Today's Classical Music Video

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tenor Ian Bostridge Sings Schumann

An important event in this season's vocal offerings is the return of British tenor Ian Bostridge to Toronto. It was 2005 when the tenor was last here, in an all-Schubert program at Roy Thomson Hall as part of the now sadly defunct International Vocal Series. At the keyboard was Julius Drake. This time around, Bostridge will be singing Schumann and Brahms, and his collaborative pianist is once again Mr. Drake. The centerpiece of the first half is the Schumann Liederkreis Op. 24, not the more popular Eichendorff cycle Op. 39. The second half consists of thirteen Brahms songs. For those new to Ian Bostridge onstage, his mannerisms can appear unusual and take some getting used to. He sings as if in a trance, with rather unusual body movements and not a great deal of communication with the audience. There are other singers who fall into this mode, such as Wolfgang Holzmair, but Bostridge is the more extreme. However, his mannerisms do not come from any artifice but from a deep understanding and connection to the music and the text. Here is Bostridge and Drake in Schumann's "Stille Tranen" recorded around the time of his last appearance in Toronto. The upcoming recital takes place on Sunday March 4 3:00 p.m. at the Royal Conservatory of Music's Koerner Hall. Joseph K. So


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Perlman and Zukerman Play Handel-Halvorsen

Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman are too of the greatest violinists of our generation. They have been with us so long we tend to take them for granted. But they are special. Here they are playing the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia and they are in top form. Of course, Zukerman is as fine a violist as he is a violinist and it is that instrument he plays here. And, oh yes, Zukerman has a "part-time" job as music director of the National Arts Centre Orchestra. But he is still very active as a solo violinist. Next season, for example, he'll be playing the Bruch Violin Concerto with Christoph Eschenbach and the New York Philharmonic. Just one of his many high-profile engagements throughout the world.

Paul E. Robinson

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lisa Batiashvili and Alan Gilbert Play Sibelius

The New York Philharmonic has just announced its 2012-2013 season, and among the featured soloists once again is violinist Lisa Batiashvili. She has performed often with the orchestra and has become one of music director Alan Gilbert's preferred soloists. Here she is rehearsing with Gilbert and the NY Phil at the beginning of a European tour last May. The music is the Sibelius Violin Concerto.

The NY Phil's next season will feature Emanuel Ax as soloist in residence and Christopher Rouse as composer in residence. Among the highlights will be a staged production of Stravinsky's ballet Petrushka, complete with puppets and multi media effects. There will also be a mini-Bach festival with Bernard Labadie among the guest conductors. For more details visit

Paul E. Robinson

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Elizabeth Connell Sings Ernest Charles "When I Have Sung My Songs"

Elizabeth Connell (Oct. 22 1946 - Feb. 18 2012)

With the passing of soprano Elizabeth Connell, the opera world has lost one of its most remarkable artists. In a career that lasted close to four decades, Connell left an indelible mark on the world of opera. Born on October 22 1946 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa to Irish parents, Connell studied music at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg before going on to the London Opera Centre in 1970. She won the Maggie Teyte Award in 1972 and made her professional debut as a mezzo-soprano later that year at the Wexford Festival as Varvara in Janacek's Katya Kabanova. Highlights of her early career include Prokofiev's War and Peace at Opera Australia, the first opera production at the new Sydney Opera House. It marked the beginning of her long association with Opera Australia that lasted her whole career.

Connell was noted for her wide-ranging repertoire that included German, Italian, Russian, Czech and English works, with remarkable success in the operas of Wagner and Strauss, as well as Verdi and Puccini, this last one late in her career. She came into prominence as Ortrud in Bayreuth in 1982. Her career was focused in Europe and Australia, with occasional forays in North America. I first heard her as Kostelnicka at the COC Jenufa around 1982, and five years later as Ariadne. I also recall vividly her Lady Macbeth when I traveled to the Met to hear her around that time. (And who can forget that unfortunate incident on a Saturday broadcast of her Macbeth that same season when a man fell to his death and the last act had to be cancelled?) I also remember her Fidelio at San Francisco Opera in the 1990's. The last time I heard her live in a complete opera was a concert Elektra with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra at Place des Arts about ten years ago. She wasn't glamorous on stage, but the moment she opened her mouth, one was struck by it's freshness and youthful timbre, without a hint of a wobble, truly remarkable for someone her age. I saw the telecast of her 2004 Fidelio Leonore, staged on Robben Island to mark the 10th anniversary of the release of Nelson Mandela. Though very heavy physically at the time, Connell triumphed through the sheer power and beauty of her singing and the sincerity of her acting. It was a most moving experience. A rather unexpected Indian Summer in her career occurred as a result of her stepping in for an ailing Irene Theorin as Turandot at Covent Garden in 2008, receiving critical accolades. That was her first return to the Royal Opera after an absence of many years. This was followed by her Mother in Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretel, a performance captured on video.

On the concert stage, thanks to her large voice with its brilliant top, her most frequently performed work was Magna Peccatrix in Mahler'sSymphony No. 8 and Beethoven's Ninth, two works that she sang all over the world. Though she made relatively few recordings, her Carlotta in Schreker's Die Gezeichneten on the Decca Entartete Musik Series is much admired; the same can be said of her MahlerEighth under the baton of Klaus Tennstedt. Also noteworthy is her Schubert disc with pianist Graham Johnson on the Hyperion label. On video, her Ortrud, one of her best roles as a mezzo was captured in a 1982 Bayreuth performance with Peter Hofmann and Karan Armstrong under the baton of Woldemar Nelsson.

Despite her illness, she continued to sing. Her last performance was a recital in Hastings in November 2011, much of which can been seen on Youtube. Featured here is her very last song was Ernest Charles' "When I have Sung My Songs" - a most poignant moment. Never mind that she forgot the words and had to use the song text written on a piece of paper - the voice remains a miracle.  For those interested in her art, a great deal of material can been seen and heard on or at the website of her manager, Helmut Fischer - 

Joseph K. So


Fischer and Feidman Play Piazzolla

There are few conductors around today with as much imagination and intellectual curiosity as Ivan Fischer. Every concert or opera he conducts shows meticulous preparation but also unique insights. On top of that he has created one of the world's best orchestras. The Budapest Festival Orchestra is a hand-picked ensemble that probably rehearses more intensively than any other orchestra. It is a wonderful orchestra and under Fischer's leadership has made dozens of first-class recordings.

This video was made at an outdoor concert in Budapest in 2007. The music is by Piazzolla - his Libertango los pajaros - and the soloist is a remarkable man who bridges the worlds of classical music and klezmer. Giora Feidman was born in Argentina but grew up in Israel and played in the Israel Philharmonic for 20 years. He is a virtuoso on his instrument but plays with a freedom typical of klezmer and jazz. Visit his website at

Paul E. Robinson

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Cellist David Finkel Talks About Rosin

There was an announcement this week that David Finkel, the long-time cellist of the Emerson String Quartet, is stepping down. For those of us who have admired the Emerson for decades this is a shock and a disappointment. It is hard to imagine this great ensemble without David Finkel's extraordinary sound and musicality. But the fact is that his professional life has become too rich and too complicated to allow him to give the Emerson "gig" the commitment it requires. At the age of 60 Finkel also has a very active solo career with his wife pianist Wu Han, and together they are artistic directors of several important festivals and concert series. After 30 years with the Emerson String Quartet David Finkel will leave at the end of the 2012-2013 season.

Finkel is also a fine teacher and wants to spend even more time on music education. For years he has been turning out short videos covering every aspect of cello playing under the title Cello Talks. Most of them are aimed at younger students but coming from a musician of such experience and insight even the most elementary videos are filled with gems even professionals will find useful.

In this Cello Talk Finkel talks about rosin - that strange gunk string players rub on their bows. There is more to it than most people realize. For more Cello Talks and more about David Finkel visit

Paul E. Robinson

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Birgit Nilsson Sings the Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde

Yesterday (Feb. 13) marked the death of German composer Richard Wagner in Venice of a heart attack 129 years ago.  It really is not possible to do justice to Wagner in the modest little blurb here, so I won't even try.  Like Bach, Beethoven and Mozart before him, Wagner's impact on the history of western classical music was immeasurable.  His explorations of expanded tonalities and novel harmonies left an indelible mark on the development of 20th century music. His Tristan und Isolde is often cited as the groundbreaking work that gave the impetus for the development of classical music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Anyone interested in this period should watch the documentary, Dancing On A Volcano, part 1 of a 7-part series on the history of western classical music narrated by conductor Sir Simon Rattle.  This episode explores the influence of Wagner on Schoenberg, Mahler, Strauss, Berg, Webern and others.  To remember the passing of Wagner, here is the sublime Liebestod, in a 1962 concert performance sung by the great Birgit Nilsson in her prime. Hans Knappertbusch leads the Vienna Philharmonic.  

- Joseph K. So

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Nadja and Anne-Marie in Chattanooga

There are few more communicative performers than violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. She puts her very soul into everything she plays. There are those who find her intensity "over the top" but I am not one of them. Her frequent recital partner is pianist Anne-Marie McDermott and she is a unique artist in her own right. Here they are together playing Gershwin in Chattanooga March 26, 2010. This is artistry everyone can enjoy.

Anne-Marie McDermott is now the artistic director of the Vail Festival in Colorado and she is proving to be full of great concert ideas. Check out the new 2012 season at

Nadja-Salerno Sonnenberg is in great demand as a soloist but she also spends a lot of time these days with her own orchestra, the New Century Chamber Orchestra in San Francisco. Have a look at her programming ideas at

Paul E. Robinson

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Conductor as Comedian

This video has being making its way around the world. But in case you missed it here it is. I first encountered it on Tim Smith's Clefnotes ( Tim commented that if Oliver Hardy had been a conductor he probably would have looked something like this. And why not? I happen to be an Oliver Hardy (and Stan Laurel) admirer. On the other hand if you take the view that there is a certain decorum and discipline expected of conductors you might be offended.

I have always thought that serious music requires serious conducting. But in this case we are dealing with Leonard Bernstein's operetta/comic opera/broadway musical Candide. It is deliberately satirical but it is also meant to be entertaining. Take a look at the video of Candide conducted by the composer in 1989 (DG B0006905-09 (DVD).

In this week's video the conductor is an American named Joseph A. Olefirowicz and he is leading a performance at the Vienna Volksoper. We see him as the orchestra sees him and most of his gestures are directed at the players not the audience. Maestro Olefirowicz is clearly enjoying himself and perhaps we should enjoy it too.

Paul E. Robinson

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Remembering Lois Marshall (Jan. 29 1924 - Feb. 19 1997)

This coming Feb. 19 marks 15 years since the passing of Canadian soprano Lois Marshall.  I remember so vividly the sadness I felt when I heard she had passed away, rather unexpectedly, from complications following surgery that February in 1997.  I also remember the memorial concert at Walter Hall quite some weeks later, and there was not a dry eye in the house, mine included.  I first heard Lois Marshall in a Hart House recital in the late 70's when she sang Schubert's Winterreise with Anton Kuerti at the piano, and later Die schone Mullerin with her good friend and colleague Greta Kraus.  I'll never forget going to her apartment on Castle Frank Road to interview her for an article in Opera Canada. She was delightful, down to earth and warm. We spent a couple of hours that evening reminiscing about her career and her life. We would occasionally chat on the phone after that, and talking with her was always a pleasure.  A private person, Lois was emphatic that she didn't want a biography written. It was some 13 years after her death that Dr. James Neufeld, a former colleague at Trent, managed to publish a biography on her with the blessings of Lois' closest friends and relatives. It is an interesting and respectfully discreet treatment of a great singer.  To remember Lois Marshall, here are two clips of her singing Scottish folk songs, "Ae Fond Kiss" and "Loch Lomond"  The first one was at her farewell recital in December 1982, with Stuart Hamilton at the piano.  The second clip was 24 years earlier, in 1958 with her mentor Weldon Kilburn at the piano.

Joseph K. So

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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Glenn Gould: A Portrait

After all these years it is still hard for me to believe that Glenn Gould no longer walks among us. He has become a legend. But even in his lifetime he was a legend. He was a a force of nature. It was not just the astonishing musical gifts, it was everything about him that electrified everyone who met him, everyone who heard him play, and everyone who heard him speak. His mind was too quick and too nimble for most of us mere mortals. Even those who found him annoying and exasperating had to admit that there was nobody like him.

This documentary was made in 1985 by Vincent Tovell and Eric Till for the CBC and it is brilliant. It is also Gouldian in its cinematic virtuosity. Tovell and Till knew their subject and they knew that Gould would have expected any successful documentary about him to be multi-layered, intelligent and challenging. For he himself knew a thing or two about documentaries and how to make them mindbendingly original. I think Gould would have approved of what they achieved with Gould himself as a subject.

Paul E. Robinson

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Paavo Berglund In Memoriam

Paavo Berglund (1929-2012) died this past week at the age of 82. He had been in poor health for some time. Finland is well-known for producing more than its fair share of first-class conductors and Berglund was one of the best of them. He was especially renowned as an authority on the music of Sibelius. He recorded all seven symphonies several times and made the first recording of the early Kullervo Symphony. After years of study of the Seventh Symphony Berglund edited the authoritative edition of the work published by Hansen. Berglund found many errors in previous editions.

But as a conductor Berglund often went beyond the printed score in the music of Sibelius and others to improve on what he believed were weaknesses, especially in orchestration.

Berglund has left many recordings which attest to his conducting skills. His recorded recorded cycle of the Sibelius symphonies with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe is especially interesting. While other conductors often go for the big effects in Sibelius, Berglund loved the clarity that could be achieved with an orchestra of about 50 players.

One of the unusual features of Berglund's conducting, and one which would be unknown to those who only knew him by his recordings, was that he conducted left-handed. That is, he held the baton in his left hand. Some musicians find left-handed conductors disconcerting; they complain that the beat is not where they expect it to be. But most players quickly adjust. Besides Berglund there have been other left-handed conductors such as Donald Johanos and Donald Runnicles.

On the podium Berglund had a reputation for being tough and dictatorial. But most orchestras responded well to his non-nonsense approach. Consider, for example, the statement put out by the Bournemouth Symphony - an orchestra with whom he had a long association - when the organization learned of his passing:

"The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is sad to hear of the loss of its Conductor Emeritus Paavo Berglund, its Principal Conductor from 1972-1979. Berglund’s performances and recordings of Sibelius with the BSO are legendary and his death was announced as the Orchestra played Sibelius Symphony No.5 with Kirill Karabits, who himself worked with Paavo in Budapest. The music parts used by the Orchestra are the ones used by Paavo himself, and the Orchestra dedicated its concert last night in Cheltenham, and its concert tonight at Portsmouth Guildhall (27 January 2012), to his memory.

"Roger Preston, Co Principal Cello, who worked with Paavo on many occasions, said ‘Anyone who played with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in Kerimäki Church, Finland, as part of the BSO’s 1981 tour will tell that it was a truly unforgettable experience. On this tour we played all the Sibelius Symphonies, with Paavo on spectacular form. Many of Paavo’s comments, criticisms and demands are as fresh in my mind as though it were only yesterday. He remains, for me, one of the best, if not the best conductor that I have ever played for, and I am so grateful to have caught the latter days of Paavo’s extraordinarily fruitful relationship with the BSO.’”

Paul E. Robinson