal parts on the trumpet (Robert Weymouth), the viola (Brendon Chui), the harpsichord (Borys Medicky) and the oboe (Tamsin Johnston), and led by their enthusiastic concertmaster Joseph Lanza. The younger musicians may occasionally missed the flair of the concerti, but the music quality is made up by their focus and discipline in making music. An added bonus was the succinct and very well-written programme notes. I had a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Choral Music with Voices: Bach to Basics

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I have written that my favourite composers are Bach, Beethoven and Brahms when I describe myself on the acceptance of some blogging awards . Understandably, how could I resist a concert that presents the choral music of these three composers performed in the fitting setting of a church?

Voices, under the artistic direction of Ron Ka Ming Cheung, had chosen the Anglican Church of St.-Martin’s-in-the-Field in Toronto to be the venue of their year-end concert. The Church celebrated many beautiful architectural features such as stain glass windows, a hand-carved oak sanctuary imported from Belgium and wooden sculptures. I was particularly interested in the organ,  described to be “a two-manual with twenty-one stops by Casavant Freres”. This Church is renowned for its acoustics, and it is written that Glen Gould and Ofra Harnoy have made recording there.

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About ten minutes before the beginning of the concert, Ron Cheung came out to speak to the audience. He gave an introduction to the music which the choir would be performing, and he did it with interesting details and anecdotes that I seldom found in many programme notes. For example, when describing the Mass in C Op. 86 by Beethoven, he mentioned that it was a creative departure from Haydn and he dedicated it to the Prince Nicholaus Esterhazy. At the end of the performance, the Prince came up to Beethoven and exclaimed, “What have you done!” Beethoven took it as an insult and left Vienna immediately. He dedicated the Mass to someone else. (Wikipedia noted that this was Beethoven’s public disgrace.) However, Ron Cheung opined that it was probably Beethoven’s misunderstanding, because given the beauty of this piece, the Prince’s remark was likely one of amazement and praise. The choir presented Kyrie and Angus Dei, true to the spirit in Beethoven’s words, “gentle, with an overall serenity”.

The other work by Beethoven sung by the choir was the Hallelujah chorus from Christ on the the Mount of Olives Op.85. It was a less popular piece compared ot Handel’s chorus from the Messiah. Thanks to the conductor’s for pointing it out, one could catch the reference to Handel’s work in the accompaniment.

Brahms’s works were sung next. The Missa Canonica was the only Mass written by Brahms, based on a canon-like (“round’) form and worked on the melodic 7th interval, and conductor Cheung mused that it was like an exercise for counterpoint. This piece was not discovered until the last century. The choir sang the Kyrie, Sanctus & Benedictus, and Agnus Dei.  Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen from Ein deutsches Requiem Op. 45 completed the first half of the concert. It was a moving performance which mesmerized the audience.

It was all Bach after the intermission. The choir began with three chorales: Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ; Dein Will gescheh, Herr Gott, sugleich; and Verleih uns Frieden gnadiglich.  They sang Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied BWV 225, Excerpts were chosen from Bach’s huge works Mass in B minor BWV 232, and St. Matthew’s Passion BWV 244. The choir rearranged the members to present the two-choir pieces. Meticulous care in programme planning was reflected by having the Kyrie I and Dona Nobis Pacem to echo Beethoven’s beginning pieces, like “book-ends”, according to Ron Cheung.

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Interspersing the choral music was either a cello solo or an organ solo by pieces of the three composers. Organist John Stephenson provided an excellent solo performance and a brilliant accompaniment the entire evening.

Voices had chosen very challenging pieces to perform this evening. They took full advantage of the acoustic of the Church and sounded powerful for a choir with twenty members. I noticed that they had to work hard with the two-choir pieces after a long evening singing in a warm evening without air conditioning. I left the concert feeling that Voices had affirmed their reputation as one of the finest community chamber choirs in Toronto. By showcasing the 4th movement of Brahms’s Requiem, they have given a sneak preview of their calibre as it is their plant to sing the entire work at Easter next season.  I hope I’ll be among their audience.

Church of St, Martin-in-the-Fields, 151 Glenlake Ave., Toronto, Ontario

A Word A Week Photo Challenge: MUSIC

How is Music associated with an athletic event?

For this week’s A Word A Week Photo Challenge in Sue’s A Word In Your Ear (http://suellewellyn2011.wordpress.com/2013/03/30/a-word-a-week-challenge-music/ ), I think about the music that is heard on the race course of the Big Sur International Marathon, which is held annually on the third weekend of April. The power of music has never been demonstrated as convincingly in a marathon event as in the Big Sur.

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First the Taiko Drummers. They are like an establishment of the race. At Mile 10, athletes are beginning to climb the hill, and we all try to catch the sounds of the drums carried down the race course (Hwy One). Suddenly, there is the low hum and it is getting louder and louder. Our hearts are lifted. We pace ourselves to the beat until the drummers are in sight.  The sound of the drums and the surf provide the motivation I need to climb the hill to get up Hurricane Point.  In fact, most of us will just stop to take a photo of them or with them before moving on. (The above photo was taken in a historical year when the Bir Sur course was altered due to the collapse of the bridge. The Taiko drummers were positioned differently.)

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At Mile 13.1, there is the legendary pianist. Michael Martinez has been playing for several years now after he succeeded from the first pianist Jonathan Lee. Imagine the pianist coming out at about 4 a.m. in the morning, while the athletes are also being bused to the start line and he keeps playing for a good six hours when the athletes pass by him and take photos with him. On cold days, he had to play with his gloves on.

The harpist at about Mile 22 likes to dress in unusual costumes. However, she is often overlooked, because she is nearer the end of the race.  Athletes are getting tired and seem more attracted to the food and drinks at the water stations nearby than the music. However, I like the sound of the harp which gives me a fresh awakening to get on with my race.

Some people like to wear an MP3 to listen to music when they are racing. However, major marathon organizers discourage this for safety reasons. I never wear any ear buds. I play my music in my mind when I am racing. Better still, I look for live music on the race. The Big Sur music is the best. Together the breath-taking scenery of the Pacific Ocean, the music is luring me back to race again.

Handel’s Messiah for Holy Week at the Knox Presbyterian Church

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The Senior Choir of the Knox Presbytarian Church in Toronto presented an impressive performance of The Messiah before Christmas last year under the direction of Roger Bergs. They sang Part I of the oratorio and ended the concert with Life up your heads, O ye gates (#33) and the Hallelujah chorus (#44).

As we entered into Holy Week, my husband and I were among the audience for the Passion part of The Messiah. The church combined the concert with a worship service on Palm Sunday, thus signally in the most important week in the Christian calendar for Christians all around the world.

Last year, we arrived at the church in darkness. This time, I was better able to take a picture of the church while it is still light outside.

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We found seats nearer the front and had better acoustics and closer view of the performers. The solo vocalists selected from among the ranks of the choir members were the same as those from last Christmas, and there were only had a few changes for the guest instrumentalists. They all put forward a well co-ordinated performance. Music director Roger Bergs was on crutches, but this did not deter him from energetically moving to the lectern to introduce the music and repeatedly standing up to conduct and sitting down to play the harpsichord.

The program began with the chorus Behold the Lamb of God (Part II, #22) and ended with the Worthy is the Lamb chorus in Part III. There were read commentaries from Understanding Handel’s Messiah by Mariano Di Gangi, a former minister of the church. They excerpts enhanced the spirituality of the evening.

Chelsea Säuer-Peckham delivered a superb performance of He was despised and rejected of men (#23) with a gentle sorrow about the pains and suffering Jesus endured, but not without allowing an inner strength to shine through. I definitely preferred this interpretation to one performance I remembered in which the solo vocalist pronounced  “despised” and “rejected” with such emphasis that it was excruciating painful (pun intended) to listen to. Säuer-Peckhem’s duet with Kenzi Yango, tenor, was also beautiful. Tenor Jason Lamont gave a credible and commanding performance in the recitative He that dwelleth in heaven (#42) and aria Thou shalt break them with a rod (#43). Soprano Anna Casurella had excellent control of her range and definitely would have given a more convincing performance given better enunciation of the words. It was regrettably a more disappointing evening for baritone Patrick Twaddle in Part II, but fortunately he regained his composure in Part III.

It was a solemn evening highlighted by the singing of Jesus’s suffering and death, but we also left the church with feelings of comfort and hope from the belief in the significance of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection.

A Christmas Messiah at Knox Presbyterian Church

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The very fact that a church choir of about 30 vocalists can showcase a concert to the public of Handel’s Messiah is a testament of the calibre of its singers and their choir director. I am speaking of the Senior Choir of Knox Presbyterian Church in downtown Toronto. After I had purchased tickets for The Messiah in Burlington with the Brott Music Festival 2012, my daughter invited me and my husband to the Messiah performed at the Knox Presbyterian Church in Toronto. I cannot be more thrilled with my second live performance of this beautiful oratorio composition this Christmas season.

The Knox Presbyterian Church was built in early 1900 and the Church officially moved to this site in 1909. The architecture of the building encompasses the simplicity yet decorative splendour of the Gothic Revival and Romanesque Revival style.

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I looked around: the beautiful vaulted ceiling, the stained glass windows, the beautiful Casavant organ and the Christmas wreathes. I felt ready to enjoy The Messiah.

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The evening began with a short worship with prayers and hymns, which we sang to the accompaniment of the the orchestra. The Handbell Ensemble of the church gave a performance of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.The bells came in different sizes and the players sometimes switched bells to ring out the right notes with impressive agility.

The programme included reading of commentaries in between the recitatives and arias of the Messiah. The texts were based on the book entitled Understanding Handel’s Messiah by Dr. Kariano DiGangi, a former minister of the Church. I had not come across the book before; I liked the comforting and reassuring words. The choir delivered beautifully. I want to single out the duet for Alto (Chelsea Sauer) and Soprano (Anna Casurella) in He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd. The vocalists sang with professional calibre and their voices were so compatible with each other that their parts coalesce into one duet. Choir Director Roger Bergs conducted from the harpsichord. This certainly was a feat, especially the instrumentalists were guests invited to form the orchestra, and it was understandable that on the odd occasion the coherence of the choir impressed more than the orchestra.

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Only half of the Messiah was presented, and the concert ended with the chorus Life Up Your Heads, O Ye Gates and the Hallelujah Chorus. It was an evening of a musical as well as spiritual journey. After a short prayer and the hymn The First Noel, we left the church and walked into the winter night, ready to welcome Christmas.

It was also announced that the Easter portion of the Messiah would be performed next Spring. I will mark the date on my calendar.

KnoxDay     Knox Presbyterian Church, 630 Spadina Avenue, Toronto, Ontario.