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THE SCOOP | 2022 Glenn Gould Prize Jury Draws From Canadian And International Arts Luminaries

L-R (clockwise): Sir Andrew Davis (Photo: Dario Acosta); Karen Kain (Photo: Karolina Kuras); David Adjaye (Photo: Chris Schwagga); Loreena McKennitt (Photo: Richard Haughton)
L-R (clockwise): Sir Andrew Davis (Photo: Dario Acosta); Karen Kain (Photo: Karolina Kuras); David Adjaye (Photo: Chris Schwagga); Loreena McKennitt (Photo: Richard Haughton)

The Glenn Gould Prize recognizes outstanding lifetime achievement — it’s only fitting that the jury should comprise an international roster of exemplary artists and professionals. The Glenn Gould Foundation announced the jury for the 14th Glenn Gould Prize, celebrating the 90th anniversary of Glenn Gould’s birth.

iskwē (Image courtesy of the artist); Bob Ezrin (Photo: Jim Newberry)
iskwē (Image courtesy of the artist); Bob Ezrin (Photo: Jim Newberry)

Renowned music producer and eco-activist Bob Ezrin (Canada) has been announced as the chair of the jury panel for the 2022 Glenn Gould Prize. Other jury members include:

  • Architect Sir David Adjaye (Ghana/United Kingdom);
  • Conductor Sir Andrew Davis (United Kingdom);
  • Juno Award-winning singer-songwriter iskwē (Canada);
  • Artistic Director Emerita of the National Ballet of Canada Karen Kain (Canada);
  • JUNO & Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter k.d. lang (Canada);
  • Jazz and classical trumpet virtuoso William Leathers (Canada);
  • Director, multimedia artist, playwright and actor Robert Lepage (Canada);
  • Music director of the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing Lü Jia (China);
  • Neo-Celtic singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and composer Loreena McKennitt (Canada);
  • Pianist Hélène Mercier (Canada/France).

The Glenn Gould Prize is given biennially, and was devised as a tribute to its namesake’s multidimensional contributions to music, and the world in general. The Prize recognizes a lifetime of artistic achievement and excellence, along with originality and humanitarianism. Nominees can be chosen from a range of disciplines, including music, theatre, writing, film, video, radio, television, recording, technology, architecture and design.

Leathers William (Photo: Sophia Szokolay); Robert Lepage (Photo: Tony Hauser); kd lang (Image courtesy of the artist); Hélène Mercier (Image courtesy of the artist)
Leathers William (Photo: Sophia Szokolay); Robert Lepage (Photo: Tony Hauser); kd lang (Image courtesy of the artist); Hélène Mercier (Image courtesy of the artist)

Next steps…

The Glenn Gould Prize includes a cash award of $100,000 CAD, along with the prize statue by Canadian artist Ruth Abernethy. Throughout the next year, the Foundation will be presenting a series of events that honour the recipient.

  • The jury convenes Sept. 24 to deliberate and select the laureate;
  • The winner will be announced on what would have been Gould’s 90th birthday on Sunday, Sept. 25 at noon ET;
  • The announcement event is open to the public, and will take place at the TELUS Centre for
    Performance and Learning, 273 Bloor Street West, Toronto, in the Leslie and Anna Dan Galleria;
  • Check the official website for details about the livestream.

After the announcement, there will be a free concert in Koerner Hall to celebrate the jury and their work, with 17-year-old composer, violinist, pianist and conductor Alma Deutscher in her Canadian conducting debut with the Glenn Gould Festival Orchestra. She’ll perform her own orchestral music, together with Canadian guest soloists soprano Vania Chan and 18-year-old vocalist Noah Kosta.

Alma Deutscher was a child prodigy who played piano at age two, and violin at three. At age four, she added composition, and wrote her first full-length opera, Cinderella, at ten. Cinderella has been performed on three continents, and recorded by Sony Classical and by the Vienna State Opera. She made her Canadian debut as a performer in 2018 courtesy of the Glenn Gould Foundation.

The prize winner will, in turn, choose a young artist or ensemble with promise and career potential, who will receive the $25,000 (CAD) Glenn Gould Protégé Prize.

Tickets to the free Alma Deutscher concert are free, but must be reserved online here.

Past laureates of the Glenn Gould Prize include documentary filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin (2020), opera star Jessye Norman (2018), Leonard Cohen (2011), and composer Philip Glass (2015).

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LEBRECHT LISTENS | Riveting, Refreshing: Gadjiev Places Prokofiev Between Tcherepnins Father & Son

Alexander Gadjiev Plays Sergei Prokofiev, Alexander & Nikolai Tcherepnin (album cover)

Alexander Gadjiev Plays Sergei Prokofiev, Alexander & Nikolai Tcherepnin (The Bark of Yearning) (Avi-Service for music)

★★★★☆

🎧  Spotify | Amazon | Apple Music

Western orchestras take a binary view of the Russian 20th century. Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich are good for business, the rest are box-office death. Like most iron rules, these categorisations are pointless and misleading.

Prokofiev can be bad for audiences, very bad, when you leave him alone in a room with a piano. His Five Sarcasms, dated 1912-14, come as close to atonality as Schoenberg in a fish-shop tantrum, while Visions Fugitives of 1915-17 are way off the scale of anything you’d allow a Ukrainian refugee to play on your prize Bechstein.

Prokofiev can be the most annoying composer you never met, and he won’t let you forget it. At his best — and this is prime Prokofiev — he is provocative, intimidating, original and inimitable. The Visions are awe-inspiring when played as well as this.

Like all great composers, Prokofiev doesn’t come from nowhere. One of his teachers was the quirky Nikolai Tcherepnin, who wrote a 1917 musical exploration of Pushkin’s The Fisherman and the Fish, before opting for lifelong exile and obscurity in Montmartre. Tcherepnin’s son Alexander stayed on in Russia, but he grew fascinated by Japan, and took a Chinese wife. He wound up in the US, where he wrote outlandish harmonic structures for mainstream orchestras that have seldom been replayed.

Placing Prokofiev between the Tcherepnins, father and son, as Alexander Gadjiev does in this riveting and refreshing recital, is illuminating in more ways than can be imagined in a brief review. Gadjiev, 27, is a pianist who makes you think. A Slovene-Italian who came second in the 2021 Chopin Competition in Warsaw, he gave this album a near-Dadaist title, The Bark of Yearning. Sadly, it got left off the cover.

The record industry struggles to keep up with the imagination of its artists.

To read more from Norman Lebrecht, subscribe to Slippedisc.com.

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THE SCOOP | Mirvish: Healthy Audience Numbers Bode Well For Toronto’s Live Theatre Scene

Lorna Courtney as Juliet and company in & Juliet (Photo: Matthew Murphy)
Lorna Courtney as Juliet and company in & Juliet (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Are Toronto theatre audiences ready to come back to in-person events in full force? From the numbers that Mirvish live productions have racked up over the last few months, it would seem the answer is yes.

After 25 months of pandemic uncertainty, Mirvish has released a statement regarding some of their recent box office numbers.

“We’ve just ended an eight-week pre-Broadway engagement of & Juliet at the 2,000-seat Princess of Wales Theatre,” said David Mirvish in a media release. “It was an enormous success, playing to more than 90% capacity and selling out its final three weeks. Truthfully, we could not keep up with demand for tickets. Even more heartening, those lucky enough to get tickets had such a joyous experience, they almost blew the roof off the theatre with their shouts, whistles, foot stomping and almost never-ending applause.”

He notes that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a Canadian premiere run, has been playing at 100% capacity since it began its run on May 31.

“As we all know, the COVID pandemic changed everything in our world,” he continues. “In Ontario, theatres were shuttered for 17 consecutive months. Then we began very tentatively with the sound-and-light theatrical installation Blindness, which played to only 50 people per showing beginning September 2021. By late October it looked like we could welcome back more audience members, and we mounted a series of shows, only to have to close them because of the Omicron variant.”

The Omicron variant, in particular, caused a series of cancellations, including the permanent closing of the Canadian hit Come From Away.

In early April, theatres were able to reopen, and Mirvish began with smaller productions that tested the audience’s willingness to come back and participate in the live experience. Shows such as Boy Falls from the Sky and 2 Pianos 4 Hands showed audiences were ready

“They say patience is a virtue, and this has proven especially true for us,” Mirvish says. “We’ve carefully timed our reopening, at each moment willing to step back should the health and safety of our artists, staff and audiences be compromised.”

Mirvish hopes to continue its upward momentum with a blockbuster lineup for the fall 2022 season, including the continuing run of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Singin’ In The Rain, from the Chichester Festival and London’s West End, and four more productions through to January 2023.

He concludes the statement by thanking artists, staff, and, “[…] Toronto’s intrepid theatregoers. We’ve long said that Toronto has the most loyal, avid, diverse and enthusiastic audience on this continent.”

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SCRUTINY | The National Ballet & Guest Companies Shine At Harbourfront

L-R (clockwise): Ben Rudisin and Tina Pereira in Swan Lake Act II Pas de deux (Photo: Karolina Kuras); Holla Jazz in Margarita Exerpt (Photo: Karolina Kuras); Heather Ogden and Harrison James in After the Rain (Photo: Karolina Kuras) All images courtesy of the National Ballet of Canada
L-R (clockwise): Ben Rudisin and Tina Pereira in Swan Lake Act II Pas de deux (Photo: Karolina Kuras); Holla Jazz in Margarita Exerpt (Photo: Karolina Kuras); Heather Ogden and Harrison James in After the Rain (Photo: Karolina Kuras) All images courtesy of the National Ballet of Canada

The National Ballet of Canada/Sharing the Stage with Guest Companies, Program A and B, Concert Stage, Harbourfront Centre, Aug. 16 to 20. Free; info here.

Remember the glory days when the National Ballet, the Canadian Opera Company and the Toronto Symphony all had summer performances at Harbourfront? Well, we’ve made a one-third comeback with the ballet company. The National is currently presenting five shows by the water, and needless to say, mobs descended upon the Concert Stage for the performances.

To be perfectly frank, when Hope Muir was announced as the National’s new artistic director, it really was a situation of “Hope who?” For most of us, she was an unknown quantity, but slowly, we are starting to get a picture of the direction she is taking the National. These two Harbourfront programs, plus the recently announced 2022-2023 season, do shed some light on her choreographic tastes.

For example, Muir is clearly enamoured of the current crop of acclaimed British contemporary ballet choreographers. Both Wayne McGregor (Chroma) and Christopher Wheeldon (After the Rain) are on the summer program, with McGregor’s world premiere (Maddaddam), and David Dawson’s Canadian premiere (Anima Animus) slated for the season. She has also included a Canadian premiere by American contemporary ballet doyen, Alonzo King (The Collective Agreement). You really can’t go wrong programming master dancesmiths like these guys, whose works are trumpeted around the world.

Another side of Muir seems to be programming rising choreographic talents like Vanesa G.R. Montoya and Rena Butler. The former, who was born in Spain, is a principal dancer with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. She is represented on the season by the return of Crepuscular, while New York-based Butler will be creating a new work for the National. On the male side of things, Toronto-born Ethan Colangelo is featured on Program B of the summer program with as seen from before.

There are the four guest companies who are sharing the stage with the National at Harbourfront. All of them are Toronto-based, and collectively, they represent cultural diversity to the max — Black, South Asian and Indigenous, plus one Settler. This is clearly Muir acknowledging the talent of the home team.

In other words, aficionados of the National can expect the new in a major way, but, by the same token, Muir has not forgotten the old guard such as Kenneth MacMillan, George Balanchine, and (he’s going to kill me for this), James Kudelka. She is also bringing back two acclaimed ballets originally created for the National — Robert Lepage’s and Guillaume Côté’s Frame by Frame, and Alexei Ratmansky’s Romeo and Juliet.

What is missing, admittedly, are the tutu classics, although I suppose we can count The Nutcracker in this category. The season and the summer programs are certainly chocked full of contemporary ballet.

Tanveer Alam in Haazri (Photo: Lookout Productions, courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada)
Tanveer Alam in Haazri (Photo: Karolina Kuras, courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada)

With apologies to the National dancers, I’m going straight for the guest companies. Suffice it to say, that the company danced with assured elegance in McGregor’s Chroma, Swan Lake Act 11 Pas de Deux and Wheeldon’s After the Rain, all works we’ve seen before. The company is looking in top form these days — among the best in the world, in fact.

Program A (Aug. 16, 18, 20) features Natasha Powell’s Holla Jazz, which, as the name implies, is grounded in jazz dance. The excerpt from Margarita features five women moving between tits ‘n’ ass choreography and the 1920s Charleston. The piece is attractive, if routine. The full version of Margarita is being performed at Fall for Dance North, and it will be very interesting to see this simplistic excerpt in the context of the whole.

On the other hand, Powell’s 4 for 5, wonderfully performed by four of the National’s young men — Alexander Skinner, Isaac Wright, Jason Ferro and Scott McKenzie — is absolutely terrific. Apparently, the dancers helped create the choreography, and so we get a delicious combination of showy tricks, like difficult jumps and turns, coupled with some serious jazz dance moves that involve total physicality. Set to legendary jazz guitarist Chet Atkins playing Paul Desmond’s rollicking Take 5, the piece just soars. It’s a keeper and belongs in the repertoire.

The other guest on Program A is Kathak dancer/choreographer Tanveer Alam, who is originally from Montréal. He also did his own music arrangements for this piece called Haazri. Alam is a sensational Kathak dancer, executing the rapid heel turns, precision arms and hands, and abrupt pauses with consummate grace. The crowd went wild for him, and deservedly so. (I should also mention unusual aspects of his trio of musicians — a female tabla player, and a Settler on sitar.)

There is one not-so-little-boo-boo to report, however. My otherwise excellent seat was behind the orchestra’s bass players, so three standing men and their large fiddles obscured my view. It was like seeing the dance through a lattice grill. Although I love conductor David Briskin and the National’s orchestra, I was happier when they vacated the premises.

Program B (Aug. 17, 19) features the excerpts from Chroma and Swan Lake, while showcasing works by guests Ethan Colangelo, Samantha Sutherland and Rock Bottom Movement.

In summary, and judging from overheard conversations, everyone seemed to enjoy the hour-long program, as did I. Muir clearly wants the National to be part of the Toronto dance community, and so far, I’m impressed.

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PREVIEW | Indie Opera: Toronto’s Opéra Queens Presents ‘Tanya’s Secret’

L-R: Tenor Mike Fan aka Tanya Smania (Image courtesy of the artist); Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Public domain image)
L-R: Tenor Mike Fan aka Tanya Smania (Image courtesy of the artist); Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Public domain image)

Toronto indie opera company Opéra Queens will present their production of Tanya’s Secret on August 26 and 28.

Tanya’s Secret is an adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin through a queer-trans lens. Unable to reveal his true nature in the 19th century, it is now widely known that Tchaikovsky was gay. The Opéra Queens production will include the art songs of Ukrainian composer Mykola Lysenko, and will help raise funds for Kyiv Pride.

The cast has an international flavour, featuring Greek baritone Georgios Iatrou aka Nina Naï in the role of Eugene Onegin. Chinese-Canadian, queer, and gender non-binary tenor, actor, educator, and advocate Mike Zuming Fan plays the title role of Tatyana Larina as drag queen Tanya Smania. Other members of the majority queer-trans and IBPOC cast include Christina Yun and Alexander Cappellazzo as Lensky, American baritone Louise Floyd shares the role of Olga Larina with Ontario’s Corinne Dejong, and Gremin is sung by mezzos Marianne Bendig and Catharin Carew. Carew also switches over to sing the role of Madame Larina.

Directed by Bridget Ramzy, the performances will feature pianists Cecilia Nguyen Tran and Tina Faye. In rehearsals:

Founded in 2020 during the COVID pandemic, and based in Toronto and Montréal, Opéra Queens’ mandate is to present classical music through a queer lens of “full colour”, as the company puts it, incorporating majority queer-trans and IBPOC performers. Early concerts in Montréal sold out, leading to When Daylight Rises, a work created for Lucky Penny Opera.

Tanya’s Secret will be on stage at the Betty Oliphant Theatre in Toronto on August 26 and 28. Tickets here.

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REPORT | Open Letter From Indigenous Classical Music Gathering Calls For Change

Violin by Ri Butov (CC0C/Pixabay)
Violin by Ri Butov (CC0C/Pixabay)

The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity is currently hosting the third iteration of the Canadian Indigenous Classical Music Gathering (ICMG), led by faculty members Cris Derksen and Eliot Britton.

The first ICMG in 2019 gave rise to Indigenous Musical Sovereignty, a statement that takes ownership of Indigenous art — as opposed to “Indigenous-inspired” art by others. “We seek an end to those musical works by outsiders that shock audiences and re-traumatize our most painful experiences,” it reads. “To non-Indigenous composers who seek to tell “Indigenous-inspired” works: be honest with yourself and ask why you feel compelled to tell this story and whether you are the right person to do so.”

The statement came after several high profile cases of artists claiming disputed Indigenous ancestry in Canada.

Based on the proceeding of the last ICMG, held in December 2021, an Open Letter was published on social media on August 9. Signed by the attendees, Andrew Balfour (Cree), Cris Derksen (Cree-Mennonite), Jeremy Dutcher (Wolastoq), Michelle Lafferty (Tłı̨chǫ Dene), Beverley McKiver (Anishinaabe), Melody McKiver (Anishinaabe-Lithuanian-Scottish), Jessica McMann (Cree), and Sonny-Ray Day Rider (Blackfoot) the document calls for changes that will create more room in the classical music world for Indigenous artists, and a better future for Indigenous young people, in particular.

There were several areas of concern that the writers of the letter discuss.

  • Collaborations: Collaborators are valued, but must understand that working on Indigenous-funded projects means leaving key decisions and credit in the hands of Indigenous artists.
  • Appropriations: Indigenous stories are best told by Indigenous artists.

Several of the issues the letter points out, while seen through the lens of an Indigenous identity, are also applicable to many others on a broader basis. Essentially, they look to break down the very real barriers that prevent participation in the world of classical music.

  • Disability and Mental Health Issues: Recognition of the generational toll of the residential schools and systemic oppression when dealing with Indigenous stories and artists.
  • Ageism: The reality is that many Indigenous artists begin their careers well into adulthood, and not as a result of a system of education that begins childhood, which adversely affects their career trajectories.
  • Classism: Expensive private lessons, not accessible to most people, are still the gateway to a career in classical music, not to mention the cost of instruments.
  • Racism: The music community should reflect the community we all live in.
  • Homophobia, transphobia and sexism: Recognition of the persistence of stereotypical expectations based on gender and colonialism.
  • Location: There should be as much opportunity for kids in Tuktoyaktuk as there is in Toronto.

The open letter can be read in full here.

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THE SCOOP | TD Music Connected Play The Parks Concert Series Expands To 13 Cities

A man playing violin outdoors
Public domain image

Play The Parks comes back to Toronto’s outdoor spaces starting today, August 15, continuing until September 30. The annual series has been produced by the Toronto Downtown Yonge BIA community for about a decade.

This year, Play The Parks, a free music and concert series that showcases local artists, has expanded to 13 cities across Canada. Presented by TD Music Connects and Canada’s Music Incubator (CMI), the free concert series will feature more than 100 diverse from Black, Indigenous, Chinese, South Asian and 2SLGBTQ+ communities. Canada’s Music Incubator (CMI) is a Toronto-based national not-for-profit organization providing mentorship and other professional development services to emerging music entrepreneurs.

“Curating live sponsored performance opportunities for emerging artists is an extension of CMI’s professional development mandate to help them develop sustainable businesses,” says Jesse Mitchell, Director of CMI Live in a release. “The TD Music Connected Series’ national expansion of Play The Parks not only helps to accomplish this, but also works to bring many communities together while showcasing cultural and musical diversity.”

The new cities in the Play The Parks program this year include: Victoria, BC; Vancouver, BC; Surrey, BC; New Westminster, BC; Edmonton, AB; Calgary, AB; Winnipeg, MB; London, ON; Brantford, ON; Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON; Barrie, ON; Sydney, NS; and St. John’s, NL.

During the pandemic, Play The Parks ran as a virtual event in Calgary as a collaboration between Calgary Parks, the National Music Centre, the CMI, and TD Music Connected Series. Six artists pre-recorded performances from parks across Calgary.

The concerts will take place across dozens of parks throughout the municipalities. The line-up includes:

  • Cynthia Hamar, Métis singer-songwriter with four folk studio albums;
  • Chad Price, 2022 CBC Music Searchlight Grand Prize Winner;
  • Jing Xia, professional guzheng artist, teacher and scholar;
  • Ellen Farrugia and the Surrey City Orchestra String Trio.

For the complete line-up of cities, parks and artists for the 2022 Play The Parks live program, visit the website here. Toronto concerts are listed here.

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THE SCOOP | Royal Canadian Mint Honours Pianist Oscar Peterson

L-R: Phyllis Clark, Chair of the Royal Canadian Mint (RCM) Board of Directors, Marie Lemay, RCM President and CEO, The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Kelly Peterson, Céline Peterson and Norman Peterson unveil a commemorative $1 circulation coin honoring Oscar Peterson at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, ON (August 11, 2022). (Photo courtesy of the RCM)
L-R: Phyllis Clark, Chair of the Royal Canadian Mint (RCM) Board of Directors, Marie Lemay, RCM President and CEO, The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Kelly Peterson, Céline Peterson and Norman Peterson unveil a commemorative $1 circulation coin honouring Oscar Peterson at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, ON (August 11, 2022). (Photo courtesy of the RCM)

The Royal Canadian Mint has honoured late Canadian pianist Oscar Peterson’s memory with a commemorative circulation coin that was unveiled in Toronto on August 11.

“The Mint is passionate about celebrating stories of exceptional Canadians on its coins, and I am delighted that Oscar Peterson, the first Canadian musician to appear on a circulation coin, is being celebrated as one of the world’s most respected and influential jazz artists of all time,” said Marie Lemay, President and CEO of the Royal Canadian Mint in a release. “Mr. Peterson’s music and legendary performances have brought joy to millions of music lovers in Canada and around the world, and we are proud to honour him, through this coin, for his exceptional contributions to Canadian music and culture.”

The coin was designed by Ajax, Ontario artist Valentine De Landro. De Landro is an illustrator, designer and noted comic book artist. He depicts Peterson playing the piano with those famous hands, with the two closing bars of his Hymn to Freedom flowing from them.

Peterson began with classical music on the piano growing up in Montreal’s Little Burgundy neighbourhood, first learning from his father and sister Daisy. He went on to a storied career as an acclaimed jazz pianist, leaving a legacy of over 400 recordings, eight Grammy Award wins, a Juno for Best Jazz Album, and a place in Canada’s Music Hall of Fame. He was made a Companion of the Order of Canada. Peterson died in 2007 at the age of 82.

The honour follows the release of the documentary film Oscar Peterson: Black + White last year.

“Throughout Oscar’s career, he received many awards and honours, each of which meant a great deal to him. During the nearly fifteen years since his passing, there have been more. All of them humbling. All of them a source of pride. The addition of this commemorative circulation coin bearing his likeness is something neither he nor I could ever have imagined,” said Kelly Peterson. “Knowing that Canadians now, and for generations to come, will hold this coin and be reminded of Oscar Peterson or be inspired to learn about him for the first time evokes emotions challenging to describe. I am deeply, profoundly honoured. Oscar was a great pianist and composer. He was a staunch advocate for human rights. Above all, he was always a proud Canadian. As his music is timeless, so too now will he be a part of the Canadian consciousness forever.”

The Oscar Peterson coin has a limited mintage of 3 million coins, and 2 million will also feature a purple accent — purple was his favourite colour.

You can wait to receive one as change eventually, or order it from the RCM online here.

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LEBRECHT LISTENS | John Adams Rattles And Rolls Like New Music

Composer John Adams (Photo: Vern Evans)
Composer John Adams (Photo: Vern Evans)

John Adams (Alpha)

★★★★☆

🎧  Amazon | Apple Music

When did John Adams become John Adams? Around 1995, according to his own narrative, when he broke with repetitive minimalism and found a more variegated expression. The turning point was an orchestral work called Slonimsky’s Earbox, written soon after the contentious opera The Death of Klinghoffer, and paying homage to one of the quirkiest characters ever seen in a concert hall.

Nicolas Slonimsky was a Russian-Jewish polymath who made himself useful to Serge Koussevitsky and Leonard Bernstein by re-barring complex scores that they could not beat unaided. The Rite of Spring, on their recordings, is taken from Slonimsky’s score. Among other talents, he could play a Chopin nocturne by rolling a citrus fruit up and down the black keys. Old Nick — he died in 1995 at the age of 101 — was a one-off, an endless source of fun. His friends (I was one) find it touching that Adams chose to name a piece in his memory.

How original is the work? Transitioning out of minimalism, Adams relies rather heavily on Stravinsky. Both the Rite and Le Chant du Rossignol pump iron in this score, but no matter. It rattles and rolls like new music, and Paavo Järvi and the Zurich Tonhalle play it with infectious enthusiasm.

The other main piece on this fairly short album is also a tribute: My Father Knew Charles Ives. Adams has described it as, “a Proustian madeleine with a Yankee flavour”. Psychoanalytic is the word he was looking for. This hypnotic piece is a WASP American’s search for connections with the nation’s cultural founders. If Adams met Ives, both would feel instant affinity. And, those off-key New England marching bands he quotes are forgivably authentic, even in a Swiss rollout. I like this piece more than almost anything else Adams has written for orchestra.

To read more from Norman Lebrecht, subscribe to Slippedisc.com.

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SCRUTINY | Production Values Lift Gould’s Wall Above The Ordinary

L-R (clockwise): Roger Honeywell; Lauren Pearl; Conductor Jennifer Tung & musicians (Photo: Dahlia Katz)
L-R (clockwise): Roger Honeywell; Lauren Pearl; Conductor Jennifer Tung & musicians (Photo: Dahlia Katz)

Tapestry Opera: Gould’s Wall. Composed by Brian Current; Libretto by Liza Balkan; Directed by Philip Akin. Aug. 4 – 12, 2022, 8:30 p.m. Royal Conservatory of Music Atrium. Tickets here.

Many are the chances taken and boundaries breached these days in the name of opera. Tapestry, a Toronto company that treats innovation as its stock-in-trade, has combined something like psychoanalysis with rock climbing in Gould’s Wall, which is nearing the end of its run in the Atrium of the Royal Conservatory of Music. A divertissement for the eye if not the ear, the piece will surely be remembered as a hit, though not for what an opera traditionalist would regard as the right reasons.

The subject is Glenn Gould, played with surprising visual verisimilitude by the tenor Roger Honeywell. With a cap, rumpled trench coat and open-fingered gloves, he is a constant if relatively static presence on stage, sometimes standing, sometimes seated in his famous folding chair. The natural invitation is to regard the strictly nonlinear libretto of Liza Balkan as a stream of consciousness and the vast sandstone west facade of the old RCM building as a metaphor for the mind of the pianist (who remains, of course, the most famous alumnus of the institution).

Various characters sing from the windows and balconies of that wall, at the behest of director Philip Akin, but the central figure is Louise, an aspiring pianist who invokes Gould’s spirit and becomes something like his alter ego, joining the pianist in the opening minutes in an adversarial exchange with The Teacher, and later engaging Gould on subjects as relevant as audience applause and as trivial as the menu at Fran’s restaurant.

The main exploit of Louise, however, as played by aerialist-soprano Lauren Pearl, was to climb the wall and swing from window to ledge to window, singing all the while. With a harness and safety cord, of course, but in a manner that looked positively death-defying, and was often uncomfortable to watch. The purpose was to create another metaphor, for struggle and achievement. The effect as experienced from a balcony level seat was anything but abstract.

The Canadian cast projected sturdily, though with amplification, the high-altitude Atrium (in effect, the space between Koerner Hall and the original Conservatory building) not having been designed with acoustics in mind. Baritone Justin Welsh as The Teacher and mezzo-soprano Andrea Ludwig as Gould’s unduly solicitous mother (“be careful of germs”) made strong impressions.

Lauren Pearl, Roger Honeywell and Jennifer Tung in 'Gould's Wall' (Photo: Dahlia Katz)
Lauren Pearl, Roger Honeywell and Jennifer Tung in ‘Gould’s Wall’ (Photo: Dahlia Katz)

But, this was no night of bel canto, composer (and conductor) Brian Current preferring a declamatory style. Much of his turbulent instrumental music (for five pianos and an ensemble of 13 on the lower level) was made of restlessly climbing scales that evoked the hallway hubbub of the Conservatory, but seemed only fitfully connected to the elements of pathos in the text. Credit Current with not succumbing to the temptation of using the Goldberg Variations or other bits of Gouldiana as easy soundtrack material. Yet, it was surprising not to hear any traces in the score of the music the pianist loved so well.

As for the text, there were a few references to well-known events in Gould’s life. “The Brahms was a fiasco,” say some mean-spirited onlookers, obviously talking about the infamous 1962 performance with Leonard Bernstein of this composer’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Other scenes seemed to be imaginary, such as the encounter with another young piano student (The Girl, played affectingly by Alice Malakhov) who seeks Gould’s advice [see note below].

Balkan and Current manage a tone of apotheosis in this final scene, but for much of its 55 minutes the opera portrays the title character as fragile, indecisive and beset by cares. This does not correspond to the brilliance and defiant spirit of Canada’s favourite musical son or, it must be said, to the profile of a major character in any opera with a serious claim to repertoire status.

A mixed evening, then, especially for opera fans, but a theatrical undertaking worthy of Tapestry in its audacity and technical panache. Possibly this is all Gould’s Wall needed to be. The spectators on Wednesday evening, including many who bought standing room, certainly expressed approval.

It should be noted that Maniac Star, the RCM, Toronto Summer Music and the Glenn Gould School (where Current is director of the New Music Ensemble) all got credit as production collaborators.

The last performance of Gould’s Wall is on Friday.

UPDATE — Liza Balkan writes: “The penultimate scene in the piece involving the young girl is in fact not fictional. This encounter was discovered in The Great Gould, by Peter Goddard, published in 2017. I was fortunate enough to have had a conversation with the late Mr. Goddard, wherein we chatted about this young girl — now an older woman — and he gave me his blessing to use the story in our operatic meditation. As a very young girl, she did in fact call Gould on the phone  requesting his help with a piece of music. He did agree. I took a small amount of artistic licence. One example: it wasn’t Mozart that she had ‘issues’ with, but rather, Beethoven!”

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