ASSAD BROTHERS & PAQUITO D'RIVERA
LOVE AND INCREDIBLE PLAYING ENCHANT THE AUDIENCE
amazing guitarists -- Odair and Sergio Assad -- gave us the
classiest and most colourful cross-cultural sound tour of South
America. Their pieces joyously resonated far beyond Latino borders.
We heard the subtle yet
highly intricate duo guitar playing of the Assad Brothers -
two guitar gods whose brilliance brought us the lovely sounds
of Brazil, Cuba and more. We gushed over their Argentine pieces,
stepped to the beat of “Afro” – an original
composition composed by Señor D’Rivera, and when
they performed their own composition that combined their dual
heritage (Lebanese and Brazilian), we traveled into rhythms,
sounds and keys weaving a melody of exotic excellence. Their
Astor Piazzolla sent cries of joy from the audience, but the
cries of ecstasy hit an even higher pitch after they performed
Aaron Copeland’s Hoedown.
We were in the company
of musicians who know no limits to their creativity and technical
wizardry. Paquito joined them after the first two guitar songs
were played. This Cuban legend plays clarinet with such ease,
beauty and confidence. He’s been doing it since he was
a kid; his dad was a clarinettist. The sounds he can make from
his clarinet are truly amazing. His roaring rapid runs are thrilling
to hear. What speed. He totally engaged us with his humour,
telling us that the sheet music on his stand was for show only,
“To impress as I can’t read music.” He said
it with clever Cuban wit and sincerity. What a joker.
Can he ever warm up an audience. He joked about so many things,
and when he played the clarinet, he even made funny faces while
playing. He was stand-up clarinet comedian. We couldn’t
stop laughing. He talked about not remembering pieces, but as
long as he and the Assads started on time and ended in time
-- on the right note, all was fine. Let me tell you, the man’s
humour matches the humility of his musician partners. They laughed
along and had to do a lot of finger/guitar licking stuff to
go along with Paquito’s improvisational playing.
loves the stage and the people watching him. He got us to sing
“salt peanuts” when the phrases ended to his Dizzy
Gillespie piece. I have never heard the clarinet played that
way; likewise the Assad Brothers were mesmerizing. Each could
alternate from lead to rhythm in a nanosecond. The dexterity
of their playing is dauntless. They can do anything on their
guitars; the most complex of passages were polished off with
great skill, and their timing is second to none. They were always
They have collaborated
with Yo-Yo Ma, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Gidon Kremer and Dawn
Upshaw. In February of 2011 Odair performed his first solo guitar
concert tour in North America. Sérgio Assad composed
the concerto, Phases, which the duo premiered with
the Seattle Symphony. His composition, Interchange
received a nomination for a Latin Grammy in the Best Classical
Category. This astounding piece was written for the Los Angeles
Guitar Quartet and the Delaware Symphony, Likewise, his Maracaipe,
written for the Beijing Guitar Duo, also garnered a Latin Grammy
This May 31st concert
was a premiere performance; it was the first time all three
artists played together in Montreal -- sharing the stage in
front of a Montreal crowd who eagerly and quickly snapped up
their CDs. They were sold out within five minutes -- long before
the intermission ended.
Art de JEAN-PHILIPPE COLLARD / Part II
CONCERT HIGHLIGHTS FRENCH COMPOSERS
exhilarating concert (May 29th) featured the music of these
great French composers: Claude Debussy (1862-1918), Maurice
Ravel (1875-1937) and Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924). Collectively,
the flavour was impressionistic as the music created a myriad
of moods and images that transported us into a realm of ethereal
beauty and fiery flare. Indeed, the remarkable artistry of the
concert’s stellar performers revealed the genius of these
who performed in each of the program’s four works exemplified
this excellence. An extraordinary pianist with over 30 recordings
to his credit, he is not only renowned
for his interpretation of composers from the French school --
as we heard in this concert -- but he is equally at ease when
playing Mozart, Beethoven, Bartók, Brahms, Liszt, even
Gershwin. Having garnered several prestigious awards, including
the Grand Prix du Concours National des Artistes Soloistes,
and the Prix Gabriel Fauré, he was named Chevalier de
la Légion d’ honneur in 2003. In 2011, he was on
the jury for the Montreal International Musical Competition.
In short, he belongs in the pantheon of the world’s great
It was a privilege
to hear him play as he joined other astonishing artists of international
acclaim. The performers were: world-renown cellist -- not to
mention -- Montreal’s favourite one, Denis Brott (who
is also the Founder and Artistic Director of the festival);
virtuoso violinist, Giora Schmidt who studied with the likes
of Pinkas Zukerman and Itzak Perlman. He also taught as Mr.
Perlman’s assistant at the Julliard School of Music; and
finally in this rostrum of VIPs was violist, Marcus Thompson
whose performances of the viola concertos by John Harbison and
Penderecki garnered international acclaim. He has played with
the world’s greatest orchestras and chamber music ensembles,
including the Muir, Orion, Shanghai, Cleveland and Emerson Quartets.
The program opened
with Debussy’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in D Minor
(1915). The pairing of Mr. Collard with Mr. Brott created a
harmonious match that was spellbinding. Together, they sonorously
conveyed both the sadness and anguish in this work. After all,
Debussy was suffering from cancer, and WW I was rapidly escalating.
Hence, one could hear the tempest raging within both the composer
and in the world at large.
In the music, there
are sharp-edged belligerent bursts of agitation, dramatic defiance,
as well as gentleness and haunting heart-wrenching passages
that suggest glimmers of peace, even resignation. All these
moods were stunningly expressed in masterful playing that flawlessly
surpassed all rigorous challenges. Rapid tempo and tonal changes,
rhythmic twists in atonal lines and a multitude of expressive
variations ranging from ever-growing fury to soothing beauty
demanded great emotional depth on the part of both performers
-- along with supreme technical assiduity. There were explosive
pizzicatos, plaintiff legatos and rapid staccatos, often framed
within syncopated passages accented with impeccable timing.
Mr. Collard’s playing created a kaleidoscope of colours
that ingeniously added textured balance to the cello’s
seemingly spontaneous statements. Debussy’s surmounting
desperation was revealed as instrumental solidity and sensitivity
converged. Mr. Brott’s passion was so impressive; it never
wavered whether applying long bowing, or snapping the strings
with his fingers -- as he did to open the second movement’s
Sérénade. A host of tonal sounds, and
varying themes -- including a macabre-like dance captivated
my interest in this exciting part. I also heard similarities
to Debussy’s piano piece, “Jumbo’s Lullaby”
from the Children’s Corner collection. The Finale,
joined to the Sérénade, alternated between
fluid and agitated passages. What a phenomenal piece. These
artists were emotionally attuned to the composer they were playing.
This sonata deviates
from Debussy’s usual evocation of beguiling images steeped
in lyrically pleasing melodies that delight and enchant. I appreciated
hearing this unique work; it showed a darker side of Debussy
who died less than three years after writing this complex piece.
Next on the program
was Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano (first
performed in 1927). Mr. Collard and Giora Schmidt redirected
the mood away from the dark intensity of the preceding Debussy
piece. Both artists clearly articulated violin and piano parts
that sometimes soloed on their own and then suddenly joined
together. Technical agility and nuanced sophistication was showcased;
timing was essential. Mr. Schmidt left us spellbound with his
great passion. He put his whole body into his playing. The variety
of plucking and bowing applications, including fast string quivering
effects, and a slew of tonal changes -- for both instrumentalists
-- was exhilarating -- both to the eye and ear!
There were several
rapid key changes between the piano and violin that seemed to
intentionally clash and compete with each other in distinct
ways. In one part, the violin seemed to just fly away on its
own, leaving the piano in its wake. In all the work exemplified
Ravel’s thoughts about these instruments which he believed
to be incongruous partners. In writing about this sonata, he
said he wanted to focus on “these two instruments’
irreconcilability through their independence” -- to create
music that highlighted their differences. “I assumed the
task of not trying to bring their differences into equilibrium
but the opposite.” Ironically, by polarizing them, a rich
interweaving effect was created that was not without atonal
Jazz and blues rhythms
and melody lines changed the musical flavour in the second movement’s
Blues: Moderato. It alluded to the blues scene sweeping
through Parisian clubs in the l920’s which Ravel often
frequented. It really was entertaining and current in sound.
I loved the syncopated moments.
The last movement
was sheer virtuosity. Only a gifted violinist of great technical
prowess could handle the faster-than-lightning speed that led
to a dazzling conclusion. Wow!
continued in Ravel’s Tzigane. It conjured up
a world of gypsies,such was the performance vivacity and magnificent
musicality communicated by Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Collard. There
I was in Hungary laughing and hearing stories from these gypsies.
The music’s many colours, rhythms and textures awakened
gypsy feelings in me. A frenetic festive dance ended the piece
in the movement fittingly titled, Perpetuum mobile.
What a showstopper! Only a virtuosic violinist with a gypsy
soul could pull this off with dazzling panache, exuberance and
believability; and Mr. Schmidt did it in spades. He put so much
passion into his playing that at several points, some of his
bow strings broke. He would tear them off. This, along with
his fierce and furious plucking of the strings, led to a cut
on his finger, yet never did the music suffer. I was sitting
in the second aisle of pews, so I saw it all. One can truly
say he gave his blood to the piece.
Finally, the concluding
Quartet #1 in C Minor for Piano and Strings by Fauré
was lush and rich in sound variety with fluid legato introducing
the melody in the first part. Each instrument took up the minor
key one at a time but responded in harmony. This alternated
with the strings playing in unison. It was elegant and created
a feeling of anticipation -- apt for this Allegro molto
moderato. For me, it created a visual dialogue of aqueous
images of undulating water, sometimes swelling high -- as the
music reached a crescendo -- and at other times, rippling in
Allegro vivo followed. It featured lots of ornamentation
of the piano and turns that Mr. Collard polished off with expressive
ease. The movements had pockets of playfulness. We knew we were
in for a treat right from the start when the finger plucking
on the strings captured everyone’s attention.
By far, the most
beautiful music of the evening took place in the Adagio
that followed the lively Scherzo. Utterly sad, it was
pure sorrow. A poignant sentimentality with nuances of nostalgia
kept building in intensity. The strings sang out as the piano
mellifluously and vulnerably enhanced the emotion. As the piece
neared the end with all emotions spent, the gradual dying hush
of the strings left me weeping.
had Mr. Collard scuttling all over the keys so rapidly and lightly;
his dexterity musically demonstrated that the hand is indeed
faster than the eye. Formidable chords contrasted to the general
playfulness and capriciousness that the music suggested. The
ending was ravishing as the quartet loudly picked up the momentum
that took us to the finishing line in a breathless state. Bravo!
SWINGLE SINGERS -- Sure to Dazzle with Celebratory Concert
unique singing group’s 50th anniversary, so the mood must
have been festive, during their May 18th concert. According
to the program, the concert featured the old and
new of great composers and entertainers with only an intermission
to divide the two distinct time line periods – first the
classical jazzed up, followed by contemporary/pop. Therefore,
the first half of the concert presented pieces by Bach, Vivaldi,
Corelli, Donizetti, Saint-Saëns, even Manuel de Falla and
more. The second half of the concert was dedicated to contemporary
singer/songwriters: Lennon, Beyonce, Mumford & Sons, Astor
Piazolla, but Debussy and Bach popped up with Poor Wayfaring
Stranger, a traditional song, and the ethereal and eternally
beautiful Clair de Lune by Debussy. These two numbers,
along with several more, have been arranged by the Swingle Singers.
They are renowned for their delivery of these arrangements.
Their harmonious voices always leave an indelible impression
on the listener, as they did when I attended their concert in
London several years ago.
of vocals is utilized to replicate, for the most part, an entire
orchestral piece. It’s amazing the myriad of sounds, pitches,
and types of notes the vocal instrument can produce, especially
when it comes from the mouths of the Swingle Singers.
The 50th Anniversary
Celebration May 18th concert took place at 8:00pm inside Église
St.George, corner of Peel and de la Gauchetière Streets
in Montreal. For all festival concerts, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
or call (514) 489-7444.
MAN PART: Part II -- A concert of singular greatness
one segment of a concert or spectacle where an audience breaks
out into coughs or yawns; it’s just the way it goes. But
in the case of this wondrous chamber music festival, such indications
of boredom never happen. Here’s why: Denis Brott and his
festival confrères (the likes of which include the brilliant
guitarist and uber- administrator, Davis Joachim) have assembled
world class musicians in a call to perform highly complex music
composed by the world’s greatest musical minds in this
internationally acclaimed festival. Of course, let’s not
forget there is plenty of live jazz offered as well –
Last night, the
audience was treated to the incomparable playing of the Fine
Arts Quartet whose gifted musicality and technical expertise
ably took on works by Saint-Saëns - not an easy feat for
those with a passionate heart because this composer created
music described by Mr. Brott as embodying "mind over heart."
He, along with Richard
Turp and Sabina Teller, provided an invaluable context during
an illuminating pre-concert talk. It helped the audience understand
this composer who defied the trends of the time, bucking romanticism
and staying the course, composing in the traditional French
classical style where the confines of tried and true structure
superseded emotional intent. Indeed, he was cerebral in his
approach to music, making form and symmetry the object of his
imagination. Yet because of the remarkable sensitivities exerted
passionately by the Fine Arts Quartet, even some of the more
melodic moments - such as in the Septet’s in E-flat
major’s opening bars of the Intermède
where viola and cello plaintively reply to one another in a
heart wrenching theme – we had the impression that we
were listening to Beethoven at his most reflective
Of course, the consummate
playing of pianist Cristina Ortiz enhanced several passages
where solid striking of the keys and her powerful chords mixed
with fast harsh bowing of the Quartet created exciting sforzandos.
The point is although Saint-Saëns did compose within the
confines of conservative structures, opting to reject Debussy
and Impressionistic composition, this man did have a heart and
every so often it reaches wild heights of emotion that we could
palpably feel in the compositions performed during this May
16th concert. From the get-go, the composer’s String
Quartet #2 in G major, Opus 153, ushered in images of leaves
rustling in the wind in a green forest full of divergent paths.
The music was light and airy, meandering and gentle. Yet the
final Allegretto con moto along with other parts in the four
previous movements offered moments of unbridled passion whose
unexpected outbreaks were dashing in effect.
One must say that
this composer did let his emotions fly at the tail end of several
of his final movements we heard this evening, such as in the
Allegro of the Piano Quartet in B-flat Major, Opus
41. Piano and strings created such a rapid collision of
excitement I instantly felt that Saint-Saëns was a man
bursting to let go but only when he knew nothing more was going
to be follow. He was a man who - like all of us - was not without
contradictions and they do manifest themselves in his music
– a moment of melodic quietness and then a sudden turn
into atonal dissonance
and fury. Bravo to the members of the Fine Arts Quartet whose
impeccable phrasing, timing and unbeatable interpretation of
each piece vividly expressed all the miniscule and big moments
of musical nuances residing in Saint-Saëns creative imagination.
The second performance
of the evening titled, Fantasy in E-flat Major was
composed for trumpet and piano. Paul Merkelo’s shiny silver
trumpet playing offered clarity and a multitude of various articulations
that made me think his embouchure is omnipotent, such was the
delight he brought to the Fantasy.
Pianist, Qiao Yi
Miao Mu – a student of the great André Laplante
was utterly impressive. How nice it was to hear the ease at
which both pianists for the evening - Ms. Miao Mu and Ms. Ortiz
- displayed superb playing, with Ms. Ortiz well renown around
the world, and the very young
Ms. Miao Mu on her meteoric rise. Music knows no age boundaries
when in the hands of such consummate performers.
Finally, I would
like to mention all the evenings’ artists, for like Saint-Saëns,
their names belong in the category of ‘musical genius.’
The Fine Arts Quartet members are: violinists, Ralph Evans and
Efim Boico (who have been playing together for 35 years); violist,
Juan-Miguel Hernandez; cellist, Robert Cohen with bassist Ali
Yazanfar joining the quartet for the Septet in E-flat Major.
Pianists, Qiao Yi Miao Mu and Cristina Ortiz are singular forces
of phenomenal brilliance.
A STUNNING SHOWCASE
OF RARE TALENT (May 15th at Église St. George).
What a delight.
It isn’t often three young people take to the piano and
produce miraculous sounds,
performing some of the most difficult pieces ever written in
the ninetieth century.
with 14-year-old Annie Zhou who lives in Toronto. Her masterful
playing of Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses,
opus 54 not only produced prodigious display of virtuosic
talent and technique, but it was utterly inspiring to note the
profound passion this gifted pianist brought to every phrase,
every trill, every chord. Her strength was notable in her crescendos
and staccatos in various passages that demanded great dexterity
and passion. Zhou was a force of nature, and when she returned
to join the Fine Arts Quartet in Saint-Saëns’s amusing
and highly entertaining Carnival des Animaux, we were
once more treated to her great proficiency at the keys. Despite
her youth, she was not upstaged by the older members making
those animals come to life. It was a great way to finish the
But let us not leave
out the exquisite lightness and dexterity with expressive control
that yet another young pianist brought to the podium -- 12-year-old
Daniel Clarke Bouchard. He cautiously yet elegantly performed
Variations sur le nom “Abegg” opus.
He was able to change from nimble scooting over the keys to
heavy chording with passages that demanded cross-over hands
playing. He was really lovely to listen to, and one knows this
young delightful poised and highly relaxed talent will hit meteoric
heights as maturity sets in.
was the powerful and highly confident Isabelle David. She performed
the almost impossible to play Hungarian Rhapsody by
Liszt. The sheer strength of her opening sforzando chords, her
striking power and arpeggio ascensions were mesmerizing. She
is a brilliant performer and is only in her early twenties.
Her teacher is the great André Laplante. Her expression
and passion did not take a back seat to the technique needed
to allow the piece to make its impressive impact.
The Fines Arts Quartet
beautifully played Schubert’s Trout Quintet in A major.
As an ensemble they are pros, and their Carnival was
Denis Brott, Founder
and Artistic Director of this wonderful festival -- now in its
18th year, said, “The festival wants to do its best to
identify and promote young talent.”
concert did it in spades!