Claude Debussy at 150: We take his musical revolution for granted

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Claude Debussy, one of Western music’s revolutionaries.

As with the varying styles of Impressionist paintings, the long view represents something defined, but the closer you get, the more his compositions start to fall apart into the individual components that our minds work imperceptibly to piece together into meaningful shapes.

The long view is so sleek and seductive that listeners long ago began taking Debussy’s art for granted.

Continue reading


Scarlet, not grey should be the colour of Roy Thomson Hall’s organ

The big pipe organ at Roy Thomson Hall is 30. It had it’s first moment in the spotlight when the new building opened in Sept., 1982, but musicians were busy inside the auditorium over the summer, checking and adjusting the acoustics, so Gabriel Kney’s Opus 95 was already at work.

In my time in Toronto, the instrument has sat desperately underused and underappreciated. Continue reading

In life as well as music, Glenn Gould is all about structure and controlled mediation

Filmmaker Bruno Monsaingeon interviews Glenn Gould for a series of documentaries on the music of J.S. Bach in 1980.

Sony is about to release a box set of three hour-long TV documentaries Glenn Gould made about the music of J.S. Bach, to coincide with the celebrations surrounding what would have been the pianist’s 80th birthday in September.

There are two things that stand out about these prorgammes. Both are as relevant today as when Gould sat down with French filmmaker and violinist Bruno Monsaingeon to plan what were originally supposed to be five installments, 25 years ago. Continue reading

Listening: Happy Canada Day in accessible music by three living Canadian composers

Here are three recent pieces by younger Canadian composers who have made interesting musical lives outside the academic sphere. Their music is accessible without being bland. Each piece makes reference to different traditions without sounding derivative.

There are many more composers and works where these came from — a veritable bumper crop of ripely waying notes vying for our ears across this improbable, 145-year-old patchwork of diverse and disparate communities separated by way too much geography. Continue reading

CD Review: John Cage percussion music a springboard for sonic possibilities

Members of Chicago’s Third Coast Percussion magnificently bring six pieces of John Cage to life.

William Walton, Dmitri Shostakovich and Samuel Barber wrote pieces 70 years ago that are now part of the classical canon. While mainstream audiences still look away in anxiety when anyone mentions the name of John Cage, a new wave of savvy and hyper-talented young percussionists may be able to change fear to love (or at least respect).

You know that a piece of music has your complete attention when the brain is twitching as hard as the hips and left foot. Continue reading

Royal Jubilee a fine time to contemplate what will remain of this Elizabethan music

An iPad-generated portrait of Queen Elizabeth II created last week by Montreal artist Bénédictine.

I was reading Queen Victoria’s journals last week, and had to chuckle at her dislike for the “tedious” music of George Frideric Handel.

He had been dead for nearly 80 years by the time Victoria ascended to the throne, yet his music was still being played and sung. Continue reading

CD Reviews: Two different flavours of choral catharsis from London’s best orchestras

The new Coventry Cathedral sits next to the ruins of the old, destroyed by German bombs during World War II. Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem was premiered at the completion of the new building, 50 years ago next week.

Antonin Dvorák’s setting of the Stabat Mater is to Good Friday what Giusepe Verdi’s Requiem is to the funeral Mass. Big, public, cathartic, it is an exercise in collective soul cleansing through the sheer, collective power of a couple of hundred instrumentalists and singers.

Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem is a monumental expression of people’s collective hope that the horrors of two world wars would never be repeated. The 50th anniversary of its Coventry Cathedral premiere is coming up on Wednesday. Continue reading