The 2018 Ashkenaz Festival opened last night at Koerner Hall with a concert titled Yiddish Glory. The background can be found in my preview post about it. So last night four vocalists and an assortment of instrumentalists performed nineteen numbers from the collection. They date from 1942; when the outcome of the Great Patriotic war was far from certain, to 1947; when it was already won. The bulk date from 1944/5; when the outcome was clear though maybe not the costs still to be borne.
OK so it’s a bit off the Operaramblings beaten path but there’s a concert coming up at Koerner Hall on August 28th that intrigues me. It’s called Yiddish Glory and it resurrects anti-fascist music that documents Nazi atrocities and Jewish resistance/partisan activities in the Soviet Union after the German invasion of 1941. They were collected by a team of Jewish Soviet ethnomusicologists led by Moisei Beregovsky during the war, but shortly afterwards, during Stalin’s anti-Jewish purge, the members were arrested, their work confiscated, and they died thinking the music was lost to history. In the early 2000s, a lucky coincidence brought University of Toronto Professor Anna Shternshis to Kiev, where she learned that the music had actually survived in the intervening decades following the researchers’ arrests, and in the years since, has led the research project to restore these songs. There’s also a CD. I’ve listened to a few tracks. The music is clearly Jewish and very much of the time. It’s redolent of horror and resistance and ultimately, hope. I find it deeply moving.
Most music lovers have probably heard the music from Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat in either orchestral or chamber arrangement but it’s rare for the work to be given in its full staged form but that’s how it was presented (more or less) last night at Koerner Hall by the Toronto Summer Music Festival in association with LooseTEA Music Theatre. That form includes a narrator, an actor (originally three actors, nowadays usually just a single actor/narrator) and dancer. Plus, of course, the band; violin and bass, clarinet and bassoon, cornet and trombone, piano.
The Toronto Summer Music Festival opened last night at Koerner Hall with a concert by the Escher Quartet who came in at quite short notice for the venerable Borodins who had to pull out due to illness. The theme of this year’s festival is “Reflections of Wartime” as perhaps befits the 100th anniversary of the Great War. That said, I’m not sure how last night’s programme fitted the theme. None of Schumann’s Quartet no.1, Shostakovich’s Quartet no. 9 nor Tchaikovsky’s Quartet no. 1 have any obvious war references.
The Royal Conservatory has announced its concert programme for 2018/19. It’s not massively exciting from a classical vocal point of view although there are a few goodies and the odd surprise in the package. The most exciting is saved for the very end of the season when Thomas Hampson and son-in-law Luca Pisaroni have a recital at Koerner. That’s on 30th April 2019. The most surprising is the season opening gala, also at Koerner, on 2nd October 2018 which features Kathleen Battle. I’ll be honest, I thought she retired years ago.
This afternoon I saw Gerry Finley and Julius Drake in recital at Koerner Hall. In other words, two supreme exponents of the art of lieder at the top of their game in a hall with near perfect acoustics. They performed Beethoven and Schubert settings of Goethe texts, some Tchaikovsky and some Rachmaninoff, which gave Julius ample opportunity to show off. They finished up with settings of folky things by Copland, Barber, Respighi and Britten. The last was The Crocodile; a very silly and funny piece I hadn’t heard before. The encore was by Healey Willans and Gerry gave a very nice plug for the Canadian Art Song Project. Insert standard list of adjectival phrases describing top notch singing and accompaniment. My humble scribing is not worthy.
Last night the RCM celebrated the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth with a suitably themed concert at Koerner Hall. The first half consisted of a performance of all the Anniversaries. These are short piano pieces; only a minute or two long, that Bernstein composed late at night. Each is dedicated to a friend or family member and many were reused later in longer works. There are somewhere between 20 and 30 of them and last night they were played in sets of three, four or five with introductions before each set by the composer’s eldest daughter Jamie complete with photos etc. The playing by Sebastian Knauer was idiomatic, virtuosic and sensitive. The introductions were informative, engaging and mercifully short. The music covered a vast range of moods and styles though all of it very Bernstein; that is to say tonal and obviously American. I was particularly struck by the brooding piece he wrote for his younger daughter some years after the death of her mother and by the earlier piece, dedicated to his wife Felicia Montealegre, that had Copland all over it and was none the worse for that. It was actually a rather brilliant way to showcase the man in a 45 minute or so concert segment.