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LISZTS | Ten Movies About Classical Music


For true lovers of classical music, it’s not enough just to listen. Movies let you experience the music along with stories and the magic of the screen. Whether they follow the lives of composers or use the music as a unifying theme, it adds another dimension to be enjoyed.

The music plays many roles in the movies on this list. It can be the driving for rivalry and bitterness, passion and jealousy, healing and connection in stories from dramas to horror to romantic comedy.

Immortal Beloved

Gary Oldman heads a star-studded cast that includes Isabella Rossellini and Christopher Fulford in the story of our namesake composer Ludwig van Beethoven. The portrait isn’t always a flattering one, with Oldman portraying his volatile emotions — including his legendary vindictive streak — and often tumultuous life. The story revolves around the mystery of the Immortal Beloved, the unnamed woman Beethoven wrote three passionate love letters to. Dutch actor Jeroen Krabbé plays Anton Felix Schindler, Beethoven’s friend who is left to unravel the mystery after his death. The London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Georg Solti, perform the music in the film, along with soloists Murray Perahia on piano, Gidon Kremer on violin, and the Juilliard String Quartet. (Available on YouTube or Apple TV)


Fantasia was a big gamble for Walt Disney, but it was a project that was close to his heart. It was only the third animated feature for the studio. The project began as a short, but production costs soon led Disney to realize he could only recoup his investment in a feature. He devised a format of multiple segments, each set to classical music. Leopold Stokowski conducts, with seven of the pieces performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. Between each segment, Master of Ceremonies Deems Taylor, a prominent music critic and composer in his own right, introduces the next part. With WWII raging at the time, box office was limited on its 1940 release. But, in the intervening years, its reputation has grown, and the movie has been re-released several times. (Available on Disney+ and Amazon Prime)

The Soloist

In this drama based on a true story, Robert Downey Jr. plays journalist Steve Lopez. One day, he walks by Nathaniel (Jamie Foxx) playing the violin on a sidewalk in Los Angeles and recognizes his gift. Nathaniel tells him he once went to Julliard, but as Lopez later finds out, he didn’t finish his studies. Lopez wants to write a story about him, and helps him leave the streets in the hope of a fairy tale ending. But, Nathaniel’s problems are real, and the story acknowledges the difficulties of living with schizophrenia as well as the healing power of music. The movie is based on the true story of Nathaniel Ayers, a musician whose schizophrenia led to homelessness. (Available on YouTube, Amazon Prime or Apple)


Miloš Forman’s 1984 biopic about the life of Amadeus Mozart was a smash hit. Peter Shaffer adapted the script from his play of the same name, describing it as a “fantasia on the theme of Mozart and Salieri” rather than a standard biography. Replete with the composer’s music, the movie is set in Vienna. The plot invents a bitter rivalry between the older court composer Antonio Salieri and the young upstart Amadeus, and both stars F. Murray Abraham (Salieri) and Tom Hulce (Mozart) were nominated for an Oscar. Abraham won for Best Actor. The movie grossed over $90 million, and cemented poor Salieri as a jealous murderer in the pop culture psyche. It may be the most fun classical movie pic based at least somewhat in reality. (Available on YouTube or Apple TV)

The Red Violin

Directed by François Girard and starring Samuel L. Jackson, The Red Violin is a story inspired by a legendary musical instrument — the 1720 Red Mendelssohn made by Antonio Stradivarius. The real instrument (last sold for $1.7 million) does feature a red stripe on its right side. The movie follows a mysterious red violin as it enters the lives of generations of people, spanning four centuries and five countries. It begins in Cremona in 1681, travels to Vienna in 1793, then Oxford in the 1890s, Shanghai in the 1960s, and Montreal in 1997. The movie’s soundtrack was composed by John Corigliano, and the solos are performed by famed violinist Joshua Bell. (Available on Amazon Prime, YouTube and Apple TV)

The Perfection

The world of classical music blends with horror in this thriller about a rivalry between cellists. Charlotte is a talented musician, the pet pupil of Anton, the head of a music academy. When her mother falls ill, she has to leave the prestigious music school to care for her. Years later, her mother passed away, Charlotte reconnects with the academy in Shanghai, and befriends Lizzie — the new star cello pupil who’s taken her place. What ensues is a tale of over the top rivalry and bloody revenge worthy of a night on the couch with popcorn. The plot takes lurid twists and turns, and into places you’ll never suspect. The story ends with the force that drives the plot — the music. (Available on Netflix)

The Song Of Names

Director François Girard makes the list a second time in this drama based on the power of music to bear witness. When World War II puts his family in Poland in danger, young Dovidl Rappaport takes refuge with the family of Martin Simmonds in London. Tim Roth stars as Martin, with Clive Owen as Dovidl in a story based on the book of the same name by Norman Lebrecht. Dovidl grows up as the boys enjoy a typical brotherly combination of friendliness and competitiveness. Dovidl continues his studies at the violin, and reaches the eve of his first major concert. Then, he disappears… Martin tries to track him down decades later, unravelling a story about loss where music, culture, and memory are intertwined. (Available on Amazon Prime, YouTube and Apple TV)

Mahler On The Couch

The 2010 German film is based on facts. Alma Mahler, wife of Gustav, and Walter Gropius, architect and founder of the Bauhaus School, did have an affair. Gustav Mahler did meet with Sigmund Freud in 1910 in Holland. But, of course, no one knows what they spoke about. The movie imagines the rest, based in part on Alma’s diaries, which talk about Gustav’s demands that she quit her own musical composition. The story is funny and skews the Viennese culturati of the day. Mahler’s music is played by the Swedish Radio Orchestra, with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting. (Available on Amazon Prime)

My Father’s Violin

My Father’s Violin (Babamin kemani) is a Turkish film by director Andaç Haznedaroğlu. Eight-year-old Özlem lives with her father, a poor street musician named Ali Riza. Riza becomes ill, and when he finds out it’s terminal, he tries to reconnect with his brother Mehmet. Mehmet is a famous concert violinist, and the two brothers have been estranged for many years. He grudgingly takes on responsibility for the girl. The violin and the music become a way for the two to connect in a story that explores healing deep-seated family wounds. The music in the movie was composed by Taskin Sabah. A bonus is a glamorous look at the city of Istanbul. (Available on Netflix)

Falling For Figaro

Operatic dreams mash up with rom-com delightfulness in this movie set in the Scottish Highlands. Danielle Macdonald plays Millie, a talented fund manager who does what many dream of — she ditches an unsupportive boyfriend, packs up and leaves for Scotland to train as an opera singer. Joanna Lumley plays the embittered ex-opera singer who takes her under her wing. Yes, there are romantic ups and downs with Max, a rival opera student, and of course, there is a singing contest. There are also genuine laughs, and some lovely singing of Puccini, Verdi, Mozart and others by Australian opera performers Stacey Alleaume and Nathan Lay. (Available on Netflix)


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LIZSTS | 5 Essential Lessons Peter Gelb Has Learned From The Met Opera

Peter Gelb
Peter Gelb, General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. (Photo: Brigitte Lacombe)

“Opera is an old art form. We’re trying to teach it new tricks” — Five key takeaways from Peter Gelb’s 14 years as General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera.

New York’s Metropolitan Opera is having the season of valhallian dreams.

The potential of François Girard’s Flying Dutchman (March 2-27) is already reviving memories of the director’s Parsifal from the recent past. The fall’s hit Met offering of Porgy and Bess saw its run extended. Philip Glass’ “un-Aida” Egyptian Akhnaten received rock concert reviews. And the season has been front-to-back solid with stars on the rise. One example: American soprano — and marathon runner — Lisette Oropesa proved she owns the title role in Jules Massanet’s opera comique, Manon.

The question is: How flash-in the pan will this prove to be for Met General Manager Peter Gelb. He’s been the opera world’s piñata since he took over in 2006 — at a salary now over $2 million-plus — with promises of modernizing the Met experience answered with Met Opera Live in HD broadcasts, and the company on Met Opera Radio-SiriusXM. Today a $312-million-plus (U.S.) operation, the Met is world’s largest repertory theatre, with 3,800 seats. “Still, part of my job is always raising money,” Gelb tells me.

He’s been at the mercy of the media after threatening the company with bankruptcy in 2014 as seat sales dropped to the 80 percent level. Equally unpleasant was always being compared to the legendary Met boss, Rudolf Bing, the impresario who moved the company into Lincoln Centre in 1964. (All Giulio Gatti-Casazza the Italian-born earlier Met head had to do was have the company survive the Great Depression.)

(A deeper more New York question is, how would Gelb’s father have dealt with junior’s mercurial career. Arthur Gelb was a powerhouse New York Times journalist/arts editor/executive almost his death in 2014 aged 90. He knew a lot about fame and how to create it as when he “discovered,” Barbra Streisand and boosted Times careers of Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd. Even so, I’d guess junior would catch a break from Arthur this year.)

In fact, is it time to suggest that Peter Gelb, all of 67-years-old, has been far more right than wrong all along, and that his “vision” — a word he uses a fair amount — that well be a template for other companies?

“We’re trying to be agile, artistically nimble and thoughtful,” says Gelb. “It’s not easy. Opera is an old art form. We’re trying to teach it new tricks.”

Five essential Gelb lessons (so far) go this way:

+ Follow the money

This year we had Sunday matinee performances because we have new audiences for the Met,” he says. “We’re changing to conform to the new audience. Next season there’ll be no performances in February but more in the Spring itself.”

+ Re-think what opera asks and can deliver

“We are developing shorter operas for family,” says Gelb. How about 90-minute works?

+Broaden the repertory.

“Whether it’s a new production of an older work, or a new work,” says Gelb. “Part of my vision is to introduce at least one work that’s new to the repertory.” He cites jazz trumpeter Terrance Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up In My Bones opera scheduled for the 2021-’22 season. The Blanchard will be the Met’s first opera from an Afro-American composer.

Gelb: “Philip Glass’ Akhanten is not a work I planned for the Met. I resisted it initially until I saw it at the Los Angeles Opera (it opened in 2016). And I fell in love with it. I can’t claim to have taken part in the creative aspect other than being smart enough to bring it to New York.”

+ Don’t go pop.

“All of this doesn’t mean we’re going to produce opera as a pop experience. We have a symphony orchestra. We have a chorus. We are an opera house.”

+Think long-term.

“Always find a path to financial stability; always find ways to manage costs to further amplify earning potential.”

— — — — —

For the complete Met Live in HD broadcasts, see full listings at Cineplex Events.


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LISZTS | 10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Roy Thomson Hall

Roy Thomson Hall
Interesting factoids about Roy Thomson Hall that may surprise you.

Roy Thomson Hall (60 Simcoe St.) has been a provocative subject for Toronto’s concert goers. While it can sometimes sound a little cavernous, one undeniable fact is that it has become a major part of Toronto’s musical and architectural history.

Here are a few interesting facts we found that you might not have known about Toronto’s premiere concert venue.

Did we miss any? Add your own in the comments.


Renowned violinist and frequent Toronto Symphony Orchestra guest artist Itzhak Perlman acted as a special advisor to the Roy Thomson Hall architects to ensure accessibility at all levels for disabled performers and patrons.


Leonard Bernstein
Bernstein conducted the Vienna Philharmonic in celebration of his 70th birthday (Photo: University Musical Society/Creative Commons)

On October 30, 1988, Leonard Bernstein conducted the Vienna Philharmonic as part of The Great Orchestra Series at RTH. This was his only appearance at the Hall, and he died of a heart attack two years later.


South view of Roy Thomson Hall's reflecting pool.
South view of Roy Thomson Hall’s reflecting pool.

The courtyard pond was originally designed to be used as a skating rink in the winter. The building was influenced by RTH architect Arthur Erickson’s journeys in Japan and his relationship with the North American Aboriginals.


Roy Thomson Hall ramp where Xavier and Magneto converse briefly in the film, X-Men.
Roy Thomson Hall ramp where Xavier and Magneto converse briefly in the film, X-Men.

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has a long history of launching the festival every year at RTH with a Gala Screening. The hall has been the site of world premieres for such Oscar Winning films as The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, Black Swan. (It was also used  as a location for the movie, X-Men.)


Roy Thomson
Roy Thomson

Originally known as “The New Massey Hall”, it was renamed on January 14, 1982, in honour of Roy Thomson (founder of the publishing empire Thomson Corporation), who donated C$4.5 million to the construction of the hall.


Jack Layton, Roy Thomson Hall
RCMP officers carry the casket at Roy Thomson Hall

The hall was the venue of the state funeral of federal Leader of the Official Opposition and NDP leader Jack Layton on August 27, 2011.


R Murray Schafer
R Murray Schafer

The first concert in the gala opening festival, 13-25 Sep 1982, included two commissions: Fanfare by Ray Luedeke for the Toronto Symphony, and Sun by R. Murray Schafer for the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. Followed by a concert production of Capriccio by the Canadian Opera Company among others.


RTH has served as the main venue for the Munk Debates. The first debate, “Be it Resolved, Religion is a Force for Good in the World,” was held between former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and author Christopher Hitchens.


RTH acquired its Yamaha CF-2 concert grand piano from the estate of Glenn Gould in 1983.


The hall was renovated over a period of six months in 2002, after years of complaints from musicians about the quality of its acoustics.


For more, check out this video of MT founder and co-author of “Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait,” John Terauds, as he shares some behind the scenes stories about the acoustic renovation of 2002 at Toronto’s iconic venue here:


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LISZTS | 7 Musicians Who Were Caught Doing Things They Shouldn’t

1 —

Igor Stravinsky

Occupation: Composer

Crime: Defaming The American National Anthem

Igor Stravinsky was a composer who made an entire career out of riling up the musical establishment. He said he hoped his riot-inducing “The Rite of Spring” would send the European establishment all to hell. The riots ensued, and so did his reputation. The following year in 1944 – while he was in Boston, Massachusetts to conduct the Boston Symphony — he marked the occasion by conducting his own arrangement of the “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The police were not impressed, particularly with his “liberal” use of harmony under the melody. The police forced him to pull the arrangement from the program the following day. All that for a dominant seventh chord… You can hear the offending anthem here:

2 —

Glenn Gould

Occupation: Pianist/Producer/Composer

Crime: Suspicion of Vagrancy

While in Sarasota Florida for a concert, Toronto-based pianist Glenn Gould — who famously had a proclivity for wearing hats, gloves, and winter coats in the summer — thought he’d take in some air on a park bench before a concert.  He was approached by Police and arrested under suspicion of being a homeless drifter. Gould was later released after his identity as a famous concert pianist was revealed.

3 —

Carlo Gesualdo

Occupation: Composer

Crime: Double Homicide

Gesualdo’s run-in with the law sounds like something right out of a horror movie. In a fit of rage after finding his lover cheating on him, Gesualdo murdered them both. He managed to escape prosecution by using his nobility to shield him. Gesualdo spent the rest of his life writing choral and instrumental music, some of which include texts that allude directly to the murder. Documentary filmmaker Werner Herzog’s made a documentary about Gesualdo called, Death for Five Voices (1995) which examines the gruesome mythos surrounding the murders and their aftermath.

4 —

Ludwig van Beethoven

Occupation: Composer

Crime: Vagrancy

Beethoven was a notorious workaholic who preferred to leave things like grooming, laundry, and housework to mear mortals to worry about. Things came crashing down to earth when in 1820,  Beethoven went out for a walk in the Austrian town of Weiner Neustadt. He became lost and started peering into the windows of homes looking for someone to ask for help. A beat cop saw him peeping through someone’s curtains and arrested him for vagrancy.

While in jail, Beethoven gave the constables a piece of his mind. One policeman reportedly went to a commissioner for help in dealing with him. “Herr Commissioner,” he said, “We have arrested a man who gives us no rest, and yells all the time that he is Beethoven.”

A very angry Beethoven remained in jail until the city’s musical director (Herr Herzog) came to bail him out.

5 —

Johann Sebastian Bach

Occupation: Composer

CHARGE: “Too Stubbornly Forcing The Issue Of His Dismissal.”

Bach was working a job a chamber musician in the Court of the Duke of Sachsen-Weimar in 1708 with the understanding he would eventually succeed to the position of Kapellmeister when the incumbent died. After five years of waiting the Kapellmeister died, but the job went to the Kapellmeister’s inept son. The nearby Court of Anhalt-Cöthen (a rival to Duke of Sachsen-Weimar) heard that Bach was passed up for the job, and invited him to serve as Kapellmeister for his court. Bach took the job, but not before being arrested and thrown in jail for 30 days on the order of a spiteful Duke of Sachsen-Weimar. Bach spent his time in the big house composing chorale preludes for organ, which were later published in his Orgelbüchlein.

6 —

Montserrat Caballé

Montserrat Caballé
Montserrat Caballé as Violetta in La traviata, her Lyric Opera of Chicago (Photo: David H. Fishman/Lyric Opera of Chicago)

Occupation: Singer

CHARGE: Tax Evasion

Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé made millions of fans after singing in Barcelona with Queen’s lead singer, Freddie Mercury, at the 1992 Olympic Games. Caballé achieved international success in 1965 when she made her debut filling in for another singer in Donizetti’s opera at the MET. Unfortunately, her reputation took a dive when it was discovered she had been defrauding authorities to the tune of €500,000. She was arrested and given a six-month suspended sentence with a fine of more than €250,000.

7 —

Franz Schubert

Occupation: Composer

CHARGE: Opprobrious language

While enjoying a rowdy evening out with his friends, Franz Schubert was arrested in Vienna under suspicion of being up to no good. While being accosted by the police, he insulted them, resulting in a charge of using abusive language.


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LISZTS | 10 Reasons To Miss A Performance

10 Reasons To Miss A Performance
A list of all the ways that artists and concert-goers alike back out of concerts, each one more colourful than the next.

Are you just not in the mood to attend that show tonight? Here are some ways that artists and concert-goers alike can back out of concert engagements, reasons that may or may not be out of their control.

Unorchestrated Transport Woes

Uninformed airline crew members occasionally stray from the protocol for handling oversize instruments, even after adequate preparation has been made by the flying musician. In one instance, a cello belonging to Kremerata Baltica was initially grounded en route to Toronto. Without the cello, the ensemble would have had to suspend that evening’s concert in Koerner Hall. Happily, the instrument was delivered 30 minutes before showtime.

A Health Scare

Pianist Martha Argerich continues to be a force of nature at the keys. However, she experiences crippling stage fright before every performance. She occasionally cancels concert appearances for reasons such as this, leaving concert organizers to search for a replacement at the last moment. The plus side is that the stage is opened up to other promising musicians.

Tight Border Control

Between recent travel restrictions and lagging artistic support, musicians will have to reconsider whether their performance activities will be politically sound, in destinations such as the US.

Wrong Church

Make sure you note the right city before driving out to that choral concert — there is a St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in each of Kitchener, Campbellford, and Kingston, and so many more across Ontario!

Lost Passport

Because the artist can’t take listeners on a voyage if he can’t make the trip himself. Cue Daniil Trifonov:

Home Comforts

For two piano greats, the show would not go on unless they had essential possessions with them, which had to be moved to concert venues from their private homes.

Glenn Gould played his concerts on his low-seating chair, from a position that allowed his arms to move freely around the piano. It was his unfailing accomplice until his death.

We even made a podcast about it that you can listen to right HERE!

Glenn Gould (Photo: Don Hunstein)
Glenn Gould (Photo: Don Hunstein)

For Vladimir Horowitz, his personal Steinway grand piano was the sole instrument that he concertized on in his twilight years; he demanded it to be shipped to the States — and all the way to Russia and back. Indeed, many of his most talked-about performances were on this piano.

Music With “Substance”

In Evenings with Horowitz: A Personal Portrait, David Dubal recounts that the legendary pianist had been put on antidepressants and alcohol on the advice of his doctor. This severely impeded his playing, and critics certainly took note. Thankfully, Horowitz sought out counsel from another doctor, detoxed his routine and his performances regained their sparkle. This episode occurred as he was nearing 80 years, no less!

Missing Your Stage Cue

Jonas Kaufmann and Angela Gheorghiu’s duo turned into a real-life nightmare for opera singers, as Gheorghiu missed her cue to come on stage, leaving Kaufmann to improvise by himself with “Ah! Do we not have a soprano! (Ah! Non abbiamo un sopran!)”

An Injury On The Job

During Glenn Gould’s visit to Steinway Hall in New York, the piano technician greeted him by placing a well-intentioned hand on the shoulder. Gould detailed the trauma he sustained from the encounter: “The first injury was on the left shoulder, and the x-ray showed that the scapula had descended by approximately one centimetre. This has healed, but it caused a secondary, considerably more worrying effect. The [ulnar] nerve which controls the fourth and fifth fingers had been compressed and is inflamed” so that his playing had been affected. Considering how neither of the five doctors he consulted found anything wrong, Gould presented a rather acute self-diagnosis. He followed through with 117 orthopedic and chiropractic treatment sessions, and cancelled the following three months of concerts. On top of accusing the Steinway technician of causing his injury, Gould filed a lawsuit against the company for $300,000 (USD) for which he was compensated a tidy $9,372.35.

Bad Weather

CP train (Photo: Sylvain Hébert)
CP train (Photo: Sylvain Hébert)

Ain’t nothing like a Canadian winter.

For more LISZTS, click HERE.


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LISZTS | Ten Composers Who Didn’t Quit Their Day Jobs

Did you know Vivaldi was a priest, and Holst was a high school teacher? Ten composers who didn’t quit their day jobs.

Not too long ago, artists would often hold down day jobs. T.S. Eliot sketched out “The Waste Land” between the hours of seven and midnight, all while brokering foreign accounts at Lloyds Bank during the day. Ernest Hemingway famously worked as a reporter for the Toronto Star. Then something strange happened; the idea of being a successful artist with a day job disappeared. Philip Glass got a taste of it when he showed up on a call to fix an errant appliance. “While working,” Glass said in an interview in 2001, “I suddenly heard a noise and looked up to find Robert Hughes, the art critic of Time magazine, staring at me in disbelief. ‘But you’re Philip Glass! What are you doing here?’ It was obvious that I was installing his dishwasher and I told him that I would soon be finished. ‘But you are an artist,’ he protested. I explained that I was an artist but that I was sometimes a plumber as well and that he should go away and let me finish.”

Here’s a list of 10 composers who struggled to keep afloat in a society that doesn’t always value art enough to keep the lights on:

Philip Glass
Philip Glass (Publicity photo)

1: Philip Glass: Taxi Driver, Mover, Plumber

It wasn’t until Philip Glass was 43 that the parapet of Minimalism could support himself as a composer. He worked as a taxi driver, furniture mover and plumber while creating his avant-garde works such as “Music in Twelve Parts” and “Einstein on the Beach”. Glass chose jobs that he said didn’t have “meaning”, so his spirit would be left to music.

Charles Ives
Charles Ives

2: Charles Ives, Insurance, Estate Planning

Charles Ives’ work as a composer was largely ignored for much of his life. His unique blend of American popular and church-music traditions and European art music was not acknowledged until he won a Pulitzer Prize for Music at age 73. Before that, he worked as a clerk with the Mutual Life Insurance Company, co-founded an insurance agency, and became a whizz at estate planning. Ives favoured the stable life style that a regular job provided, and believed if a composer, “has a nice wife and some nice children, how can he let them starve on his dissonances?”

Alexander Borodin
Alexander Borodin

3: Alexander Borodin, Organic Chemist

Alexander Borodin was just as talented as a research chemist and as a composer. As a specialist in organic chemistry, he earned favour with several prestigious research and teaching positions. His most noted scientific discovery was the ‘aldol reaction’ – a process of forming carbon bonds in organic chemistry. His discovery is still used today to create soaps, adhesives, varnishes and medications.

Iannis Xenakis
Iannis Xenakis

4: Iannis Xenakis, Architect

Xenakis was obsessed with complex musical forms and architectural structures. Xenakis obtained an engineering degree in Athens then moved to Paris to seek political exile after WWII. There, he worked for the famous architect Le Corbusier to design several important buildings. Xenakis eventually left architecture in 1959 to apply his ideas exclusively to music.

Antonio Vivaldi
Antonio Vivaldi

5: Antonio Vivaldi, Priest

Though Vivaldi’s name resonates as one of the most important composers of the Baroque era, his main official vocation was as a priest. His red hair earned him the nickname ‘Il prete rosso’ (the red priest). He was ordained at age 25, and one year later was given a dispensation due to his suffering from asthma. The job gave him the free time to teach violin to the orphans of the Ospedale della Pietà and compose large amounts of works, including his “Four Seasons”.

Ignacy Paderewski
Ignacy Paderewski

6: Ignacy Paderewski, Politician

After a long and successful career as a composer, Paderewski reinvented himself at age 51 as a politician. He ran for office and was elected as the first Prime Minister of independent Poland after WWI. However, his life as a politician proved to be short-lived, and he resigned as Prime Minister after just 11 months on the job. He later returned to music and vowed never to leave it again.

John Cage
John Cage

7: John Cage, Graphic Designer

Known as an important “think outside the box” composer, John Cage made ends meet by working for a leading New York advertising agency designing business cards, office stationery, advertising campaigns and company Christmas cards. He also worked as an art director and designer of typography. His work in advertising inspired many of his later works, especially his use of graphic notation.

Gustav Holst
Gustav Holst

8: Gustav Holst, School Teacher

Holst worked in London as the Director of Music at St Paul’s Girls’ School until the end of his life in 1934. He also worked as Director of Music at an adult education institute. During this time, he spent weekends composing such works as The Planets, St Paul’s Suite and Brook Green Suite. His students were a major influence on his work.

Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

9: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Navy Officer

While Rusian-born Rimsky-Korsakov was most notable as a composer, he was also a dedicated officer in the Russian navy. While out to sea for a three-year stint, he wrote his First Symphony. He eventually became a Professor of Music at the St Petersburg Conservatory and taught composition and orchestration. He always taught his classes wearing his naval uniform and was honoured with a special post as Inspector of Naval Bands. The post, created especially for him, allowed him to continue earning money while not being on active military duty.

Eric Whitacre
Eric Whitacre

10: Eric Whitacre, Model

Known for his chiselled chin and golden blond hair, the Juilliard-trained choral composer Eric Whitacre was signed in 2011 as a professional male model for the notable Storm Modelling Agency (Cara Delevingne and Cindy Crawford). “Together with Storm, I hope to create new partnerships and develop projects and creative platforms that work on a number of different levels.” The world’s first composer/model has arrived.


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LISZTS | Six Off-The-Radar Classical Music Choices For Valentine’s Day

A few off-the-beaten-track selections for the classical music anti-Valentine’s Day of your dreams!

1: Lulu Suite — Alban Berg

Nothing says Valentine’s Day in classical music quite like a serialist score, murder, suicide and Jack the Ripper! In the famous “Lied der Lulu” aria from Act II of Alban Berg’s Lulu, Lulu asks her husband for a divorce, while singing a hugely demanding aria ranging from middle C to a high D above the staff. The role has a long association with Canadian sopranos, as Teresa Stratas premiered the 3-act version at the Paris Opera in 1979, and Barbara Hannigan now holds the distinction of not only expertly singing the role of Lulu, but conducting the Lulu Suite while she sings the fiercely demanding aria. Check it out:

2: Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 18, Mvmt. 2,  “Adagio Sostenuto” — Sergei Rachmaninoff

It’s hard to forget the iconic opening scene of Bridget Jones’ Diary, where Renee Zellwegger drunkenly sings along to Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself.” After the hit release of Carmen’s song, the artist was contacted by the estate of Rachmaninoff about Carmen’s basing of his song on Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto’s second movement. (Rachmaninoff’s estate now receives 12 percent of the royalties earned by the song.) Whether you like the Eric Carmen version or not, this Rachmaninoff movement makes a perfect lonely Valentine’s Day backdrop.

3: Je ne t’aime pas — Kurt Weill

Who would’ve thought a German composer could write something so quintessentially French? The Jewish composer Kurt Weill briefly lived in Paris during his flight out of Nazi Germany, which might explain his flawless grasp of French sensibility and ennuie. Composed for the French cabaret singer, Lys Gauty, this song features heartbroken, almost over-the-top sentimentality. Anne Sofie von Otter’s version is perfect enjoyed alone with a bottle of wine while gazing out at a miserable cityscape (preferably in Paris).

4: “In uomini, In soldati “,  Cosi fan tutte — W.A. Mozart

Though Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte often gets a bad reputation for its anti-feminist plotline and outcome, the character of Despina certainly makes a case for feminism and not falling victim to the wiles of love (particularly with men). In this aria in Act I, she instructs Fiordiligi and Dorabella not to trust men, but rather to love for one’s own pleasure and vanity. Those not looking to settle down quite yet might appreciate Despina’s words celebrating the pleasures singledom can bring.

5: “Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht “(Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen) — G. Mahler

Ah, nothing like some Mahler to really depress your Valentine’s Day. This first movement from his “Songs of a wayfarer” (with texts by himself) was inspired by the composer’s hopeless love for soprano Johanna Richter, or as we might say now, Mahler’s one-that-got-away. The piece moves from D minor into Mozart’s tragic key of G minor, with oboes (d’amore, ideally) and clarinets illustrating the singer’s despair.

6: “Sempre libera”, La traviata — G. Verdi

Alright. Everyone knows how Traviata ends for Violetta (SPOILER ALERT: she dies). And yes, she does follow her heart and end up running off with the love of her life. But! That doesn’t mean she doesn’t get to sing one of the greatest single ladies’ anthems of all time at the end of Act I. Beyoncé, step aside, Violetta’s got this one down in her thrilling cabaletta, “Sempre libera” (“always free”). Here’s the ultimate diva giving her rendition.


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LISZTS | 6 Inventive Re-imaginings Of Handel’s Messiah

‘Tis the season for… as many renditions of Handel’s Messiah as Toronto audiences can take. From Tafelmusik’s delightful “Singalong Messiah” featuring Maestro Ivars Taurins as Herr Handel and multiple renditions of the “Hallelujah” chorus (because why not?) to Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah, there’s no shortage of fun ways to get your Handel on in the GTA.

Here we present a round-up of some of the most inventive re-imaginings of this timeless piece, both old and new.

1: Against the Grain Theatre’s Messiah

This Dora-award winning production from 2015 featured a completely memorised, costumed, staged and choreographed rendition. Jennifer Nichols of Tafelmusik’s Haus Musik provided the choreography while AtG founder Joel Ivany staged. Check out some archival footage for a taste:

2: Classical Kids’ Hallelujah Handel!

All the young Canadians who grew up hearing these timeless and Juno award-winning story tapes on family trips in the car (or was that just me?) will remember the riveting story-telling and incorporation of bits of Messiah written by Toronto’s brilliant, beloved and recently passed away musician, educator and writer, Douglas Cowling. I personally still find it hard to listen to a choir sing “For unto us a child is born” without hearing Herr Handel’s voice yell: “those angels are too fat to get into heaven!” as the sopranos struggle with the coloratura. Anyone looking to introduce their child to the magic of Handel would be remiss not to own a copy of these CD’s.

3: Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah

For the past three years, Soundstreams has presented an antidote to your typical symphonic Messiah with their undone creation, Electric Messiah. Under the direction of Adam Scime and Ashlie Corcoran in a concept by Kyle Brenders, this production at the Drake Underground has featured the singing of the Handel in multiple languages, dancing, a DJ, electric organ and plenty of electro-acoustic effects. Hopefully, they’ll return for a fourth round next season!

4: Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Messiah with Sir Andrew Davis

In 2010, Sir Andrew Davis, Conductor Laureate of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, decided it was time update the Messiah for a modern orchestra. They have recently released a CD of last season’s performance, complete with Davis’ updates that “keep Handel’s notes, harmonies and style intact, but make use of all the colours available from the modern symphony orchestra” and features marimba, sleigh bells, and all sorts of new musical effects to illustrate Handel’s storytelling even more. With a recording that features grand opera singers Erin Wall, Elizabeth DeShong, Andrew Staples and John Relyea and has recently been nominated for a Grammy, this sparkling version is certainly worth checking out.

5: Tafelmusik’s Singalong Messiah

A holiday favourite for Handel lovers across the GTA, we would be remiss not to mention what the Toronto Star has called “the most moving and joyful experience you could wish for.” Here’s a taste of what’s coming December 17th:

6: Der Messias, arranged by W. A. Mozart:

Performances of Mozart’s arrangement of his predecessor’s Messiah can be hard to come by, though one can’t deny the fun of hearing a tenor make his way through the soprano aria, “Rejoice, Greatly!” Not to mention that Mozart thought we were better off hearing a French horn that a trumpet sound in “The Trumpet Shall Sound” or “Sie schallt, die Posaun’” as Mozart has it. It would be a treat to hear this piece in Toronto in the near future. Otherwise, one can head to Halifax where Symphony Nova Scotia will be presenting it in English next week.


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LISZTS | 9 Career Tips From The Dover Quartet

Dover Quartet: Joel Link, Bryan Lee (violins), Pajaro-van de Stadt (viola) and Camden Shaw (cello).
Dover Quartet: Joel Link, Bryan Lee (violins), Pajaro-van de Stadt (viola) and Camden Shaw (cello).

The BISQC 2013 first prize-winning Dover Quartet’s violist, Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt offers career advice for the hoards of young quartets just starting out.  It turns out she had a lot of practical tips to offer, including the top three things to pack on tour (chocolate is high on the list), and some tips on how to sweet talk grumpy flight attendants eyeing up your prized cello for the cargo-hold.

1: Running rehearsals

The best rehearsal is when everyone is already warmed up. We usually like to start with something moderate that allows you to sink your teeth into it without having to completely go all out.

2: Finding the right repertoire

Pick things you love and keep a good enough variety so that every aspect of your playing stays at its highest level…. It’s almost like a food menu. When we started out, we had a love of the standard, old school repertoire, but now we’re starting to get into commissioning. For us, the biggest thing is the lineage and connecting things like Haydn quartets all the way up to pieces that were written this year. If we specialise in anything, it would be to maintain that varied menu.

3: Recording

Each recording can be slightly different depending on the timing and the repertoire. It is always good to know well in advance so you can incorporate the piece into your repertoire beforehand. There is nothing more frustrating than to be recording something that you don’t know as well as you could have…. The fewer questions in your mind as to interpretational things the better.

Also remember, as much as people idolize and immortalise recordings, it is really just that one single moment. Even if you have a recording that didn’t go as perfectly as you envisioned, it’s just that day!

4: Admin/Business

Locate people’s strengths and be aware of them. If you can capitalise on them, you can create a well-oiled machine.

In the Dover, we each have our specific business roles. Bryan [Lee], our second violinist, is our travel guru. He organises all of our itineraries in conjunction with a representative from our management. He’s very savvy. Camden [Shaw] is our PR Liaison, and does our Facebook and website, and is the one who is mostly in touch with our publicist. He’s very charismatic and is a great talker. Joel does a lot of little but important jobs. He is our number one driver for long trips and recently drove us 11 hours in one day from Toronto to Mount Desert Maine. He is also our Librarian and our “financial guy”. I’m the contact person in the group and do all the emails, liaise with presenters, managers, as well as repertoire organisation. I’d go so far as to say I’m a bit OCD!

5: Dealing with stress

That’s a learning curve. We are still learning how to deal with that. Something we’ve found to work well (especially being on the road together so much) is being aware of how much personal space everyone needs, and not taking offence. Everyone has a different necessity for recharging.

6: Competition preparation

Perform the pieces a lot, and perform them for other people. Also, always start early. This could be a few months, or a whole year — depending on how much time you have. If you’re rehearsing every day, a few months could be enough. But you don’t to get to a point in a competition performing pieces you feel have somehow become stale. Start with a big picture; play through the piece and get a sense of it, then go really into the minutia and get all the details. But then, as it becomes close to the competition, back way up again, and stop micro-managing things at that point because then, it is really just about the performance.

People think if you win a competition it will make your career, which is true, it can and did that for us, but it doesn’t break it if you don’t win. It’s a great networking tool.

7: Three most essential things to pack on tour

  1. Book: Even if you don’t end up reading it, it nice to have one there.
  2. Chocolate: I always have chocolate for those craving moments.
  3. Computer: Bring a computer or iPad so you can do business.

8: Plane travel

The most important thing is to be really nice to airline employees. They won’t want to help if you are unfriendly. If you seem stressed, worried, agitated, or impatient, they are much less likely to help you. Camden [Dover’s Cellist] is the only one I’ve ever meet to get a cello onto a WestJet flight.

For violinists and violists, try not to travel with a big bulky case. When [airline employees] see something that doesn’t look sleek, they are going to worry that it won’t fit.

Another good trick is to ask the flight attendant if they have a closet that they could put the instrument in to help free up some room. They appreciate that.

Also, if you always fly the same airline, you will get [frequent flyer] status, and that’s a huge plus. They will treat you better, and you get to board early. This leaves you with a better chance of fitting your instrument on the plane without hassle.

9: Achieving a unique sound

To create a specific sound is a conscious thing, but to have a unique sound is the nature of being in a quartet — it’s like a chemical reaction of the four members. A member of a quartet is so much more than 25% of the group. If we were to change a member, the quartet would be a completely different animal. This is because everyone responds to one another differently; their intuition gets shifted. I would say on one level, that chemical reaction is the beauty of finding a quartet you want to play with — a unique sound that you want to be a part of. The other one is just to be unanimous in the specificity of emotion and sound concept, which contributes to the unique sound of any group.

*Interview answers have slightly edited for the sake of clarity.



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LISZTS | Five Opera Youtube Spoofs That Are Everything

Connection Lost: The Tinder Opera. (Photo: YouTube)
Connection Lost: The Tinder Opera. (Photo: YouTube)

Since its genesis, opera has been an art form filled with political satire, commentary and spoof. From Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro to Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, composers of opera throughout history have loved to address societal issues through song.

In 2017, finding operatic satire is easier than ever in one powerful medium: Youtube. Here, we present a list of some of the greatest operatic Youtube spoofs of all-time.


Connection Lost (The Tinder Opera) – Featuring original music by Scott Joiner, Connection Lost laments the challenges of dating in the digital age with music evocative of American contemporary opera composers Jake Heggie, John Musto and even George Gershwin. Exceptionally well-produced, this Youtube spoof is perfect for lost, lonely and millennial daters.


Anna Russell: The (First) Farewell Concert (1984) — Comedienne Anna Russell’s summary and analysis of Wagner’s Ring Cycle is the stuff of operatic comedy legend. Anyone who’s sat through or studied Wagner’s epic, sublime and ridiculous cycle will enjoy this Youtube comedy gold.


Opera vs Trump — Unlike Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, this hilarious Youtube political commentary makes no effort to mask its qualms with the current American administration. Filled with hilarious and perfect Rossini-buffo performances, this spoof nails it. Impeachera!


Opera Cheats: L’elisir d’amore — LV would be remiss not to mention Indie Opera T.O. company Opera Five’s ingenious Opera Cheats series. On your way to the opera and need a synopsis? These videos poke fun at the ridiculous plots of operas while effectively summarizing and contemporizing the stories we opera-goers have often struggled to follow. In honour of the COC’s L’elisir d’amore, check out this one:


Victor Borge — A Mini-Opera — If Anna Russell is the queen of opera comedy, Victor Borge is king. Impossible not to love, Borge’s genius piano-vocal interpretations of opera are Monty Python-esque. Make sure you watch his perfectly invented Mozartean overtures and tenor and soprano parts, played exquisitely on the piano. As Borge puts it, “the curtain falls, but not hard enough.”


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