It’s impossible for a visitor to Texas to avoid clichés about bigness; the place is like a catalogue of the ways people have tried to fill a wide horizon with stuff, and statements. They seem to live on golf courses. The wide streets aren’t big enough for the trucks. Statuesque women (“the higher the hair, the closer to God,” as the saying goes) saunter through bars the size of aircraft carriers, flashing with lights, tassels, rhinestones and sequins. That is a spirit at home at the opera, and Fort Worth Opera (FWO) has earned a reputation for robustly supporting new work. Their latest commission is JFK, written by Grande Prairie, Alta.-born Royce Vavrek, and it tells the story of Jack and Jackie’s day before their drive to Dallas.

A world without ushers

Innovations en concert was founded in 1994 by guitarist and composer Tim Brady. In its current incarnation under artistic director Isak Goldschneider, it presents some of the most interesting new music in Montreal. Devoted to experimental chamber music, Innovations has no permanent venue and produces events in small and medium-sized rooms (mostly bars and churches, the places where alcohol is traditionally consumed). Though concerts (or shows? The distinction doesn’t make sense with them) don’t assume a respectful hush, I have noticed they usually earn it.


If I see three harps onstage, I will walk out of a concert hall. On Tuesday evening I tried, and I apologize to anyone I damaged in my panic, but the exits were solidly blocked by the crowd filling the Maison symphonique to the rafters for Ravel’s Bolero (1928). The demand was so high that the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal has added a third performance of the concert.

Like, ever

Most new music is lucky to be premièred in a beery basement, so an orchestral debut is a special thing for most composers. Not Denis Gougeon, whose note in Wednesday night’s Orchestre symphonique de Montréal’s program explained that he is “one of the few who can support himself exclusively by composing, though he also accepted a position in the composition department at his alma mater.” That was nice of them, since he seems to be a wind specialist.

Standards are low for this kind of stuff

An exceptionally stringy weekend opened with the rarity of an experimental concert at the Maison Symphonique hosted by the OSM and Pro Musica. This was violinist Gil Shaham playing Bach’s solo violin works, the three Partitas and three Sonatas to video projections by David Michalek.

More corn than gold

A cartoonish evening at the symphony on Tuesday began with Berlioz’s Corsair overture, replacement conductor Yan-Pascal Tortelier’s replacement for Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. Since it was his only contribution to the program, it should not be surprising that Tortelier showed the greatest enthusiasm and attention for it, dancing on the Maison symphonique podium like a man with a new hip and throwing his arms in broad gestures while the OSM tried to hold on. It was like being tossed through time into a 1930s sound-stage recording: absurd but fun, and ten minutes of it were enough.

It’s just like Pokemon

The Brentano Quartet was one of the few pedigreed North American quartets that have not visited the Ladies Morning Musical Club. That was corrected on soggy Sunday, the first LMMC concert of the season, with a comfortable program of Mendelssohn, Britten and Brahms. Audience arrival was impeded by a gang of bicyclists who had taken over the mountain for their annual high speed ceremony.

Convincingly exhausted

The orchestral season opened with a brilliant concert performance of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande on a night that was characteristic of the best this orchestra can do under Kent Nagano, who celebrates his 10th year as music director. Where others might begin with some new music, a première trumpeting artistic vitality, we heard a canonical classic performed with impeccable detail and by mostly local talent. Tradition is healthy at the OSM.

I wore my worst suit

It’s easy to hear young musicians and singers in the summer, and to learn new acronyms. You can almost stand still and just let them wash over you. The McGill International String Quartet Academy began last weekend, and the Canadian Vocal Arts Institute and its festival had their first grand concert on Monday. The CVAI is a three-week program that brings together 40 singers with 15 faculty, and the festival is the public part — a series of opera performances and recitals mostly hosted by the Université de Montréal in their incredible Soviet-revival concert hall.

Also “emeritus” and “dead”

The McGill International String Quartet Academy brings together “junior” and “senior” quartets in residence at McGill, where they are improved and improve each other through master classes and private lessons with international faculty. The concert series is unique — a total immersion in the quartet tradition — and there’s no better way to find out what kinds of performers and composers you don’t like. It’s free, too. Roll the dice.

Your commemorative hot dog, sir

About 40,000 people gathered to hear the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal through a stadium sound system Wednesday at the Olympic Park esplanade. Every year the miking gets better but this remains a terrible way to hear classical music that wasn’t written for the outdoors. As something else, it’s kind of fun, there’s a festival atmosphere — the feeling that something special is going to happen — and junk food. You can even talk. However, laughter remains forbidden.

Two men were crushed writing the pun in this headline

A piano is actually two objects: it’s an instrument when you play it and a bathtub when you try to move it. Does your piano have wheels? They only look like wheels. They were attached by saboteurs.

Look into my eyes not around my eyes

It’s weird to hear Scriabin played in a pastel-coloured Catholic church in rural Quebec. This Russian composer’s early music is too romantic for such a rigid atmosphere, while his later pieces are too abstract and grandiose for wooden mouldings.

It wasn’t

My neighbour arrived holding a crash helmet at the Orford Festival this weekend and I thought, good, this is going to be one of those concerts.

Smashy smashy

The Montreal Chamber Music Festival has come a long way from a few mountaintop concerts. Today, it has its 20th anniversary season introduced by the lieutenant-governor with a bewildered conscript rigid at his side. Now that’s a local institution.

Bulletproof soprano

The 2015 Montreal International Musical Competition finals began with faint noises in the woods as singers who had astonished in a little hall with piano accompaniment struggled in the Maison symphonique with an orchestra. Only one competitor made the move with her charisma intact.

I don’t want to hear the future anymore

It’s Montreal International Music Competition season, so a boxcar full of young musicians are trying to avoid our city’s carnal pleasures and focus on their performances. Good luck!

Spike the coffee and banish sadness

Revolutions aren’t always bloody. Sometimes they take place in a dressing room when a conductor’s preconcert tea is replaced with a cocktail so powerful and illegal the bar goes quiet when you order it. And the pale bartender asks, are you sure?

Ravel? That’s for figure skating.

Christoph Gedschold had his North American conducting debut on Wednesday with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. It was mixed. A brave and slightly insane program contrasted two mobile pieces — Zosha Di Castri’s Lineage and Ravel’s G major Piano Concerto, played by Alain Lefèvre — with Shostakovich’s strident 11th Symphony, which emerged as an hour-long hammering on a single theme.

You have survived another winter here is your reward

Arrival of good-for-humans weather was announced by two of the best string quartets in the world like harbingers of Helios’s chariot, though I was probably the only one imagining eight stooped pale guys distributing grapes and good fortune from 30,000 ft, not least because the musical mood was much darker than the sky.

Ives something crunchy Ives something salty Ives lettuce

The collaborative nature of music-making was unusually obvious at the Ensemble contemporain de Montréal’s latest event, Illusions. There were a lot of names on the program, which was one of the highest-quality new music events so far this year. It opened in Montreal on Friday before heading to Toronto for the 21C festival in May and the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival in July.

I hope that was just a bad night

I was in debtors prison near Kamchatka and missed last year’s competition, so I’ll defer to the distinguished jury — which didn’t include Norrington, who last judged in 2010 — and trust that Laporte can sing bravely and fill a room. He just didn’t do it last night.

The woolly northern people have sent us something nice, your lordship

Spring elation and derangement was interrupted twice this weekend for music, beginning with an assemblage from Quebec City: the Violons du Roy with guest conductor Richard Egarr from the Academy of Ancient Music, the Violons’ usual choir, La Chapelle de Québec, and a fine group of soloists stopped in Montreal on the way to Carnegie Hall.

3 kids = 1 new work

So far in 2015, the best assembly of voices in Montreal wasn’t at the opera, it was at the Maison Symphonique on Sunday for the Orchestre Métropolitan’s performance of Dvo?ák’s magnificent Stabat Mater. For the solos they somehow managed to get soprano Layla Claire, mezzo Karen Cargill and bass John Reylea. Tenor Gerrett Sorenson replaced Brandon Jovanovich, who was sick.

May he live long and not come back for a while

Lang Lang has a distinctive sound that you can like or not, but it’s remarkable how easy he is to pick out at a time when most young pianists have only technique. This week he performs with the OSM for three nights in a row: twice for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24, and a recital on Friday.

True cost of concert tickets

I thought back-to-back OSM concerts this weekend would leave me thinking about music. They didn’t. I was thinking about money.


In addition to normal late February feelings of crawling skin and manic reactions to sunlight, I had specific trepidations about the opening of the Montreal/New Music Festival on Thursday.

How much do you like Mendelssohn?

The first half of Tuesday’s OSM concert could be summed up by the woman I saw trying to slap herself awake, but the night was rescued by a masterful performance of Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1 by pianist Emanuel Ax.

He’s a major draw, which helps explain why the hall was packed, but there are crowded winter nights when you suspect Montrealers have all gone out at the same time in a kind of unconscious group rhythm, like a hundred gophers poking out at once to find out who’s survived.


On Friday night, the Orchestre Métropolitain under Julian Kuerti performed everything musical written for Maeterlinck’s strange play Pelléas and Mélisande, except the most famous piece. But adding an entire opera would have been unwise even for the handful who can stand Debussy.

Play three notes and I’ll tell you who you are

The composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg started as a piano prodigy in Warsaw under Szymanowski and might have stayed there if the Second World War hadn’t intervened. He ended up assisting at the Tashkent opera until friends put him in touch with Shostakovich, who got Weinberg to Moscow. There he wrote prolifically (200 songs, 26 symphonies, 17 string quartets, seven operas) and found success with performers like Rostropovich and the Borodin Quartet, though the Cold War prevented a wider fame. Weinberg died in 1996, still in Moscow.

Leave the bouquet at home next time

Two exuberances almost annihilated each other on Saturday when Ensemble Caprice celebrated its 25th anniversary by collaborating with Dave St-Pierre. The baroque ensemble and the choreographer are united in difficult relationships with critics, and it was easy to see why.

Iced Bartok

The MSO’s first piece of the year was Bernstein’s puffed-up Candide Overture, followed with Bartók’s incredible Violin Concerto, his Concerto for Orchestra, and Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Weird choices can be signs of organizational health – the mayor was in the house Tuesday night – and a moment into the Bartók with violinist Augustin Dumay and the Bernstein was forgotten.

One a bit more attentively than the other

Handel’s Messiah is a glorious work of choral writing and a traditional piece of Christmas repertoire — never mind it originally premiered after Easter— and Tuesday night, chorusmaster Andrew Megill led both the OSM and the OSM Chorus in a spacious performance.

Pardon while we remove the boat

The OSM had its concertmaster Andrew Wan playing all three of Saint-Saëns’s violin concertos this week. Twice. Did he lose a bet?

All the German musicians are requested to come here

The 8th season of the Montreal Bach Festival opened with a concert by one of Europe’s best-known baroque ensembles, the Freiburg Barockorchster, who performed four of Bach’s splendid violin concertos, introducing both concert halves with musical snacks by Vivaldi.


The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal played Wednesday night under an ominously circling camera boom that looked like the latest in American democracy enforcement. Televising the evening was a good idea, but whoever programmed it is a damn genius. The four-part program was the finest concert I’ve heard this year. It creaked under an incredible weight in stories and symbolism, and ended with a major vocalist for dessert: soprano Miah Persson joined the orchestra for Richard Strauss’s last compositions.

Bourgeois imperialist criticism

China’s National Centre for the Performing Arts Orchestra is four years old and on tour. The Maison symphonique was their last stop after six cities in Canada and in the U.S., and there were notes of both celebration and relief in their youthful performances of established Chinese classical composers Chen Qigang, Cheng Gang and He Zhanhao and Dvo?ák. Though the program was presented as “eclectic,” all three pieces were episodic, romantic and played with exuberant vitality.

Shut up, Modest

Billed as an evening of Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff, Tuesday’s Orchestre symphonique de Montréal concert wasn’t. Guest violinist Christian Tetzlaff made sure of that.

Technical ability is so common nowadays that a virtuoso probably made your morning coffee, but Tetzlaff comes with the far rarer appellation of “intellectual” — one of those musicians who expands music. He does this with an aura of modesty and on a modern violin, pushing repertoire like Szymanowski’s Concerto No.1 Op.35. And in a more direct sense by producing unusual sounds…

I can help you, but you won’t like it

The organ has a startling awkwardness for those raised on piano music. Its tumbles, melodic contortions and unnerving gasps for breath can still produce a transcendental grandeur, but they are hardly ever graceful—the mechanical intrudes.

Now joke-free

On Friday, the Orchestre Métropolitain opened its 15th season with “the still young” Yannick Nézet-Séguin as conductor. Season-opening speeches are unbearable and video tributes oxymoronic, but a desire for the music usually restrains my more unacceptably misanthropic urges at these things. And in this case, the atmosphere of celebration was heightened by news that Culture Minister Hélène David had rejected the proposed closure of the regional branches of the Conservatoire de musique et d’art dramatique du Québec. Nézet-Séguin is perhaps the best-known graduate.

A pianist of exceptional size

In 1908, a critic wrote that “New York heard a new composition called The Sea, and New York is probably still wondering why.” Today we know that amnesia is just one of the symptoms of Debussy, and we risked hearing La Mer on Wednesday only because it was on the program before pianist Boris Berezovsky. The Maison symphonique was crowded for his interpretation of Prokofiev’s 2nd Concerto, and what came before and after mattered little.

Wanna see me eat a building?

The Arte Musica Foundation began an ambitious project on the weekend with the first concert of a complete Bach cantata cycle at Bourgie Hall. The news that approximately 200 cantatas would be performed there was hard to accept. At the projected rate of 25 a year that means the cycle will finish in 2022. Until then, the architecturally sensitive must close their eyes and hope for a cosmic event.

Tartini you unconscious

The venerable Sunday matinee institution of the Ladies’ Morning Musical Club opened its season with violinist James Ehnes in recital at Pollack Hall. It was his fifth appearance for the LMMC, but that’s okay, he’s probably our finest violinist and there is something old-school about him, like the LMMC, from his determined nailed-to-the-floor stance to his tie clip and parted hair.

String player-slayer

The Montreal International String Quartet Academy runs through Saturday, Aug. 23, and it offers invited quartets an intense session of public and private classes, and concerts. Attending the latter is always a lesson in contrasts, and Thursday night began with a walloping of Haydn’s masterful String Quartet Op. 76 No. 1 that ranks among the ugliest I’ve heard. The American quartet Excelsa must have a background in that country’s style of law enforcement.

Lower-case ‘brahms’

There are few finer things than Brahms and Bruckner after an open bar, but such concurrences are rare. Since the last patron brave enough to smuggle her own—a jeroboam of Bordeaux disguised as a luxuriously swaddled baby—was throttled by an overenthusiastic security guard, we have had to rely on fundraiser concerts like Thursday’s Orchestre Métropolitain season closer at the Maison symphonique. A more progressive age awaits.

Screws up, wins a prize anyway

Following young pianists through two weeks of the Montreal International Musical Competition can do weird things to a person. Once musical saturation is reached, you start to read postures as personality traits and see mysterious significance in repertoire, if you’re not straight up hearing voices while sucking down energy bars.

Kill the Liszt

The Montreal International Music Competition is a rare opportunity for gentle concertgoers to cross out names in their programs with the bloodthirsty satisfaction of a renaissance Pope signing a death warrant.

The best cruise ship piano bar

The 2014 Montreal International Musical Competition began with a new feature this week, the Richard Lupien Improvisation Prize, and six competing pianists each undertook four challenges at Tanna Schulich Hall Tuesday afternoon.

So, why do you exist?

Tchaikovsky explained his composition of the Serenade for Strings in September 1880 with: “No sooner had I begun to spend a number of days relaxing, than I began to feel somewhat restless and rather unwell.” As a psychologically representative passage, it’s hard to do better, and it’s something to think about in those moments when his lyricism curdles and stiffens.

“What style is this?” “Bad.”

Happy Montrealers wandered stunned between concerts this weekend deranged by the unfamiliar sunshine and an excess of fine music. The Nouveau Ensemble Moderne celebrated their 25th anniversary at the Maison Symphonique, a hall whose acoustic is rarely tested, and they obliged with a program of Claude Vivier, Walter Boudreau, and John Rea-arranged Alban Berg, a solidly Montréalais evening and a reminder that we have a great history of writing music, not only performing it.

Or put my head in the viola’s lap

The Montreal Chamber Music Festival began its 19th season Thursday with an invitation for the audience to “exchange” with the performers onstage. Why, then, was I not allowed to read my political poetry? But thank you to whoever let me back into the concert, which featured two beloved local stars, pianist André Laplante and soprano Karina Gauvin, and the Quebec première of the Dover Quartet, a rocket-powered American group that swept the Banff International String Quartet Competition this year.

Bre. Vi. Ty

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is on a little tour with a big program. Tuesday night we heard the Canadian première of Vivian Fung’s tone painting Aqua, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17 played by Richard Goode as warmly as a hug, and Strauss’s whinging ego trip, Ein Heldenleben, which is a struggle to appreciate even with the best performance.

A fond beating

Montreal’s reputation for loose morals has drawn generations of youth to its discothèques, where they talk unsupervised and buy milkshakes from thugs. Now it’s operas that are following the bales of marijuana and drums of cocaine rolling across the border. The latest arrivals call themselves Stu & Jess Productions, and they have already staged Menotti’s The Medium, apparently without any interference from the police.

Carpaccio Styrofoam

Even birthdays in classical music are usually about death. Unless Wagner gets kicked out of hell for berating Satan, nobody is going to be celebrating their 201st anytime soon, so I propose we remedy this sadness by giving a commemorative concert to the first baby born in the Maison symphonique each year. This will also reduce demand for hospital beds.

Get out

There are reasons for dashing to New York. Mine are hockey, opera and burgers, but perhaps you have a lifetime ban from the SAQ for price-related outbursts, yes? Whatever the desire, it is easy to overpay for the pleasure of The City, but it is unnecessary.

In retrospect three was too much

The 2014 orchestral season opened triumphantly with an ending: the OSM’s last recording of its Beethoven cycle. It will be released on Analekta in Canada and Sony internationally next fall, after some sound engineering — Tuesday’s concert in the Maison symphonique began as an elegant struggle by musicians with the acoustic upper hand against a diseased audience dying to be polite. (The ample corpse chutes hidden behind drapes on the corbeille are handy in this regard.)

Get. Out. Of. My. Bones.

The 2013 Bach Festival ended Friday night, and it ended very well. Bach time is over and the mountaintop Bach Beacon is extinguished, for now.

Pizza. Rating. System.

The Bach Festival is on and the Bach freaks are out with their long Bach hair tucked into the collars of their Bach leather jackets. They’re ripping churches apart. Mostly. There are other, less youth-oriented events like pianist Ishay Shaer’s Montreal première in concert with the McGill Chamber Orchestra. He came highly recommended but the evening was a disappointment.

Titles are how editors torture writers

Now what? An adjustable-size ensemble was the answer for Eli Weinberger, a recent graduate of McGill University and general director of Pronto…Musica. They are a group of recent music grads he gathered after pianist Amy Zanrosso told him careers thrive or flounder in the first five years after school. Weinberger also plays cello in the group and believes that “it’s really important that we — the young professionals — start our own initiatives and create opportunities.” There are few other choices at a time when professional positions are absurdly competitive.

A wonderful awmount of wan

This week’s OSM concert was an inspired bit of programming, as surprising as nana ambling out of her kitchen with zebra sous-vide floating on nitrogen. It featured concertmaster Andrew Wan, to coincide with the finals of the OSM Standard Life Competition, which he won in 2007. He was named concertmaster in 2008 and Wednesday night he reminded us why, while Jacques Lacombe returned to conduct in typically expansive style, and we heard the world première of Serge Arcuri’s Les mouvements de l’âme.


Before the OSM’s concert with cellist Truls Mørk this week, I’d been travelling. For my health, ruined months ago by a currywurst-stuffed bun at 35,000 feet, and that’s why the last concert I heard was the L.A. Philharmonic’s gleeful performance of Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels, which didn’t deserve such talented attention. I understand there was Zappa here, too, so at least I missed one of them, but Disney Hall’s mess and Salonen’s vigour were still in my head when I arrived for Nagano’s OSM and guests Mørk, mezzo Susan Platts, and the OSM Chamber Chorus at the Maison symphonique. These contrasts are rare and should be savoured, like being able to keep down your lunch.


The OSM’s matinee series began on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. with some audience members ramrod in their seats, by all appearances fully alert, and others sucking their first coffees discreetly from purses, shirt sleeves, and at least one hat. The rising conductor Jakub Hrša summoned an elegant performance from the OSM and soloist Vilde Frang performed Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 attentively and without exaggeration. Two Czech works rounded out the refreshing program.

No boos for you

St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Orchestra’s latest tour stopped in Montreal on Friday, thrashed the hall romantically and left with Napoleonic humility in a din of applause. It was not a contemporary concert, but what would you expect from the flagship of Russia’s neo-imperialist arts arsenal, whose commander has had the job for 25 years? Gergiev was booed in New York for his silence on gay rights, but these talented reactionaries dispatched an all-Rachmaninov program in grandly old-fashioned style, and pianist Denis Matsuev channeled golden age virtuosity.

Alla gatta eccitata

A weekend of smiles included Ensemble Caprice’s exuberant season première and a disc launch Saturday night at Bourgie Hall. It did not lack energy.

Look, I know it’s hard to title articles. But really?

Tuesday night saw the Maison symphonique transformed into a radio studio for a performance of the comic “history” of the OSM. Comedians and radio announcers sauntered in tremendous headgear and pushed a giant radio dial from 1934, the year of the orchestra’s founding, into the near future. The OSM was arrayed behind, looming and padded with extra musicians for a sprawling program of nine works. About half were played through. The rest were talked over, smothered in a fun evening that was not about the music.

A free gift if you join today

Opera de Montreal’s season opener Lakmé is a splendidly big, whistle-able old-fashioned opera with a thumping set and a deep pool of talent, some of it local. If you’re looking for originality and the future of the art, or anything else to feed your head, then it’s not for you. But you should still go, if only to hear Audrey Luna’s thrilling voice while you read a book. More »

Reading bling

“IN BREVITATE MAGISTER EST” was written on the wee chamber organ onstage at Bourgie hall. This bad Latin is trying to say “there’s a teacher in brevity.” I don’t know if artistic director Isolde Lagacé was inspired by the device — one of a small collection of baroque instruments that I had no idea were tucked away in Bourgie — but the idea is well-reflected in a new series of 11 a.m. concerts, the Baroque Matinées, which last about an hour and include commentary by Geneviève Soly.

They may still be on repeat

Preparing for the opening concert of the Ladies Morning Musical Club season, I fell hard for Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 7 and Beethoven’s Quartet in B flat major Opus 130/133. I listened to them on repeat all week and arrived at Pollack Hall itching to hear them live. But first I had to get past the repetitive hamming of Ravel’s String Quartet, standing between me and my satisfaction like a border guard in diapers.

Hurt my piano

Hello again, I said to the piano. It’s odd they left us alone after what happened last time, isn’t it? Last week this piano came with a Dutchman who would only play Mozart, but he played him very well. This time we had Ronald Brautigam, four wind players and a more varied program at the church in Ste-Mélanie for the Lanaudière Festival.

Bikram organ

I think something like 95 per cent of the music performed at classical concerts was written by dead guys, so anniversaries of deaths are an easy excuse to construct a concert programme. There’s also a measure of safety in this — who would argue against honouring the dead? So at Wednesday’s McGill Summer Organ Academy concert, the 350th and 50th anniversaries of the deaths of Heinrich Scheidemann and Paul Hindemith were commemorated through the lovely playing of organist William Porter at the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

Extract of extract of

The summer classical festival season is fun. Sunday drivers hyperventilate while passengers come to and claw weakly at the child safety locks on their way to a church in St-Alphonse-Rodriguez. My phone said this Lanaudière Festival concert was 30 kilometres northwest of Joliette, but I figured that merely indicated a sinkhole that would shoot us out gently somewhere in Chile. Not so. The church dates from 1860 and bears limited resemblance to South American ecclesiastical architecture of that era, though there were paintings of such intense colour I’d swear they were made with flattened toucans. Or velvet.

Has been linked to gout

Church organs are strange machines. I don’t know anything else, not even a full orchestra, with the power to make every cell in my body demand that a chord resolve immediately. Do something, nerves scream, or we’ll have to.


The Lachine Music Festival opened on June 29, and the first week’s local-vocal concerts featured Étienne Dupuis, Gordon Bintner, Florie Valiquette and Pascale Beaudin. But Tuesday found us on the unfamiliar bus for an evening with violinist Alexandre da Costa and pianist Wonny Song. It’s a long ride to Lachine…

Not how I expected to see you naked for the first time

A festival should cause strange things to happen. It should feel special or it’s just a short, cheap season. This weekend, the Montreal Baroque Festival opened with the premiere of Motezuma, an opera by Vivaldi and local musician Matthias Maute, in a beautiful ex-bank — if only they were all ex-banks — performed by young singers and a lively ensemble.

I did not get all the jokes

Wilfred Pelletier was a happy place Friday night — sold out, of course — but the old room hasn’t seen that many cheering young faces at a concert of classical instruments … ever? In a post-apocalyptic inversion of the normal attendance, a young, healthy body occupied every seat from the pit to the rafters. Many were costumed. All were yelling.


I arrived at Bourgie hall for the Gryphon piano trio with unusually prepared ears: my neighbours recently gave in and bought me excellent headphones, so I’ve been trying everything out on them all week, including a dozen interpretations of Thursday night’s program. (All this can be yours if you have thin walls and play the long game.)

Emerson, Emerson, Emerson, Emerson

Joints stiffen and fingers slow after 37 years of playing together, but a quartet this old can be an amazing creature, like a wild Banyan tree with many trunks and one canopy. Hard to imagine transplanting just one root, though, which is what the Emerson String Quartet did on Thursday when they premièred their new cellist, Paul Watkins, at St-George’s Church for the Montreal Chamber Music Festival. The critic then makes a tiny typo. See if you can find it!

Now winners

The winners of the 2013 Montreal International Music Competition are Marc Bouchkov from Belgium, first, Stephen Waarts from the United States, second, and Zeyu Victor Li from China, third.

No winners tonight

The Montreal International Musical Competition gala concert is a celebratory pause after the semifinals, a breather for people in tuxedos to meet people not in tuxedos and realize they have classical music in common. And tinnitus.


The six finalists of the 2013 Montreal International Music Competition are: Marc Bouchkov of Belgium, Chi Li of Taiwan, Zeyu Victor Li of China, Ji Young Lim of South Korea, Fédor Roudine of France and Stephen Waarts of the United States. Some of them deserve it.

Ow, my back

Festival founder Denis Brott reunited with fellow cellist and former classmate Ron Thomas and guests from the Boston Chamber Music Society for three pieces and spine-moulding at St-George church to open the Montreal Chamber Music Festival. The program was conservatively diverse, opening with Menotti’s Suite for Two Cellos and Piano, which Brott helped première in 1973. It moves with Menotti’s typical efficiency but its hasty, crammed sounds reminded me of a study and not the work of a 62-year- old with 16 written operas. The Arioso seemed different — focused — it developed without the other movements’ sense of the exam is tomorrow. More

Nothing bad about the children

I’m not sure whether Monday night’s benefit concert for the McGill Chamber Orchestra was accidentally bumpy or just a crafty example of pity-based fundraising. Either way, I recommend printing programs next time. I have also made a list of people to be fired.

How I buried the first quarter century

When I first heard the Tokyo String Quartet I was a squirming child and they had already played together for fifteen years. Later on, their recordings formed the background to many family dinners and summers spent happily reading in the yard, the speakers dragged through the house and pressed against the kitchen window screen. So I headed to Pollack Hall for the Montreal concert of their farewell tour with unusually personal and not professional trepidation. Childhood is over.

Schumann, an allergy

The Orchestre Métropolitain’s embarrassingly titled Youth Spirit 2.0 concert on Thursday was a five-part reminder that we have two great orchestras in this city, and we are lucky that they have two different outlooks — the OSM was playing in Rio that night. Our evening, at the Maison symphonique, began with Christiane Duchesne’s poem “Lux” set by Éric Champagne to a beautiful vignette that had the Joseph-François Perrault High School choir clipping words against ringing bursts and swoons of melody from the orchestra. The four other parts.

Three symphoniezzz

The Arion Baroque Orchestra closed its 2012-2013 season with cellist Jaap ter Linden sweetly guest-conducting from the top of a box. It is difficult to conduct through a cello, especially a baroque one held away from the body and resting on the calves, but he made the struggle look elegant and the orchestra appeared to tolerate it. In this, he was helped by pianist David Breitman, who joined Arion for a fine program at least one piece too long.

Busy eating

For some attendees of the Bozzini Quartet’s concert on Wednesday the Norwegian appetizers were dinner. And probably breakfast. But such is the glamorous life of new musicians toiling on the periphery and wondering where the audiences might be. For the curious, the evening suggested answers. Om nom nom.

No villains

I arrived damp and girded for disappointment at Monument-National on Saturday night for Atelier Lyrique’s annual showcase. This isn’t a chronic condition, whatever my friends say, and I’d give the Atelier better odds than the Opéra any night. But I expected half the evening to be bad because it was miscast. There were two operas on the program: The Old Maid and the Thief, and Amahl and the Night Visitors, written in 1939 and 1951 by Menotti. The second is based on the Adoration of the Magi and is the story of a crippled shepherd boy, Amahl, and his mother. While Menotti’s production notes make it clear that Amahl must be sung by a boy, it’s usually a female soprano in shorts. Damn child labour laws.

Good scalpels, bad scalpels

Please, oh please, I whispered, don’t play the Beethoven first, but the taxi driver didn’t appreciate my back seat prayers. “Spooky man,” he said. “Get out.” So I arrived on time to the last of this season’s Pierre-Rolland Series by Pro Musica at the Maison Symphonique. Read the clean version here


For some reason, it was difficult to find company for a baroque concert called Sublime Torments, which was conducted by Bernard Labadie. I thought I had more interesting friends. The vocal program consisted of biblical stories: the sacrifice of a daughter, Peter’s denial of Jesus, meditations on mortality, and a long, earnest wail begging to feel Mary’s pain at the foot of the cross. Festive stuff. And very beautifully done. And

She’s probably happier dead anyway

Judging from the sound of Wednesday night’s Requiem, the Maison Symphonique was designed for chorals with the occasional orchestral work thrown in to calm those — like botanists and children raised by wolves — who are upset by massed human voices. The evening included an appearance by Kent Nagano to beautifully conduct Brahms and Zimmermann, and to make one of his introductions. It…

Sister, these tears are delicious

Composer Jake Heggie and librettist Terrence McNally somehow wrote a time machine. Dead Man Walking is opera as it was experienced a long time ago: relevant, familiar, and with a tune you can sing in the shower (where it may make you sad.) Once, this might have meant a farce on relations between masters and servants set to a suppressed popular play, but unlike Figaro we don’t have to search for seriousness in Dead Man Walking — it drowns us with a flood of tragedy and morality. Its dry humour, like its few spoken lines, go off like magnums in the desert. Guns, at a knife fight?!

An acceptable amount of suicide

A marathon concert of early-20th-century string quartets is only for the strong and thoroughly psychoanalyzed, unless a generous donor leaves a barrel of Xanax by the door of the Montreal Conservatory of Music. We salute you, whoever you were. The audience, consequently, was peaceful and generous — at intermission a drowsy fellow with a white moustache pressed a packet of stock certificates into my hands, saying I “looked like a nice fellow.” This is simply not true, as you know. What recklessness!

Variations on the theme of a great concert

My Moscow relatives were jealous when I told them I would hear Denis Matsuev play Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto at the Maison symphonique Thursday, and these are not easy people to impress. I had one cousin train an elephant to walk a tightrope between two balconies at a party — a three-ton beast, bejazzled in every way, who loped across with a triumphant teenager on top — and nobody noticed. What?

Bernstein murdered, dies horribly

Four members of Les Chœurs et Solistes de Lyon have been kidnapped. Probably mugged on the way to the airport: Perrine Madœf, Landy Andriamboavonjy, Pierre-Antoine Chaumien, and Fabrice Alibert. See them on the program? Don’t go to the concert, a gang of Eurovision rejects has stolen their identities; they will take your money and use the time to brutalize you. Take what you were going to spend on tickets and donate it to the Canadian Association of the Deaf. It doesn’t get nicer

Exaggerated bowing

The biennial Montreal/New Music festival could always begin with a work by Claude Vivier, the local (adopted, kicked out of the church choir, murdered by a male prostitute — Hollywood?) and most venerated Canadian composer in the international monastic community of new music; this year is also the 30th anniversary of his death. Bid on the film options

Hotel Melancholia

La Maison Symphonique took another walloping on Wednesday night, though Gennady Rozhdestvensky was seen to apply the baton in a peaceable manner. He is a small man who moves carefully and eschews the podium to prod the air directly above the violins with a long, old-fashioned stick. And Rozhdestvensky is known for unfamiliar works of familiar composers; tonight that meant Tchaikovsky’s symphony after Byron’s poem. Damn it there’s more


McGill’s New Music Building on Sherbrooke St. W. is surprisingly full of computers, microphones and speakers, robot ears and robot mouths. This hoard belongs to the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology (CIRMMT, or Kermit to friends), and it’s scattered through the building like upsetting x-ray results. Kermit is a research group with members from McGill, Université de Montréal, and Université de Sherbrooke who play scientific sisters to the floppy-haired and excitable performing brothers next door. Of course there’s more.

Angry young opera

Opera fans, I have good news! If we avoid the braying void of innovation around Place des Arts, there are reasons for cautious optimism. University music students occasionally run out of drugs and begin speaking to each other, and Montreal still has less rent pressure than Toronto or New York — more than there used to be, but enough to attract all kinds of weird credit risks. So we can listen to new groups like Collectif Baroque Mont-Royal, Opéra Immédiat and Opera da Camera, the latter formed by Meagan Zantingh, Benjamin Kwong, and Kathrin Welte at McGill in 2011. Continued at the Gazette

East european drivers

It’s hard to avoid wondering why a romantic program of Shostakovich, Bernstein, and Rachmaninoff sounds better played by touring Europeans like the Budapest Festival Orchestra, who are slightly closer than we are in language and table manners to some of these composers. Isn’t it kind of fascist to think that people play “their own” music best. And so on, at the Gazette

Group hug

Hector Berlioz’s oratorio L’Enfance du Christ comes with one of the better stories of music criticism. The chorus was premiered in 1850 as a composition of the fake 17th-century composer Pierre Ducré. It was so beautiful that “Berlioz would never be able to write a tune as simple and charming as this,” though Berlioz just had. And on and on

Foreskin Fugue

J.S. Bach wrote the Christmas Oratorio for the 1734 holy days. Its six parts describe the birth of Jesus, its announcement to the shepherds, their warm response, the naming and circumcision of Jesus but not whether this caused additional joy, the voyage of the three kings, and general adoration of the baby. And so on

One of these was good

With my seat claimed and the ushers dragging off the challenger, I kicked away his walker and settled in for another week at the OSM. It began on Wednesday evening with Éric Champagne’s Mouvement Symphonique No. 1, a collage of sketches too brief to offend and too dull to impress that disappeared against Barber’s remarkable Violin Concerto and Shostakovich’s expansive 10th Symphony. The Champagne did not appear in Friday’s repeat performance — the symphony’s programming this year is inspired. Read on at the Gazette

Be still my racing clock

I understood it would be an unusual concert when I passed a desolate looking man holding a “ticket wanted” sign. He was right. I hope he made it. Read on at the Montreal Gazette

He scrapes

It was big man week at the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Wednesday night, pianist Murray Perahia, a staple of the top tier for 40 years, and Thursday, violinist Maxim Vengerov, a world famous scrapper since 1990. The contrast between them seemed to be who knew it. Read more.

Ligeti-ng Crumbs all over your clean cello

Schulich Hall was sold out for Sunday’s afternoon concert featuring Pieter Wispelwey on cello, accompanied by … I didn’t know until I arrived. This oversight was doubly odd because pianist Lois Shapiro had an unusually prominent role. The rest at the Montreal Gazette

Charlatan’s lament

Tuesday evening’s OSM concert promised sentimentality: Ravel, Chausson and Roussel. I was apprehensive — pastoral washes of feeling leave me yawning and reaching for the bottle. It is a self-preserving instinct for energetic turmoil over emotional accountancy, which seems kind of like death. Thankfully, the evening was full of surprises. The rest at the Gazette

We have eyes too, you know

Should classical musicians be allowed to dress themselves? Attendees of Wednesday’s orchestral concert with violinist Karen Gomyo and conductor Julian Kuerti will know why I ask. They led the MSO through two of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, something I cannot believe Michel Longtin was paid to write, and selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. The rest at the Montreal Gazette

Nap time in row P

When is music not about time? Time is one of the most intense experiences of a classical concert and its tradition of listening silently while sitting still. If it is not very good, then music expresses a sense of time better than everything except dentistry. Read on at the Montreal Gazette

The pedalers have gone too far

Normally, I defend unions. They can be good for society. But, on Sunday afternoon, the Piano Pedal Manufacturers went too far in their influence over Brazilian pianist Arnaldo Cohen. Endure the rest at the Montreal Gazette

A growing

It’s hard to believe that talent and hard work are rewarded as cronyism holds sway all around, but while the performing arts aren’t exactly a bastion of social mobility, at least success is based on real talent in public display. Read the rest at the Montreal Gazette

Earn money from home!

Ten quartets participated in the third edition of Constance Pathy and André Roy’s McGill International String Quartet Academy, which closed on Saturday at Pollack Hall. Attending it is a joy and an education in group psychology. The quartets range from freshly hatched to grandfathers of strings, happy foursomes to those who grimly dispatch their stringy duty. It is a contest in public opinion without the clarity of a prize. Read on at the Montreal Gazette

Give that man some amphetamines

Kent Nagano and a SWAT team of OSM soloists arrived in Orford the night before. They had perhaps three rehearsals and knew the audience Tuesday evening would be cranky, Highway 10 being what it is (only because it is becoming better.) But the touring musician, like a moose on the highway, is not easily scared. Read the whole piece at the Montreal Gazette

But maman, I wanted to be afraid

Berlioz’s Requiem is scored for three divisions of choir and an army of orchestra, but these are only “guidelines” and more bodies should be added if there is room and, presumably, a recession on. Read the whole piece at the Montreal Gazette

Keep singing

The sixteen semifinalists of the Montreal International Music Competition averaged 28 years old. They come from six countries, though close to half are Canadian. They are all graduates, they have sung here and there, and they are looking for a break.
Read the whole piece at The Montreal Gazette

Née Brunhilde

The concert was billed as an evening with a Met opera stalwart, soprano Deborah Voigt, and the OSM conducted by the venerable Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos.
Read the whole piece at The Montreal Gazette

A gentle Bayrakdarian

“April comes like an idiot.” Jake Heggie puts these and other immortal words into the mouths of singers like the Armenian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian. Happily there wasn’t much Heggie at the opening concert of the 17th Montreal Chamber Music Festival.
Read the whole piece at The Montreal Gazette

Confectioner in chief

Diabetics to Row N. Drop your candies in the bucket, citizen. Now form a cake. And we did, filling the parterre in one layer and looking up, we waited for a heaping of powdered piano music from the hands of André Laplante.
Read the whole piece at The Montreal Gazette