Winnipeg cello convergence deserves an encore
Among life's improbabilities count the sight of 55 cellists on the
stage of Winnipeg's Centennial Concert Hall, performing Pablo Casals'
arrangement of the “Song of the Birds.”
No, I hadn't been
sipping imprudent amounts of Madeira, I've been attending the inaugural
International Cello Festival of Canada, a five-day event responsible
for attracting players from as far away as Sweden and Shanghai.
reason the event took place last month in our prairie heartland is
artistic director Paul Marleyn, an English-born cello professor at the
University of Ottawa who formerly taught at the University of Manitoba.
While resident in Winnipeg, Marleyn founded, in the year 2000, an annual
chamber music festival called Agassiz Music.
Agassiz Music, in conjunction with Winnipeg Cultural Capital of Canada
(a rotating annual distinction), that mounted this innovative
No fewer than eight different venues were
employed, ranging from the rotunda of Manitoba's impressive Legislative
Assembly — site of a virtuoso contemporary music recital by Germany's
amazing Demenga Brothers — to The Forks, Winnipeg's downtown al fresco
cultural playground, with performances, master classes and complementary
events taking place daily from morning through evening, before raptly
All six of Bach's great Cello Suites
were performed by candlelight in a single evening by six different
cellists; on another evening three different cellists played the three
Cello Suites Benjamin Britten wrote for Mstislav Rostropovich. And on
yet another evening Yegor Dyachkov joined Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
principal cellist Yuri Hooker in premiering Manitoba composer Jocelyn
Morlock's Aeromancy for Two Cellos and Orchestra with the Manitoba
Chamber Orchestra under Anne Manson's direction.
was one of two original Canadian works commissioned by the festival,
the other being David Raphael Scott's After Lines by Guillevic for Three
Cellos, premiered by Thomas Wiebe, Denise Djokic and Brian Yoon. The
desire to showcase Canadian talent in composition and performance was a
major part of Paul Marleyn's motivation for the festival.
is my adopted country and I'm proud of what is happening here,” the
cellist-professor acknowledged in an interview. “I think there were 11
Canadian composers featured on the programs. And some of this country's
finest players appeared alongside their international counterparts.”
rest of Marleyn's motivation came from his experience as a youthful
principal cellist of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, of England's now
defunct Manchester International Cello Festival, whose founding
director, the American virtuoso Ralph Kirshbaum, acted as the Canadian
festival's honorary patron.
Although today's superstar of
the cello, Yo-Yo Ma, found himself unable to attend, the Winnipeg event
set a standard worthy of his presence, with performances such as Colin
Carr's of the Haydn C Major Concerto with the Winnipeg Chamber Orchestra
and Jian Wang's of the Shostakovich E Flat Major Concerto with the
Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra under Alexander Mickelthwate brought
audiences to their feet.
Working with a modest $240,000
budget and a team of volunteers, Marleyn and administrative director
Rita Menzies managed to secure a remarkably collegial, non-competitive
atmosphere by treating everyone equally, even to the extent of paying
them the same fee.
Moreover, anyone who heard Shauna
Rolston play the Samuel Barber Sonata or Desmond Hoebig the Haydn D
Major Concerto could hardly have doubted the justice of awarding the
Canadian soloists fee parity with foreign counterparts.
it will be timely or affordable to mount another such festival in the
near future remains an open question. If the cellists themselves have a
vote, the answer cannot be in doubt.
Starkey, who appeared as both cellist and composer, remarked at the
event's close: “I've been to festivals before but in all honesty, this
week was one of the highlights of my musical life.
William Littler, Toronto Star, Fri Jul 15, 2011
This year, our hearts were on a string
The end of the year lends itself to reminiscing. So many concerts, so much music!
The year 2011 was another rich musical one in Winnipeg, with a variety of concerts featuring everything from the debut of Vincent Ho's The Shaman, Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra and the incomparable Dame Evelyn Glennie as soloist to a rousing run of Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S Pinafore by the local G&S troupe. We really have a tremendous bounty from which to choose and something to suit even the most eclectic musical taste.
I didn't get out to every show, but did attend many that left me feeling wonderfully fulfilled. Here are five that stand out in my mind as 2011's memorable musical moments. They are in order of the level of impression they left on me.
First up -- no contest -- is the International Cello Festival of Canada (ICFC)
that ran June 15-19. A combined production of the Agassiz Music Festival and the
Winnipeg Cultural Capital of Canada 2010, this huge undertaking paid off big
time. Artistic director Paul Marleyn and his Agassiz team attracted 60 cellists
from around the world for 14 concerts of glorious music that attracted audience
members in droves.
Opening night boasted six world-class cellists: Shauna Rolston, Colin Carr,
Desmond Hoebig, Yegor Dyachkov, Yuri Hooker and Paul Marleyn. They serenaded us
with music of Haydn, Morlock, Sallinen, and Chan Ka Nin. Smaller daytime
concerts were packed to the rafters; organizers dragged extra chairs from
anywhere they could find to accommodate the crowds.
The final night culminated with the ICFC Festival Orchestra of Cellists: 50
professional, amateur and student cellists onstage at the Centennial Concert
Hall. Local students had the thrill of sharing music stands with the likes of
Swiss-born cellist brothers Patrick and Thomas Demenga and Canadian Denise
The event's atmosphere was unlike anything I've ever experienced in the city.
The enthusiasm and camaraderie of festival-goers was heart-warming and exciting.
The entire festival was a fantastic experience for all involved and one can only
hope it will return. Once was definitely not enough.
The runner-up memory is the January guest performance of Canadian piano phenom
Jan Lisiecki with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra. He played Chopin's Concerto
No. 1 in E Minor for Piano and Orchestra to a sold-out audience who came to see
if everything they'd read about this extraordinary young man was true.
Lisiecki, now 16, dislikes being called a prodigy and when you hear him, it's
easy to forget that he's so young. He may look his age, but his poise and polish
rival those of any veteran performer. Lisiecki plays with innocence, instinct
and freshness that is entirely his own -- a wondrousness that is refreshing. As
his fingers blurred to the finish, the audience erupted in an immediate roar,
jumping to their feet.
A pair of violin performances comes next. James Ehnes' Tchaikovsky Concerto for
Violin and Orchestra in DMajor with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO) in
April earned him three curtain calls and a standing ovation. It's an art to
bring something new to an old standard like the Tchaikovsky and Ehnes did not
disappoint. Right up until the finale, he made the work crackle with excitement,
tackling it with workmanlike assuredness, while still producing glorious
expression, musical sensitivity and an ability to make his 1715 "Marsick"
Longtime WSO concertmaster Gwen Hoebig was at her very best as soloist in March,
playing the lyrical Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major. A vision in sparkling
sea blue, Hoebig played with palpable joy, as phrase built upon phrase and
delicate trills pulsed. The first movement's cadenza was an amazing feat of
fluid virtuosity, marked with double stops, tempo changes, lightning-quick runs
and thrilling flourishes from Hoebig's gracefully sweeping bow. This was
fascinating and triumphant playing. You couldn't ask for more.
No. 5 memory of the year is June 7's Winnipeg Chamber Music Society's Annual
Mozart and More! mini-festival. Artistic director David Moroz and ensemble
always come up with something unique at this light-hearted festival.
Wolfgang Schröder's entertaining Eine Kleine Lachmusik had the audience in
stitches from the start, as violinists Gwen Hoebig and Karl Stobbe, violist
Daniel Scholz and cellist Yuri Hooker romped through a comical mish-mash of
familiar works. It is important to note that despite wearing tuxedos, Stobbe was
barefoot, while Scholz sported red flip-flops. We knew something was up!
They opened with strains of Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, but before we could
settle into the familiar melody, snippets of other composers' works snuck into
the movement. The introduction of Beethoven's Fifth came out of nowhere. Foot
stamps punctuated the Menuet, containing part of Haydn's Surprise Symphony and
even some Liszt. And what comic compilation is complete without Rossini's
William Tell Overture? How delightful it was to see the lighter side of these
A polished performance of Mozart's Quintet in C Major with additional violinist
Elation Pauls completed the program.
Now let's look forward to more memorable musical moments in 2012 -- and thank
the wonderful players and orchestras for making 2011 a magical year for
classical music audiences.
Winnipeg Free Press, December 29, 2011
Scott's cello concerto strikingly beautiful
When the forces of an excellent orchestra come together with a fantastic performer and an equally masterful composer, one hopes that there will be a major offering on a program that will take up the bulk of the space in the review.
I was a little saddened, therefore, that the new cello concerto by David Raphael Scott took up so little of Thursday night's Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra's Masterworks concert.
Don't get me wrong. The rest of the performance was quite excellent. But with the polemics firing back and forth these days about CBC's decision to severely cut back on their classical programming, and their previous decision to virtually eradicate Canadian concert music from their schedule, the emphasis on more digestible fare was just a little counter-revolutionary.
The concert was recorded for broadcast on Radio 2.
The performance of Haydn's "Philosopher" symphony (No. 22) was artful and elegant, with a graceful dialogue between the horns and reeds in the first movement. The finale was energetic, but amidst the fire and spark there was a little less edge on the attack than I would have liked. Still, the overall effect and the nuance of the counterpoint lines made it a fine reading.
Of course, the reason to attend this concert (and listen for the nebulously-promised "future broadcast" was the world premiere of D.R. Scott's new Cello Concerto, commissioned by the soloist Paul Marleyn. The first movement is dark, yet rich in texture and tone, with subtly elegant lines of melody weaving through and against each other in a strikingly beautiful tapestry. The second movement is livelier, but still with an inherent darkness rendered in an opening heavy metal-like riff that evolves into a fine layer of dramatic counterpoint supporting the elegiac solo melody.
This exquisite work was followed by Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme, also for cello and orchestra. This is not an especially virtuosic work (certainly not by comparison), but nonetheless showcased the skilful performance of Marleyn with the equally skillful ensemble work of the TBSO. Following the Scott and this fairly predictable romantic selection felt a little anti-climactic to me, and I might have programmed them in the opposite order just to approach the intermission with a more dramatic statement.
Cellist Paul Marleyn is a tremendous performer. Not content to merely sit atop the ensemble as a soloist, he forms himself into an inextricable piece of the overall texture -- a rare quality in a true virtuoso soloist, but one which decidedly heightens the artistic impact of his performance.
The concert closed with another lively and energetic symphony. In Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony we had the evening's most virtuosic selection for the orchestra. Yet here Maestro Moull managed to draw out that care and attention to musicality and detail that have become the TBSO's hallmarks of symphonic performance. Whereas the Haydn and the Tchaikovsky had a somewhat more mundance flavour about them, this performance of the Mendelssohn had a freshness to it that really felt well-balanced with the newness of the Scott, rounding out a satisfying, if not altogether challenging, evening of music.
Steven Baric, The Chronicle-Journal, Saturday, April 5, 2008
Radio-friendly trio sounds good in person
WE'VE been hearing plenty of Trio Hochelaga on CBC Radio. It was time to hear them in person.
Lemelin is a superb musician, a sensitive pianist with the ability to transform his playing from the subtlest interpretation to the most vivacious.
Marleyn, a former Winnipegger, is known for his pure tone and responsive playing.
Robert is a different breed entirely. She has a big sound that fills the hall with ease . . . Robert played her 1735 Guarnerius "del Gesù" violin with honest, unrestrained feeling.
Lemelin kept great flow going throughout, notes bubbling up from his fingers with lightness and grace. The chameleon-like first movement was dramatic and emotional, then turned lyrical and sweet.
Trio Hochelaga did an inspired job with this work, opening with Marleyn's lovely rich tone gliding through the sumptuously passionate melody. Lemelin had many opportunities to shine -- the piano part is virtuosic and elaborate. He made the most of the many moods presented, playfully bounding about and deftly presenting strong chords, while always keeping things balanced and appropriate. Robert's bow flew, sounding almost viola-like in her dark-toned lower register… a stimulating performance of a demanding and exciting work.
Friday, June 15th, 2007
Agassiz concert a Bartók show and tell
First hearing a CD of Bartók's original folk recordings of three short pieces, alternating with Berick and DuWors' gutsy musical re- interpretation of each song accomplished what the best concerts do: creating an invaluable context that allows the listener to hear the music with fresh ears and new insight.The duo performed ten more of the duets, highlighted by the swooping glissandi and foot-stomping rhythms of Transylvanian Dance.
. . . This is music to stir the blood and get the heart pounding. After a robust Allegro appassionato, the musicians performed the gorgeous Adagio. The finale, Allegro con fuoco showed off particularly exuberant chromatic cascades of sound performed by Lemelin.
Sunday, June 10th, 2007
Lake Winnipeg's plight given voice
The world premiere performance of Andrew Balfour's enigmatic Voice of the Lake was the feature work of the evening. The Manitoba Chamber Orchestra (MCO) and members of Camerata Nova, joined by some notable friends, performed Voice of the Lake under the baton of Earl Stafford . . .
The first half of the program stood on its own as almost a completely different concert. The main work was the wonderfully textured Serenade in C by Hungarian composer Ernst von Dohn´nyi, played by Yehonatan Berick, violin, Aaron Au, viola, and festival artistic director Paul Marleyn, cello.
These are polished performers and it is astonishing to note that they all live in different cities, therefore being unable to rehearse together regularly. One would never suspect this, as they played with great precision and finesse.
4 stars out of five
June 16 2006
There’s something oh-so-civilized about listening to chamber music on a warm summer evening… With a line-up of eight concerts in its week-long celebration, this artistic brainchild of founding cellist Paul Marleyn is showcasing the talents – among others – of guest artists Jonathan Crow, Kerry Duwors (violin), Aaron Au, Ensik Choi (viola) and Haisun Paik (piano).
The Agassiz Fesival is to be commended for its tireless commitment to commissioning and programming new works by local composers. Last night’s program included popular Winnipeg composer – and everyone’s favourite button accordion man – Jim Hiscott’s String quartet No.1 (1992)
. . . Agassiz warmed up an appreciative audience.
Marleyn was not shy, holding nothing back, pouring every ounce of emotion into his instrument for all to see and feel. The sentiment was contagious and cleansing. Tselyakov interjected with well-matched feeling in his solid playing. The final note squeezed every possible drop of fervour out of the piece.
Tselyakov performed virtuoso runs almost the length of the keyboard. He followed this with a spate of trills and arpeggios, played with ease and aplomb.
. . . a wonderful movement of fantasy, with Marleyn's sensitive phrasing and pure vibrato communicating true sadness.
. . . an exciting reading.
All in all, this was an exhilarating night of wonderful melodies and expert playing.
Monday December 13th, 2004
The Dvorak Piano Quartet in E Flat, Opus 87 . . . with its proud opening and majestic flow. The group played with great gusto and a true sense of fun.
June 21, 2004
. . . met with cheers and bravos at the end of an understandably polished and equally heart-felt rendering of Mendelssohn's Piano Trio in C minor. Up close and personal the realm of chamber music is. Violinist Martin Riseley, pianist Rena Sharon and cellist Paul Marleyn delivered the goods in the Mendelssohn.
A big-boned reading it was, full of sweeping momentum whose marvelous finale registered with notable strength, drawing shouts of approval from those clutching instrument cases around the room. The noble second theme in the opening movement was no less inspired, while the scherzo zipped along as fleetly as could be.
June 27, 2003
Marleyn and his cohorts bring an infectious enthusiasm and an impeccable pedigree to Winnipeg's classical scene.
September 19th, 2002
A Lifeline for classical music lovers
“Two outstanding readings of stalwart chamber works . . . Some celebration is in order . . . warm, vital and inspired . . . intelligent and finely judged . . . this festival hits an absolute bulls-eye.”
June 24, 2001
“. . . the finest chamber musicians in the country.”