As part of the Vancouver Recital Society’s fall programming, both pianist Sir András Schiff (above), and harpsichordist Jean Rondeau will perform J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations.
The Vancouver Recital Society’s season opened last month with the Canadian debut of Italian pianist Filippo Gorini. It continues Oct. 16 with Steven Isserlis (cello) and Connie Shih (piano), and Oct. 18 and 20 with pianist Sir András Schiff.
Rounding out the fall program, Turkish cellist Jamal Aliyev makes his Canadian debut with Turkish pianist Fazil Say on Oct. 30, Jean Rondeau (harpsichord) plays on Nov. 6, and American violinist Randall Goosby and Chinese pianist Zhu Wang perform together on Nov. 27.
Sir András was scheduled to fly to Vancouver in March 2020 to help VRS celebrate its 40th anniversary. Instead, he was detained in Japan as the world went into lockdown due to COVID-19. His Oct. 18, 7:30 p.m., performance at the Vancouver Playhouse will be special – Sir András will announce and discuss what he is going to play from the stage. On Oct. 20, 7:30 p.m., at the Orpheum Theatre, he will perform the Goldberg Variations. Originally written for harpsichord, J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations were first published in 1741 and are named after Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, who may have been the first performer of the work.
Sir András’s Oct. 20 performance is a benefit concert. It will help the VRS set the stage for its next big milestone – its 50th anniversary season in 2030. In addition to the Variations, Sir András will play Bach’s Italian Concerto in F major and Bach’s Overture in French Style in B minor.
Rondeau also will perform the Goldberg Variations – his Nov. 6, 3 p.m., concert, will take place at Congregation Beth Israel.
“An ode to silence” is how Rondeau has described the Variations. “I feel they were written for silence, in the sense that they take the place of silence,” he says. “All Bach is there in the Goldberg Variations … all music is there … and I will no doubt spend my life working on them.”
Robert Silverman is one of the musicians featured in Under the Radar, by David Eisenstadt. (photo from Robert Silverman)
Under the Radar: 30 Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians, which I wrote with Alan L. Simons (editor), takes an historical approach, covering musicians of most genres and genders, some alive and others having passed on, all skilled, but excelling somewhat out of sight. This is the first in a three-part series of excerpts from the book, which was released last November, and is available in paperback and as an ebook from amazon.ca. The excerpts feature performers with B.C. roots: Robert Silverman, Ben Mink and Mike Kobluk.
Robert Herschel Silverman is one of Canada’s premier pianists. He was born in Montreal, Que., on May 25, 1938, to Jewish parents from the Ukraine and Romania. Globe and Mail reporter Marsha Lederman wrote, “when he was just 4, after seeing how he was drawn to classical music programs on the radio, he was signed up (by his parents) for piano lessons. By his second lesson, Silverman could identify notes by ear. He could read sheet music before he could read words. But even as he continued with his lessons through high school and university, he never considered a career in piano.”
At 6, Silverman played his first recital. His debut at 14 was with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. At 23, he planned to become an engineer but decided to be a classical pianist. Lederman reported Silverman saying, “It was really, really late. It’s not the way to do it.”
He earned undergrad arts and music degrees in the 1960s from Sir George Williams (now Concordia) University. He studied with Dorothy Morton (the daughter of Silverman’s childhood piano teacher) at McGill University, and with Cecile Genhart at the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, N.Y. He also earned a Canada Council grant to enrol at the Vienna Academy of Music.
Silverman won the top piano prize at the Jeunesses Musicales Canada national competition, playing twice at Expo ’67. His Allied Arts piano competition success earned a recital debut in Chicago’s Orchestra Hall in 1970. He made his New York Lincoln Centre debut before he turned 40, in 1978, where the New York Timesdescribed him as “a polished and thoroughly finished technician and an extremely articulate [virtuoso].”
Silverman performed with global and Canadian orchestras conducted by John Eliot Gardiner, Neeme Jarvi, Kiril Kondrashin, Zdenek Macal, Seiji Ozawa and Gerard Schwarz.
In his 30s, he was an artist-in-residence at Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y.; he also taught at the University of California in Santa Barbara from 1969 to 1970, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee 1970-73. He moved to Vancouver to join the University of British Columbia as professor of music (piano) in 1973. He was the director of UBC’s music school 1991-95, retiring as professor emeritus of music in 2003. Celebrating his 30-year tenure, Silverman received an honorary doctorate in 2004.
Working with Adrienne Cohen, the former music program director at Toronto’s Koffler Centre of the Arts, Silverman, in 2002, was the artist-in-residence.
“My relationship was informal with no written contract. I received an honorarium for seasonal concerts. I appreciated the opportunity to maintain a visible presence in Toronto’s music life and to help Adrienne enhance and enlarge classical music’s role. Although I’m not observant from a religious standpoint, I am keenly aware of my Jewish heritage and pleased to be affiliated with Koffler, whose programs were attuned to the Jewish community in its traditional sense,” he said.
“I grew up when many North American Jewish luminaries were visible – Horowitz, Rubinstein, Bernstein, Reiner, Heifetz, Menuhin and the up-and-comers, Fleisher, Graffman and Rabin. My musicality was shaped by their warm manner of phrasing and attention to tonal beauty, qualities I hold dear and continue to strive towards.”
He returned to Montreal in 2008 to initiate the Dorothy Morton Visiting Artist series at McGill University’s Schulich School of Music, performing there on its 10th anniversary. He and his wife also endowed a biannual Robert and Ellen Silverman Piano Concerto Competition.
His discography numbers 30-plus CDs and 12 LPs. He received an Order of Canada in 2013.
As a Vancouver-based retiree and a Steinway artist, Silverman devotes himself full-time to recordings and concerts and is heard often on the CBC and Radio-Canada networks.
Libby Yu performed A Concert for the Soul on June 28, hosted by Jewish Seniors Alliance and the Kehila Society of Richmond. (screenshot)
On June 28, Jewish Seniors Alliance and the Kehila Society of Richmond presented classical pianist Libby Yu in performance via Zoom. A Concert for the Soul was the last session of the 2020-21 JSA Snider Foundation Empowerment Series.
Toby Rubin, coordinator of Kehila Society, welcomed everyone to the concert and introduced Yu, who was born and grew up in Richmond. An accomplished performer, collaborator, teacher and adjudicator, Yu has graced international stages and has appeared as soloist with major symphony orchestras. She brings her passion for music to audiences of all ages and venues. She is an artist for the Health Arts Society’s Concerts in Care, which allows her to share her music in residential care homes and hospitals. Rubin encouraged us all to watch Yu’s fingers as they moved on the keyboard.
Yu greeted everyone from her home, saying how much she enjoys performing for JSA and Kehila and that she looks forward to playing for us in person in the future. She told us that she would be playing Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert and Frédéric Chopin.
The first piece was Beethoven’s Moonlight in three movements. The first was slow, the second light and happy, while the third was dramatic with many runs and chords.
The next piece was Schubert’s Impromptu, 4th Opus in A Flat Major. This piece is full of cascades, arpeggios, with a beautiful melody. It is in the ABA format, where the third movement returns to the melody of the first.
This was followed by two of Chopin’s Etudes, the first in F minor and the second his well-known revolutionary étude that reflects his turmoil over the instability of his native Poland.
Yu ended her performance with a Chopin Ballade, in G minor. The main theme is a quiet, still melody that builds in virtuosity and then flourishes to huge dramatic chords. The coda is fast and exciting.
It is indeed a pleasure to watch Yu in her intensity and concentration. After her performance, she thanked us and said she hoped the music brought us all joy.
Gyda Chud, co-president of JSA, thanked Yu for the program. She reminded everyone that, in the past, events with Kehila have included lunch and, hopefully, we will all be able to enjoy both lunch and a performance in person soon.
Chud again thanked Yu, saying the concert was not only an inspiration for the soul, but also for the heart and mind.
The Empowerment Series will continue with the theme “Be Inspired” for the 2021-22 season.
Shanie Levinis program coordinator for Jewish Seniors Alliance and on the editorial board of Senior Line magazine.
The new Jewish Seniors Alliance Snider Foundation Empowerment Series season began on Oct. 19 with a concert. As usual, the program was co-sponsored by JSA and a community organization; in this case, the Kehila Society of Richmond. Because of the pandemic, the event took place on Zoom.
Last year’s Empowerment theme, “Be Inspired,” was carried forward for this year’s season. Fifty participants tuned in to Music in the Afternoon, which featured pianist Lester Soo and vocalist Maria Cristina Fantini. Soo is an accomplished musician who has taught, adjudicated, accompanied and performed in the world of music for many years, while Fantini – a dramatic soprano, at home in both classical and popular styles – teaches and has established her own vocal studio.
Toby Rubin, coordinator of Kehila Society, welcomed everyone and introduced Soo and Fantini.
JSA’s Gyda Chud spoke about the alliance and recalled that Soo and Fantini had performed in a joint program in the past. This time, the musicians performed from Soo’s home, where he was able to make use of his grand piano.
The audience was entertained by a number of old favourites, starting from the 1930s. Songs included “Unforgettable,” “When I Fall in Love” and “Besame Mucho.” These were followed by works by Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, k.d. lang’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and “Tonight” from West Side Story. The duo then switched to the jazz genre, with “Misty.” Lester played a solo of “Over the Rainbow” and he and Fantini ended with an aria by Puccini, “O, My Beloved Father.”
It was a wonderful concert. The only problem was that the musicians couldn’t hear the applause because the audience was muted for the performance. However, Rubin thanked Soo and Fantini on everyone’s behalf.
Byron Schenkman performs in the concert called Chopin Preludes on Aug. 1 at Christ Church Cathedral. (photo from Byron Schenkman)
“I think Chopin was an exceptionally sensitive pianist and composer – more of a poet than most. Sometimes his music is almost painfully beautiful. And, these days, I think we need all the poetry and beauty and sensitivity we can find!” Byron Schenkman told the Independent.
Schenkman returns to the Vancouver Bach Festival this year. Presented by Early Music Vancouver, they will perform preludes by Frédéric Chopin on Early Music’s 19th-century Broadwood fortepiano on Aug. 1, 1 p.m., with a pre-concert talk at 12:15 p.m., at Christ Church Cathedral.
The concert is a collaboration with the Vancouver Chopin Society. Describing Chopin as “a central figure of 19th-century Romanticism,” the program summary notes that “his connections to Bach are clear in his own preludes, which were directly inspired by Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier.” To place “Chopin’s music in the context of Romantic composers who influenced his work,” Schenkman’s performance will include pieces by Maria Szymanowska, Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms.
Of playing Chopin, Schenkman said, “I think the biggest challenge – and the greatest joy – is honouring the delicacy of Chopin’s music even when it is intellectually complex and emotionally very deep. Compared with performing most other composers’ work, it’s like creating art out of glass instead of marble or bronze.”
Schenkman performs on piano, harpsichord and fortepiano, which is, simply, a piano made in the 18th and early 19th century. They also have contributed to more than 40 CDs, including some on which they have played on historical instruments from the National Music Museum, in Vermillion, S.D., and from the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston. The award-winning musician is a founding member of several ensembles, and teaches music history at Seattle University, as well as being a guest lecturer on the harpsichord and fortepiano at other institutions. In 2013, they launched Byron Schenkman & Friends, a Baroque and classical chamber music series in Seattle.
A graduate of the New England Conservatory and Indiana University, Schenkman said, “I grew up in a home with lots of music. I often heard one of my older sisters practising the piano and it is still a very comforting sound for me, especially the repertoire that she practised most: Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin.”
In past Bach Festivals, Schenkman has performed Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Felix Mendelssohn and Ignaz Moscheles.
“I am really happy to be returning to Vancouver, one of my favourite cities,” they said. “And I am honoured to be part of the wonderful Vancouver Bach Festival along with so many inspiring colleagues.”
This year’s 14-concert festival, which runs July 30 to Aug. 9, begins with EMV’s ensemble-in-residence, Les Boréades, in a performance over two nights – July 30 and 31 at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts – of Bach’s Complete Brandenburg Concertos. It also closes at the Chan Centre – with Henry Purcell’s Hail Bright Cecilia – but the other concerts take place at Christ Church. For tickets and more information, visit earlymusic.bc.ca or call 604-822-2697.
“Dueling pianists” Lester Soo and Marilyn Glazer entertain at the last Empowerment Series session of the season. (photo from JSA)
Co-sponsored by Jewish Seniors Alliance and the Kehila Society of Richmond, the fifth session of this season’s JSA Snider Foundation Empowerment Series took place at Congregation Beth Tikvah. It more than lived up to the series’ theme this year: “Renewing and Reinventing Ourselves.”
As usual, the program was preceded by a lunch provided by Stacey Kettleman. Beth Tikvah’s Rabbi Adam Rubin did the Hamotzi and Toby Rubin, co-executive director of the Kehila Society, welcomed everyone. Among the 120 or so attendees were members of the Kehila Society and of JSA, as well as a group from L’Chaim Adult Day Care.
The entertainment portion of the program took place in the sanctuary, where Ken Levitt, president of JSA, spoke briefly and Rubin introduced the “dueling pianists”: Marilyn Glazer and Lester Soo, both of whom are accomplished musicians and piano instructors. The two have known each other for 35 years and have been playing duets for much of that time – one piano, four hands. At the Empowerment Series performance, they began with four Hungarian rhapsodies and continued with Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. They then played a number of Gershwin tunes and ended with Cole Porter.
Rubin thanked the pianists for their wonderful performance, which was the last event of the 2018/19 Empowerment Series. The series will begin again in the fall, with a new lineup of events presented by JSA with other seniors groups in the community.
Shanie Levinis an executive board member of Jewish Seniors Alliance and on the editorial board of Senior Line magazine.
Yefim Bronfman performs Johannes Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra at the Orpheum Dec. 6 and 8. (photo from VSO)
“I don’t think it can be overstated, the significance of having an artist like Yefim Bronfman, like Yitzhak Perlman, who’s coming later in the season, as well. These are living legends in our field,” said Misha Aster, vice-president, artistic planning and production, at the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, in a phone interview with the Independent.
“It’s a testament to the city and to the orchestra that artists of this stature take the time to visit with us,” he said. “But it’s also an occasion for us to celebrate their presence here because it’s unusual – it’s a rare opportunity to hear artists of this calibre and of this experience perform works that are landmarks of the repertoire.”
On Dec. 6 and 8 at the Orpheum, Bronfman and the orchestra will perform Johannes Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2. The concert also features Richard Strauss’s Don Juan and Franz Liszt’s Les preludes.
Initial discussions for the December performances took place about two-and-a-half years ago. That’s a long time, said Aster, “but, for an artist of his calibre, that’s generally what’s required to get a date fixed in his calendar.”
While Bronfman is in tremendous demand, Aster said, “He loves Vancouver, which helps. Every visit he has made here in the past, he has reiterated his affection for the city, and for the orchestra.”
The upcoming concerts are not just a musical highlight of the VSO season, said Aster, “but one of the flagship statements of our season.”
He added, “The program he’s coming with, as well – the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 – is considered one of the Everests of the repertoire. It’s not frequently performed. It’s a very large piece, a very demanding piece for the soloist and for the orchestra, as well; it has a major solo cello part.”
The choice of music for a program with a visiting artist is “a discussion,” said Aster. “It’s a dynamic process between soloist, conductor and orchestra. There’s a need for balance between those elements.”
Bronfman has performed the Brahms before. “The combination [of Bronfman] together with Jun Märkl, who is a much-beloved conductor here with the orchestra, made Brahms a possibility,” Aster said.
The other compositions in the December program – Strauss’s Don Juan and Liszt’s Les preludes – will be played by the orchestra on its own. “They all fit within a certain genre,” noted Aster of the works. “It’s not coincidental programming, by any means.”
Brahms and Liszt were contemporaries, he explained, “but at opposite poles of the spectrum when it came to musical development of the later 19th century and the debate over what was considered ‘program music,’ that was music meant to tell a story, that was reflective of a certain kind of dramatic narrative, as opposed to purely abstract music or symphonic music that had its roots in the more classical esthetic.”
The latter was Brahms’ approach, said Aster, whereas Liszt was a champion of “this new kind of programmatic approach to music.” And Strauss “was considered an heir to Liszt with respect to that, so both of those tone poems – Les preludes and Don Juan – are narrative works of program music, and they’re juxtaposed with this massive concerto by Brahms, which is Brahms’ reiteration of his musical principles.”
Aster arrived in Vancouver for his position at the VSO in mid-August. Born in Hamilton, Ont., he had been in Berlin almost 13 years. Prior to that, he was in Austria for a couple of years.
Aster trained as a violinist at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, and studied political science, history and dramaturgy at McGill University, the London School of Economics and Harvard University. In his career, he’s been based in Europe largely, but he has always kept in touch with Canada, he said, as his grandmother is in Toronto and his parents divide their time between Ontario and a base in Europe. Aster’s wife, Kinneret Sieradzki, is Israeli and the couple has a 2-year-old daughter, Laila.
In Germany, Aster was working as an executive producer at Deutsche Grammophon, the recording label Universal Music, and he maintains a role at the Gustavo Dudamel Foundation, where he was director of programs. His move to Vancouver marks the first time he has lived in Canada since he was a teenager.
“It’s a major orchestra in this country,” Aster said about what attracted him to the job with the VSO. “It’s a very important cultural player, certainly in Western Canada, and I remember, even growing up in Toronto, having a sense that important things were happening in musical life in Vancouver and that the VSO was a formidable force in Canadian music.”
Recently, the whole organization has undergone a significant transition, with longtime musical director Bramwell Tovey retiring. “It was the ending of an era and the beginning of something new,” said Aster. “I hadn’t met Otto Tausk, the new music director, before we began the process of discussing the possibility of my joining the team here but I was immediately impressed by him, by the integrity of his musicianship, by his vision for the orchestra.”
Aster also had a sense, he said, of Tausk “being very European in outlook, in disposition, in artistic values, in his connections and contacts.” This was a world with which Aster had been familiar for a long time, so he felt that “it would be an interesting opportunity” and that he “could be a helpful fit in that sense,” of being originally from Canada and having roots here, “but also, in a professional sense, of being very familiar with the environment from which Maestro Tausk comes. That chemistry was really the key.” Adding to that was the organization’s “ambition with respect to an artistic agenda but also what the orchestra intends to mean for the community.”
The VSO is “an incredibly busy organization,” said Aster. “We produce 150 concerts a year, which is a lot, in relative terms, compared to many other orchestras in the country. And it has to do with the fact that the orchestra has always had the mandate to address itself to a range of different communities and a range of different musical tastes in the city. Unlike many other major orchestras in the country, we perform in 15 different venues around Greater Vancouver through the season in various configurations, based out of our home in the Orpheum, where we have our major subscription series.”
Part of Aster’s job is to ensure that it’s “not just a functional run-out that we do to North Van or to Surrey with a program, but that what we’re trying to program for those communities and for venues in those communities reflects a point of access for them into the world of music that we represent.”
Tickets for Bronfman’s performance at the Orpheum range from $16.25 to $125 and can be purchased from vancouversymphony.ca.