Music offerings this month

Master Piano Recital Series presents ‘Two’s Company’

By Roland Graham

Serhiy Salov, with Philippe Prud’homme, will perform a pre-Christmas program in the Master Piano Recital Series at Southminster United Church on November 28. Courtesy of S. Salov

Serious fans of the classical piano and anyone else wishing to be dazzled by a truly original pre-Christmas presentation will be delighted to learn that the extraordinary Russian pianist Serhiy Salov will return to Southminster United Church this month with a special guest duet partner, the gifted and prodigious young Québécois pianist Philippe Prud’homme, for a program of improvisations on popular Christmas carols.

The two pianists, both highly acclaimed composers and virtuoso improvisers, will render their selection – a mixture of solos and duets – in the styles of famous classical composers. The audience will be invited to guess both the tune and the composer.

First though, Salov will perform his spectacular rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet music. No guess work will be needed here; the score is among the most recognizable and iconic of holiday fare. But Salov’s arrangement will leave you wondering how there is only one pianist with just two hands and 10 fingers playing it.

The story of The Nutcracker is one of frequent adaptation through literary/musical incarnations to the ballet we think of today. Originally a fantasy novella by E.T.A. Hoffman, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, Tchaikovsky’s score was written to accompany Alexandre Dumas’ adaptation to a children’s fable. And Tchaikovsky, paraphrasing himself, released  the Nutcracker Suite – a shortened instrumental-only version – before the ballet itself was premiered.

Arrangements and adaptations of Tchaikovsky’s famous score abound. For pianists, Mikhail Pletnev’s iconic arrangement is the standard reference, though the great pianist only set seven of the movements. Salov’s adaptation, to some extent picking up where Pletnev left off, extends the scope to 11 and explores even further the modern piano’s ability to evoke the colours and breadth of textures of a 20th-century orchestra.

Born into the exceptional pianistic tradition of Ukraine, Salov gave his first public concert, a performance of the Grieg piano concerto with the Ukrainian National Orchestra, at age 11. His formative years in Eastern Europe, England and Canada saw a flurry of competition wins, including top prizes in Montreal (2004), Dudley (2000), Épinal (2004) and the Richard Lupien Improvisation Prize, a special award category in the Montreal International Musical Competition, in 2014.

Salov has performed the world over as a soloist and with ensembles including the Berlin Philharmonic, the Hallé Orchestra, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre National de Radio France, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Tokyo Symphony. The conductors he has worked with include Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Leonard Slatkin. In 2013, he toured South America, playing Liszt’s second piano concerto with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra under Kent Nagano.

Prud’homme, Salov’s partner for this concert, was born and raised in Canada. Hailing from Saint-Jérôme, Quebec, Prud’homme began music studies at the age of 12 and was admitted only four years later to university, before finishing high school. He went on to complete his Masters in piano performance at the Université de Montréal, studying under Dang Thai Son.

Prud’homme has won first prizes at the Canadian Music Competition (2009, 2013) and at the SMCQ (Société de musique contemporaine du Québec) competition (2012) for his solo playing. He has taken numerous top prizes as a chamber musician and performed as a soloist with noteworthy ensembles, including the Orchestre de la Francophonie and I Musici de Montréal.

Salov and Prud’homme will perform at Southminster United Church, 15 Aylmer Avenue, on Thursday November 28th at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for students and $35 for premium seating (first five rows). Save $5 by purchasing tickets online in advance through eventbrite.ca. Call 613-421-5362 for additional information.

Roland Graham is artistic director of the Master Piano Recital Series of concerts held at Southminster United Church.

Two’s Company

Piano adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s famous Nutcracker Suite
with improvisations on Christmas carols
Serhiy Salov and Philippe Prud’homme

November 28, 7:30 PM

Southminster United Church,
15 Aylmer Avenue
Tickets: $25-35 on eventbrite.ca


More than an ordinary Christmas concert

The 130-odd voices of Big Soul Project at last year’s Christmas concert

By Seema Akhtar

Think all Christmas concerts are created equal – a bit of Frosty the Snowman, some Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, sprinkled with a little Santa Claus is Coming to Town? Well, think again.

Big Soul Project and Deep Groove Band have been regaling Ottawa audiences with a different kind of Christmas concert for many years now.

Roxanne Goodman, Big Soul Project’s musical director, works hard to come up with the perfect program for every one of the choir’s concert. She often challenges the flexibility and memorization skills of choir members by changing the program several times, sometimes at the last minute.

“When I am coming up with a program for a concert, my first step is to check in with the community we are serving,” says Goodman. “I talk to people, listen to their worries, fears, hopes and dreams and I let that inspire my song choice. I always want to put together a program that I think will meet people where they are, help and inspire them. I want people to come out and hear songs that make them say ‘Oh yes, that’s just what I’ve been thinking or feeling or wanting.’ Songs that make them feel the whole range of human emotion. Songs that give them hope and make them want to sing out loud.”

Goodman goes on to talk about the theme for this year’s Christmas concert: The Power of One Voice. She says she was inspired by young women like Greta Thunberg, Malala and Chanel Miller who have all had the courage to stand up for what they believe in no matter how difficult that has been.

“These young women believed they had something of value to say. They believed in their power to change things, and they went for it,” says Goodman, “I believe that each and every one of us can do the same in some way. Some of us go big like Greta, and some of us do it in small everyday ways that can still make a big difference.”

Goodman smiles a bit sadly and tells me she meets more and more people who feel discouraged about what’s going on in the world. She tells me they feel powerless to make a difference. Then her smile grows wider as she says: “We all need to be reminded of our inherent power and agency once in a while. And I see it as my job to be that reminder for people. So that’s what this year’s Big Soul Project Christmas concert is all about – 130-odd voices coming together to deliver a message of hope: ‘You are powerful beyond measure. What you do and say matters and will make a difference’.”

“We have all seen what one passionate, motivated person who speaks her heart and mind can do,” says Goodman. “When Greta Thunberg started protesting for action on climate change last summer, she was alone with her sign. But just one year later, millions of people around the world marched in the biggest environmental protests in history. That is what happens when you believe in yourself and you raise your voice for change.”

And raising their voices for change is what Big Soul Project is all about. The choir and band perform often to raise awareness and funds for local and international charities. Last year, Big Soul Project raised more than $27,000 for organizations that do everything from helping girls and women in Tanzania get an education and start small businesses to feeding disadvantaged people in Ottawa.

You’ll have two chances to catch Big Soul Project and Deep Groove Band before Christmas:

Roxanne Goodman, Big Soul Project’s musical director, doing the work she is meant to do: bringing hope and joy. Photos: Jake@withflare.org

On Monday, December 2 for the Dress Rehearsal concert at the Fourth Avenue Baptist Church at 816 Bank Street, where the choir and band rehearse every Monday night.

 

On Saturday, December 7 for the Christmas concert at the Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre at the corner of O’Connor and Cooper streets.

Both concerts start at 7:30 p.m. and doors open at 6:30 p.m. The shows usually sell out so get your tickets soon at bigsoulproject.com or at Compact Music, 785 Bank Street.

Big Soul Project is a non-audition community choir, 130-odd voices strong, whose motto is Lifting You Higher. The choir welcomes anyone – no matter who they are or how well they sing. Because, as Goodman says, “Each one of us has a unique voice, and when we listen to all voices, it makes us better.”

Seema Akhtar has raised her voice with Big Soul Project for more than 10 years.


Caelis Academy Ensemble takes Handel to not-so-distant shores

By Roland Graham

Handel’s Messiah got bad reviews the first time it was performed in London but it has become a Christmas classic. And it will get another airing November 24, when Matthew Larkin’s Caelis Academy Ensemble makes its Quebec debut by presenting its first full-length Messiah at the Church of Saint-François-de-Sales in Gatineau.

One of the earliest performances of the Messiah – its London debut – was a flop. Politics overshadowed anticipation of Handel’s latest major offering; the idea of a “religious work” being performed in a theatre rather than a church was too much for many. They eventually came around – once Handel promised all proceeds from the London run would go to charity.

Nowadays local groups tend to split the difference, with Caelis’ upcoming performance being no exception. It will be a non-ecumenical offering, emphasizing a universally-relevant interpretation of predominantly Old Testament texts, offered in the inspiring and acoustically uplifting setting of a beautiful church beside the river.

In the same way Handel and his musicians journeyed across the Irish Sea to reach Dublin’s Royal Foundling Hospital nearly three centuries ago, the Caelis choristers and their orchestra colleagues from UPBEAT Ensemble will make the somewhat shorter trip over the Ottawa River. 

Joining the choir and instrumentalists are four exceptional Canadian soloists – soprano Susan Elizabeth Brown, mezzo-soprano Sarah Bissonnette, tenor Jeffrey Boyd and bass-baritone David John Pike – who will sing Messiah’s magnificent selection of vocal arias and duets, including some of Handel’s best-loved tunes.

Caelis is one of Canada’s newest choirs and the only professional-quality chorus comprised of youth and adults. It presents concerts and “sacred music events in the English Cathedral tradition.” The choir’s unique sound under the leadership of Larkin, one of Canada’s greatest Messiah interpreters, and supported by an outstanding chamber orchestra and superb soloists, promises a thrilling rendition of this Christmas work.

Actually, Messiah was not originally thought of as a Christmas work. It was premiered in Dublin in 1742 at Easter. It was more than a century before the Victorians shifted it to Advent as part of a general move to revive interest in that then-neglected holiday. Touching as it does on the full arc of Jesus’ story, Christmas is as good an association for Messiah as Easter.

Caelis has chosen the very last day of the Christian year, the feast of Christ the King, which celebrates the omnipotence and kingship of Christ and leads into Advent, which jointly anticipates Christ’s second coming and resets the whole narrative to harken his first arrival in Bethlehem.

Fans of a Christmas Messiah” may find this a tad early but it won’t beat the arrival of the Christmas season in the secular and commercial worlds. Perhaps a dose of serious artwork like this profound meditation on the Christian story – as relevant now as ever before, whether you believe or not – will help mitigate pre-holiday cynicism.

Saint-François-de-Sales is located at 799 Rue Jacques-Cartier in Gatineau, just across from Rockcliffe Park and is a five-minutes drive from the Byward Market. The church has parking for 200 vehicles, and there are several restaurants nearby where you can dine before or after the presentation.

Tickets can be found on eventbrite.ca (search “Messiah + Gatineau + eventbrite”). Call 613-421-5362 for additional information.

Roland Graham is artistic director of the Southminster music program and principal at UPBEAT! Productions.


A Child’s Christmas in Wales and John Rutter’s Gloria at St. Matthew’s

A Child’s Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas (1985) – illustration by Trina Schart Hyman. Photo: Estate of T.S. Hyman, with permission

By Valerie Needham

St. Matthew’s Anglican Church will present a dramatic reading of A Child’s Christmas in Wales by the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas on Saturday, December 14 at 7:30 pm. Former CBC radio host Rob Clipperton and St. Matthew’s parishioner Mary Glen will share in bringing this much-loved work to life.

Thomas was born in the southern Welsh seaport city of Swansea in 1914. This autobiographical story vividly recalls his memories of Christmas as a child, and it is packed with details that allow the listener to enter into the world of the 1920s. The story is peopled with his friends and relatives and although his family was not poor (his father was a grammar school English teacher), Thomas witnessed the poverty around them as he grew up.

The work is masterful in its conjuring of nostalgia of a much simpler time when “even the snow was better,” and Thomas’s use of exaggerated characters for comedic effect supports this idyllic childhood Christmas story.

Music is a powerful force in Welsh culture, with the valleys and towns of Wales boasting famous choirs whose singing captures their depth of feeling and sense of community. To complement this rendering of A Child’s Christmas in Wales, Kirkland Adsett, St. Matthew’s musical director, has made choral selections that he says “evoke the general mood of the poetry and the season and support the telling of this magical story.”

The major choral offering will be Gloria by the noted English composer and conductor John Rutter. The work is orchestrated for four trumpets, three trombones, tuba, organ, timpani and two percussionists. To match the bravura of the brass, the choir of St. Matthew’s will join forces with members of the Ottawa chamber ensemble Seventeen Voyces and other invited singers.

Adsett says Gloria is a technically challenging “tour-de-force” work in three contrasting movements. The text is from the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, “Gloria in excelsis Deo” (“Glory to God in the Highest”), the words the angels were said to have sung at the birth of Jesus.

The choir will also sing two other selections by Rutter, “The Very Best Time of the Year” and his arrangement of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” The audience will also have an opportunity to sing four traditional carols that would have been known to Welsh audiences between the two world wars.

“In planning this concert,” Adsett says, “my intent is to offer a gift to the wider community, particularly families who might appreciate its brevity (just over 60 minutes) and its free-will offering format.” Afterwards the audience will be invited to remain for a reception which will round out the evening and capture the sense of joy of the music and community fellowship.

Valerie Needham is a St. Matthew’s parishioner and member of its Communications Committee.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales and John Rutter’s Gloria

Saturday, December 14 at 7:30 p.m.
St. Matthew’s Anglican Church
130 Glebe Avenue (just west of Bank Street)
Information: 613-234-4024 or stmatthewsottawa.ca


Painting by Joseph Danis, an artist at Studio 507. Photo: Courtesy of Studio 507

Studio 507 and Tone Cluster Choir host evening of art and music

by Linda Pollock

Tone Cluster and Studio 507 are partnering to present an evening of art and music at Centretown United Church on November 23.

Joseph Danis is one of about a dozen community artists who regularly paint at Studio 507. It’s a Wednesday afternoon and he is at his easel in Studio 507 adding splashes of colour to his whimsical painting of skaters dancing across the Rideau Canal on a wintry afternoon. Some of his paintings have been exhibited in local galleries. The studio welcomes community artists who want to connect with the artistic community. It provides the materials – canvasses, paint, brushes and easels – and encouragement and guidance from professional artists who volunteer as mentors. Participants find a friendly space to be themselves and to strive for artistic excellence. The studio is a joint program of Centretown United Church and Centre 507, a community drop-in located on the 2nd floor of the church at Bank St. and Argyle. The studio operates every second Wednesday of the month and periodically offers workshops on various painting and mixed-media topics.

Tone Cluster choir is a 35-person auditioned choir offering a queer-positive environment where singers can be themselves while striving for choral excellence. The choir is performing “Quiet No More: A Choral Celebration of Stonewall” which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising in New York.

It all takes place on November 23 at Centretown United Church, 507 Bank St. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the concert begins at 7:30. Following the concert, at approximately 9 p.m., the audience is invited to a reception and art exhibit featuring the works of Studio 507 artists. Audience members can enjoy snacks and mingle with the singers and artists. Paintings and art cards will be available for sale. Concert tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door and can be bought online at tonecluster.org. For more information on Studio 507 please visit centretownunited.org.

Linda Pollock volunteers as coordinator of Studio 507. She was a Centre 507 board member before helping to start Studio 507 with a grant from the United Church of Canada’s Seeds of Hope program.

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