Amici Ensemble – Season close and new season announcement

Yesterday I attended the final concert of the 2011/12 season of the Amici Ensemble at the Glenn Gould Studio courtesy of Executive Director Lizzie Bowman.

It was my first time at the Glenn Gould and I was impressed by the space.  It’s pretty much ideal for chamber music.  They also have Glenn Gould’s childhood piano on display which is another addition to Toronto’s collection of secular relics.  There is a book or thesis at least in that topic.

The concert was a varied mix of pieces from the first third of the 20th century.  That’s pretty much a sweet spot for me as it’s pretty much where I discovered classical music.  My first classical LP purchase was of the Janáček string quartets.  Some of the music I was very familiar with.  Some was quite unknown to me.  Also, the ensemble was different for each piece.  It made for an interesting afternoon. 

First up was a duo for violin and cello by Erwin Schulhoff.  It’s an interesting work structurally.  Two fairly conventional (by period standards) moderato movements frame a very interesting and playful scherzo like second movement and a curiously constructed slower movement in which the main themes are passed back and forward between cello and violin; one plucked, one bowed, with the the roles interchanging several times.  I liked it a lot.  It was extremely well played by veterans Benjamin Bowman and David Hetherington.

It was followed by Debussy’s Sonata for Cello and Piano played by Serouj Kradjian and David Hetherington.  I’m not sure I really gave this the attention it deserved as I was still a bit lost in the Schulhoff.  This was followed by a performance of extracts from Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.  The vocalist was veteran mezzo Jean Stilwell, where I might have expected a high soprano, and she gave an interpretation that was very different from any I’ve heard of this work before.  Her sprechstimme was quite conversational and much less declamatory than usual.  The net effect was that the voice didn’t cut through the instruments or project the otherwordly quality that seems integral to the piece.

After the interval we got the performance that was, in a sense, the centrepiece of the afternoon. It was a performance of Janáček’s Capriccio (Defiance) coupled with artist Lavinia Voicu painting live, inspired by the piece.  This sort of multimedia collaboration is an Amici trademark.  The Janáček is a very strange piece.  It was written, like some other famous pieces for the left hand, with partially disabled pianist Otokar Hollman in mind but it’s much more than a virtuoso piano piece.  It’s scored for left hand, flute, two trumpets, three trombones and tenor tuba.  The piano part is fiendish and the winds, especially the trombones, have odd things to do.  The trumpets and flute seem to be used quite lightly so the dominat effect is of an intensely complex piano part supported by low brass doing occasionally odd things.  It’s really quite bizarre.  Serge Kradjian was once again the pianist and was stunning.  The wind ensemble consisted of Leslie Allt on flute and students (provenance not given) in the brass.  Joaquin Valdepenas conducted.  The overall effect was curious.  Perhaps more experienced virtuoso brass players would produce a different impression but there was a definite sense of the brass gallumphing along in the wake of an extremely overwrought piano.  Interesting though.  Ms. Voicu finished her painting on schedule but how it related to the music I really couldn’t say.

We also got a preview of what’s coming up in 2012/13.  besides a couple of concerts at the Glenn Gould there is a star studded Bal Masqué event at Koerner Hall and an interesting collaboration with TIFF at the Bell Lightbox where the Amicis will provide musical accompaniment for Hitchcock’s silent film The Lodger.  I’ll post more details when they are available.

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