Reviews by Judith Caldwell
“FLY ME TO THE MOON”, via the NAO
Boris Brott and the N. A. O. accompanied Chris Jason, as Frank Sinatra, flew us to the moon and back. I have always been a bit leery of musicians who ‘cover’ other musicians, it often makes for a nostalgic and slightly boring evening, but trust the Brott Music Festival to do it properly and give us wonderful music plus a lot of fun.
The Orchestra began the evening by playing a series of Big Band hits to get us ‘in the mood’. Hearing these young musicians belt out solos made famous by the likes of Glenn Miller, Shaw, Goodman, Krupa & Harry James makes you realize what a depth of talent they represent.
Then Matthew Knipple, Chris Jason’s musical director, took over the podium for the balance of the first half. Jason looks a little like a young Frank Sinatra and when he opened his mouth to sing “The Lady is a Tramp”, it was Ole Blue Eyes’ voice that came out. He also has stage presence and almost as much attitude as the so-called Chairman of the Board. We had a string of classic Sinatra hits including some of those very difficult ones sung while sitting on a stool & drinking …the cigarette was missing, thank heavens.
After intermission Maestro Brott returned to the podium & the orchestra really let rip with “Swing, Swing, Swing” complete with the drum and clarinet solos. Having nicely fired us up again Jason returned with lots more Sinatra favourites. At one point during Call Me Irresponsible Brott and a lovely violinist danced to the music much to the audiences delight. It was a lively evening of excellent music lapped up by an appreciative audience who demanded and got several encores.
The group “KLEZTORY” performed an evening of klezmer music as part of the Brott Music Festival of 2014 at Adas Israel Synagogue. Klezmer is a musical tradition originating in the villages and ghettos of Eastern Europe, where nomadic Jewish musicians performed at weddings and other celebrations.It is a musical genre that has picked up echoes of the many lands it has travelled through and it requires artistic virtuosity to keep up with the irregular rhythm & tempo changes. It is unique, eclectic and instantly recognizable… the audience lapped it up.
The six members of Kleztory are each consummate musicians who obviously love this genre. They consist of Airat Ichmouratov on clarinet; violinist Elvira Miskakhova; Melanie Bergeron, accordian; bassist Mark Peetsma, Dany Nicolas on guitar and Alexandru Sura on the great-grandfather of the piano – an instrument called a cimbalom – which is played using hammers.
The music they chose offered a wide variety of klezmer from very traditional Serbian and Moldovan pieces to new ones composed by members of the group. We started off with a fast, fiery intro which set a blistering pace and showcased the clarinet and violin; and then we heard the mournful & eerie ‘Come Back from the River’; and that was followed by a breathtaking cimbalom solo. We also had a waltz and a strange and plaintive Serbian dance, and that was just the first half.
After intermission they showed us the wide range of klezmer, beginning by whistling the opening strains of the first piece. We had a virtuoso guitar solo; a pensive percussive piece that became very dramatic; and a country folk dance that would have been at home at any Hoedown; and then a Moldovan Hora that added instruments one at a time until it was a complex and lyric piece with a very distinctive beat.
The evening wrapped with a very traditional klezmer that had a fast galloping rhythm. The spontaneous standing ovation was followed by an amazing encore which began at the blistering pace of the intro piece and went on to have a very funny ‘drunken’ section where the players were staggering around the stage. This kind of music requires an extraordinary standard of ability, one almost needs to be impetuous, fiery plus emotional to perform it well and Kleztory certainly did so.
FROM BEETHOVEN TO BERGS …A Night to Remember
The July 4th, 2014 at Redeemer University College featured the full National Academy Orchestra, two pianos and a choir – as Maestro Brott remarked it was a challenge just to get onstage with all that happening.
The evening opened with a new setting of a traditional Dutch Reform hymn “It is Well with My Soul” composed by Roger Bergs. This was the world premiere of the piece and Bergs told us he had been inspired by the reaction of the family and friends of Tim Bosma to his murder – their lives were shattered but they never spoke of vengeance, and the incredible support they received from their church community helped them heal. So his music began with the choir singing a standard rendition of the hymn which was suddenly shattered by chaos and discord played by the orchestra and finally the choir returns and struggles to get back to normal, a state they finally gloriously achieve. It sounds a bit trite, but it was actually very moving and was followed by that moment of quiet when the audience was still absorbing the impact before applauding.
The published order of the concert was changed a bit, so we got Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony next. Few composers manage to have all three movements of their symphonies equally well known but Beethoven does, especially with the Fifth. We all know that opening dah-dah-dah-daaah, but we also all know the second and third movements too. Ben Kepes, this year’s Apprentice Conductor led the orchestra for the first two movements and Brott took over for the third movement. The young musicians in the orchestra had an experience I am sure they will all remember playing this triumphant music so exuberantly to such an appreciative audience.
Most concerts end with Beethoven’s Fifth because it is hard to top, but after intermission we were treated to two pianos played by Valerie Tryon and Paul Thorlakson in Poulenc’s Double Piano Concerto. Poulenc, whom Ms. Tryon actually met, is often written off as superficial because he had a privileged upbringing, and he did go through a clownish period but he understood his music and was able to express multiple emotions through it. In this Concerto he is playful in the first movement, pays homage to Mozart in the second and returns to playfulness and mock heroics in the end. He stated that he regarded it as ‘an enormous step forward’. I had heard Ms. Tryon previously and knew she was superb, but I had never heard Mr. Thorlakson before and now realize that is my loss. I certainly hope to hear him again & would travel some distance to do so.
This magical evening wrapped up with more Beethoven. This time it his Choral Fantasy. It began as a piano solo with Paul Thorlakson, then the full orchestra was invited to join a bit later and finally – after quite a while just standing there – the choir got to join in too for a typically glorious and uplifting Beethoven Choral.This was a very satisfying concert for discerning music lovers. J.C.