Thursday, April 30, 2015

Programming - May 2015


Monthly Theme

This month’s Friday podcasts propose great pianists of the past and present as recitalists, performing the works of a single composer. The last podcast of this 5-Friday calendar month, we will be sharing our 200th music montage which – as we have done in the case of significant milestones – will exceed our self-imposed 90-minute limit.

As we have done all year, we plan to consolidate some of these and past music shares on a sonata hubbub.

Friday Blog and Podcast

Pierre’s Tuesday Blog

Once or Twice a Fortnight

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Friday, April 24, 2015

James Ehnes

No. 195 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


Our long look at concertos, as well as our tryptich of montages on Max Bruch’s violin concertos both come to an end today, with this two-work playlist featuring Canadian violinist James Ehnes. Known for his virtuosity and probing musicianship, violinist James Ehnes has performed in over 30 countries on five continents, appearing regularly in the world’s great concert halls and with many of the most celebrated orchestras and conductors.

James Ehnes was born in 1976 in Brandon, Manitoba where he began violin studies at the age of four, and at age nine became a protégé of the noted Canadian violinist Francis Chaplin. He studied with Sally Thomas at the Meadowmount School of Music and from 1993 to 1997 at The Juilliard School, winning the Peter Mennin Prize for Outstanding Achievement and Leadership in Music upon his graduation. Mr. Ehnes first gained national recognition in 1987 as winner of the Grand Prize in Strings at the Canadian Music Competition. The following year he won the First Prize in Strings at the Canadian Music Festival, the youngest musician ever to do so. At age 13, he made his major orchestral solo debut with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal.

James has won numerous awards and prizes, including the first-ever Ivan Galamian Memorial Award, the Canada Council for the Arts’ Virginia Parker Prize, and a 2005 Avery Fisher Career Grant. James has been honoured by Brandon University with a Doctor of Music degree (honoris causa) and in 2007 he became the youngest person ever elected as a Fellow to the Royal Society of Canada. In 2010 the Governor General of Canada appointed James a Member of the Order of Canada, and in 2013 he was named an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music, limited to a select group of 300 living distinguished musicians.

The Ehnes discography numbers over 35 recordings featuring music ranging from J.S. Bach to John Adams. His recordings have been honored with many international awards and prizes, including a Grammy, a Gramophone, and ten Juno Awards.

James Ehnes plays the "Marsick" Stradivarius of 1715. He and his family make their home in Bradenton, Florida far away from the long, cold winters of his native Western Canadian Prairies.

Sir William Walton’s Violin concerto was commissioned by Jascha Heifetz in 1936. The premiere of the original version took place on December 7, 1939, in Cleveland, with Heifetz on violin and the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Artur Rodziński. Heifetz made the first recording of the piece, with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conducted by Eugene Goossens, in 1942. The revised version premiered on January 17, 1944, in Wolverhampton, England, with Henry Holst on violin and the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Malcolm Sargent. Among the works written by Walton around the same time are the march Crown Imperial and and the Second Orchestral Suite from Façade (1938). The violin concertos of Samuel Barber, Ernest Bloch, Benjamin Britten, Paul Hindemith, and Walter Piston are contemporary, and Berg's, Schoenberg's, Bartók's second, and Prokofiev's second violin concertos were completed within the three years preceding the start of Walton's composition, making it certainly one of the great works for the instrument in the first half of the 20th Century.

Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 3 in D minor was composed in 1891 and dedicated to his friend and colleague at the Berlin Academy of Music, the eminent violinist Joseph Joachim, who had persuaded Bruch to expand what had started out as a single movement concert piece into a full violin concerto.

Like last week’s second, and despite being advocated by Joachim and Pablo de Sarasate, the third concerto, which differed from its predecessors in its adherence to traditional classical structures never attained the same prominence as his first or his Scottish Fantasy. In a sense, it is referred to sometimes as a curiosity or even “a unicorn” since it was hardly played, it was believed as “stuff of musical folklore”.

I think you will love this music too!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Pablo de Sarasate (1844 - 1908)

No. 194 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


The second of our three-part look at the violin concertos of Max Bruch considers one of the greatest violinists and composers for the instrument of his generation, Spain’s Pablo de Sarasate. The playwright and music critic George Bernard Shaw once declared that though there were many composers of music for the violin, there were but few composers of violin music. Of Sarasate's talents as performer and composer, Shaw said that he "left criticism gasping miles behind him".

Pablo Sarasate was born in Pamplona,  the son of an artillery bandmaster. He began studying the violin with his father at the age of five and later took lessons from a local teacher. So well received was his  first public concert at the age of eight that a wealthy patron provided for Sarasate to study under Manuel Rodríguez Saez in Madrid, and laterunder Jean-Delphin Alard at the Paris Conservatoire at the age of twelve. There, at seventeen, Sarasate entered a competition and received the Premier Prix for his instrument at the prestigious institution.

Sarasate’s career took off after his Paris debut in 1860, touring many parts of the world, performing in Europe, North America, and South America. His artistic pre-eminence was due principally to the purity of his tone, which was free from any tendency towards the sentimental or rhapsodic, and to that impressive facility of execution that made him a virtuoso.

In his early career, Sarasate performed mainly showpieces, most notably the Carmen Fantasy, and various other pieces that he had composed in order to demonstrate his exemplary technique. The popularity of Sarasate's Spanish flavour in his compositions is reflected in the work of his contemporaries; like Édouard Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole which was dedicated to Sarasate; Georges Bizet's Carmen; and Camille Saint-Saëns' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, written expressly for Sarasate and dedicated to him.

Today’s podcast begins with a selection of chamber virtuoso Spanish dances for piano and violin, again showcasing this month’s violinist James Ehnes. Ehnes is also our featured soloist in Bruch’s second violin concerto which has a link to the Spanish virtuoso.

Indeed, like Lalo, Wieniawski and Saint-Saëns, Max Bruch composed two works for Sarasate; Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor was composed around 1878, dedicated to and premiered in London by Sarasate with Bruch conducting, in November 1878. Less frequently heard than last week’s concerto, Bruch himself regarded the second as at least as fine as the famous first.

Partly because of the poor critical reception of the concerto, Bruch decided to dedicate a second work to Sarasate: his Scottish Fantasy (which, oddly enough, was premiered by Joseph Joachim and not by Sarasate). Since we have already featured the Fantasy on a podcast, I chose to provide here a YouTube video of the work, again featuring James Ehnes and the Montreal Symphony (part of a Juno Award winnin release of both works).

Sarasate died in 1908 from chronic bronchitis. He bequeathed his violin, made by Antonio Stradivari in 1724, to the Musée de la Musique. The violin now bears his name as the Sarasate Stradivarius in his memory. His second Stradivari violin, the Boissier of 1713, is now owned by Real Conservatorio Superior de Música, Madrid. The Pablo Sarasate International Violin Competition is held in Pamplona.

Tomás Bretón (1850 –1923) was a Spanish conductor and composer who lived in Sarasate’s time. Breton was one of the rare Spaniards to write symphonic music as in Spain, orchestral ensembles barely existed. Among his compositions, there is a violin concerto which Bretón dedicated to the memory of Sarasate. This work completes our podcast this week.

I think you will love this music too

Friday, April 10, 2015

Max Bruch (1838-1920)

No. 193 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


For the remaining three Fridays in April, I have programmed a short series on the concertos of Max Bruch, featuring the violin concertos played by the Canadian violinist James Ehnes. James will be contributing a concerto every week in this short arc, beginning this week with Bruch’s first violin concerto, one of the most popular violin concertos in the repertoire.

The concerto was first completed in 1866 and its first performance was given in April of that year with violinist Otto von Königslow, Bruch himself conducting. The concerto was then considerably revised with help from celebrated violinist Joseph Joachim and completed in its present form in 1867. Joachim was the soloist for the first performance of the revised concerto in January 1868.

Bruch was born in Cologne and received his early musical training under the composer and pianist Ferdinand Hiller (to whom Robert Schumann dedicated his piano concerto in A minor). At the age of nine he wrote his first composition, and took his first lessons in serious music theory at age 11. From then on music was his passion, his studies having been enthusiastically supported by his parents.

Bruch had a long career as a teacher, conductor and composer, moving among musical posts in Germany: Mannheim (1862–1864), Koblenz (1865–1867), Sondershausen, (1867–1870), Berlin (1870–1872), and Bonn, where he spent 1873–78 working privately. At the height of his career he spent three seasons as conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society (1880–83). He taught composition at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik from 1890 until his retirement in 1910.
His complex and unfailingly well-structured works, in the German Romantic musical tradition, placed him in the camp of Romantic classicism exemplified by Johannes Brahms, rather than the opposing "New Music" of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. In his time he was known primarily as a choral composer.

In the realm of chamber music, Bruch is not well known, although his "Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola and Piano" are occasionally performed – as they are here today. We note that Bruch’s son, Max Felix, was a fine clarinetist and may have been composed for him to play. The Concerto for Clarinet, Viola, and Orchestra in E minor was composed in 1911 for his son and received its first performance in 1912, with Willy Hess (viola) and Max Felix Bruch (clarinet) as the soloists.

At the end of World War I, Bruch was destitute, having been unable to enforce the payment of royalties for his works because of chaotic world-wide economic conditions and died shortly thereafter in his house in Berlin-Friedenau in 1920.

I think you  will love this music too.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Christus am Ölberge

No. 192 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at



This week's Friday Podcast takes a break from our ongoing concerto series, and considers musical settings of aspects of the Passion.

Christus am Ölberge (Christ at the Mount of Olives) is Beethoven's only sacred oratorio and represents a third of his sacred output. This oratorio, along with two masses (his Mass in C and the Missa Solemnis) form the complete set.

Christus am Ölberge, is all about the anguish and despair felt by Christ on the eve of his crucifixion, as he reflects in the Mount of Olives during a sleepless night. The oratorio ends with Christ accepting his fate, choosing his sacrifice of his own free will.

The work was written over a very short time (based on which story you believe, from a few days to a couple of weeks), at or around the time of Beethoven’s Heiligenstädter Testament, an unsent letter where Beethoven reveals he is going deaf, and goers through his own battle with anguish and despair.

Interestingly, Beethoven does not consider a complete setting of the Passion (as others have done), rather focusing on one specific episode. In doing so, Beethoven creates a work of human proportions (rather than a two-hour magnum opus), allowing for a focus on the human aspects rather than a continuous narrative of the biblical story. The libretto for this oratorio is from poet Franz Xaver Huber, and the work was likely created in the lenten season of 1803 (April 5th) in a concert that also premiered his second symphony. The work is later revised in 1811, explaining its later Hess number (op. 85) compared to that of its contemporary symphony (op. 36). The work was published near the time of the MasS in C (op. 86).

Beethoven, we note, was not kind to the libretto, writing “Putting aside the value of such poetry (…) I rather would have set Homer, Klopstock or Schiller to music. If they have their share of difficulties, such immortals are worth it.“

To complete the podcast, I chose a suite of selectons from Ibert's mudic for the 1935 French film Golgotha by Julien Duvivier. featuring stars of the era such as Harry Baur, Jean Gabin, Edwige Feuillère and Juliette Verneuil. Robert Le Vigan was to give a remarkable interpretation of Christ.

Ibert’s score is very demanding and dramatic. It plays an important part in a picture containing long sequences almost without dialogue. The version featured today is a suite assembled by Ibert himself, using various unaltered cues, but played by a larger ensemble. The original wind section which consisted of solo instruments, in accordance with the standard concession film composers had to make towards the primitive sound possibilities of the thirties, was therefore doubled when necessary, and the part of the second martenot re-arranged into sections for bass-clarinet, tuba and vibraphone.

The original ad libitum wind effects played by the ondes martenot in the last movement were reduced to a few specific interventions. An eight-minute cut, containing some of the most exciting music, and the crossing-out of the final quotation of the opening fanfare, following the lovely funeral procession à la Satie, were restored, in order to give the suite a cyclic unity.

I think you will love this music too.