A wee bit of Muskoka’s finest artistic endeavour simultaneously washed through the New Classical 96.3 FM foyer and the airwaves/cyberspace as the “Live From the Concert Lobby” series featured a sneak peek at the 29th edition of the Festival of the Sound.
James Campbell, long-time artistic director and clarinetist extraordinaire, brought along the Penderecki String Quartet (Jeremy Bell, Simon Fryer, Jerzy Kaplanek, Christine Vlajk) and young pianist, Jan Lisiecki, for a mini-concert in this live-to-air broadcast.
“The CBC used to do this,” remarked Campbell during a post-performance interview. “Now it’s commercial radio that’s picking up the slack.”
The music began with two movements (Fantasia and Rondo) from Carl Maria von Weber’s Grand Quintetto for Clarinet and String Quartet. The brooding rhapsodic opening movement was notable for an ever-so-rare pianissimo entry from “nowhere,” which few clarinetists can pull off—ever-fearful that their reeds may close and stop vibrating entirely: no need here.
The “Bonanza”-like finale had plenty of zip but occasionally slipped into ensemble drift. A brief excursion to the dark side of intonation by the viola was put to rights on the reprise. The bravura triplets of the closing measures were tossed off with aplomb and finesse by Campbell before a Rossini-finish drew a well-deserved ovation from the lucky studio audience.
“We’re honouring our legends,” continued Campbell after the microphones had been switched off. This year, the focus is on octogenarians: Gene DiNovi, Phil Nimmons, Peter Appleyard and Walter Homburger. Still active performers and managers (Homburger guided the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in its glory days—1961-87), those wise enough to have tickets will be treated to retrospectives of great careers and present-day state-of-their-art demonstrations (imagine if mandatory retirement was enforced for artists!).
Schubert’s “unfinished” string quartet, Quartettsatz in C Minor, had many fine moments of revelation from the global-rich members of the Penderecki Quartet (the original “four Polish boys” have all been replaced; now the combined heritage of the accomplished players includes Canada, Hungary, Poland and the United Kingdom). This reading was perhaps a performance away from truly settled togetherness and consistently even triplets—notably in the cello—but the dramatic intention was fully formed and never in doubt. Those attending tonight’s RBC Opening Night Gala will enjoy the fruits of these international labours.
“We used a chamber orchestra in previous years. This season, we’ve decided to formalize that arrangement by establishing the Festival Chamber Orchestra,” explained Campbell. “We won’t use a conductor, but because our musicians are all experienced chamber players [i.e., listen to each other or perish]—including the New Zealand String Quartet—we’ll have little difficulty keeping the scores together, most of which will be concerto accompaniments.” (Works range from Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.)
To conclude the broadcast, Chopin’s Andante Spinato and Grande Polonaise Brilliante, Op. 22 was brought to life by 13-year-old Calgary-native, Jan Lisiecki. At the age of five, the enthusiastic musician took to the piano immediately and “loves to practice—for me it’s like playing a game.”
In this presentation, it was the lyrical, thoughtful sections that showed the most promise. Now, Lisiecki needs to fathom how to breathe more with the music, acquire the discipline to completely finish the current phrase before beginning the next and view the frequent technical eruption of notes as a means to an end, not the end in itself.
These comments are offered to the talented young man with a shared love of the art, respect and hope for what could be a remarkable future.
Unlike the failed experiment of multiple artistic directors at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Campbell couldn’t imagine trying that method in Parry Sound. “There’s no democracy in art,” he said. “A single vision is what’s required and [if that doesn’t bring results] the board has a remedy.”
Given the extraordinary success of past achievements and the current season whose programs’ variety can satisfy nearly any taste, there’s no excuse not to make the happy pilgrimage to savour such an array of talent and art.
See you in Muskoka! JWR