Johann Baptist Wanhal (or Vanhal)

Johann Baptist Wanhal (or sometimes written as Vanhal) was born in 1739 and lived until 1813.  Born in Nechanice, Bohemia, he became a Czech composer of importance.  He was born into a peasant family and first learned violin and organ from local musicians.  He was eventually able to earn a living as a young man as a village choirmaster and organist.

Under the patronage of Countess Schaffgotsch, he left for Vienna in 1760.  Here he became a teacher of voice, violin, and piano to the nobility, and was invited to conduct symphonies for wealthy patrons as well.

From Vienna, he travelled to Italy in 1769, sponsored by Baron Riesch.  After his trip, Wanhal was to become the Baron’s Kapellmeister in Dresden.  In Italy, he met up with composers Gluck and Gassmann, visiting both Venice and Rome.  He was supposed to visit Naples as well but it seems like he never quite made it.  And he never made it to Dresden either.  He returned to Vienna instead after touring Italy.

Wanhal continued to compose and perform in Vienna.  He eventually shifted away from composing symphonies and string quartets to composing for piano, small ensembles, and more church music.  Writing music for the growing middle class, he was able to live independently.  While his lifestyle would have been modest on the income he made himself, he was able to stopping working for any patron for the last 30 years of his life.  He stopped performing publicly around 1787 but continued to compose until close to his death in 1813.

The Eybler Quartet will perform Vanhal’s Quartet in C Major, Op. 6, No. 3 on our stage on February 16, 2017.

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Anton Bruckner

Austrian composer Anton Bruckner was born in 1824 in Ansfelden.  His family had been there for a number of years with his grandfather holding the position of schoolmaster and his father inheriting the same position the year before Anton was born.

Anton’s first music teacher was his father.  Music was taught as part of the school curriculum and Anton was a good student in all areas.  At the age of 9, he was sent by his father to another school to complete his education and continue his music studies.  Unfortunately, his father passed away when Anton was only 13.  The schoolmaster position was given to another successor and Anton was sent to the monastery in Sankt Florian to be a choir boy and continue on with his studies in violin and organ.

Even with his obvious musical abilities, Anton’s mother sent him to train as a teacher when he was 17.  Achieving excellent marks in his training, he was giving a teaching assistant position in Windhaag.  He was to spend the next 2 years there quietly putting up with terrible living conditions, low pay, and teaching subjects that had no connection to music.

He was finally transferred to a school back near Sankt Florian.  Here he was also able to continue his own training and advance his teaching career.  He was also able to play the organ again at the monastery.  He remained in Sankt Florian for the next 10 years teaching and taking on the regular position of organist.

In 1855, Anton was accepted to study with music theorist Simon Sechter.  Anton divided his time between Sankt Florian and Vienna as he pursued his own studies for a little more than a decade.  In 1868, he accepted the position of teacher of music theory at the Vienna Conservatory after the passing of Sechter who had previously held the post.  Eventually he accepted a teaching post at the Vienna University and stayed at the University until he was around 68 years old.

In addition to teaching, Anton continued to compose and perform.  While he did not compose for organ, he was a well-known and respected organist in his time and gave several successful concerts in England and France.  He died at the age of 72 in Vienna.

On March 2, 2017, the Prazak Quartet will play his string quartet on our stage.  Subscriptions are currently on sale.  Single tickets go on sale in September.

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Maria Olszewska

As we approach Mother’s Day here in North America, today we take a brief look at Maria Olszewska, mother of composer Witold Lutoslawski. Born in the summer of 1882, she lived to be 85 years old.

Maria studied medicine as a young woman. She met her future husband while at school in Zurich. Jozef, her husband to be, was the brother of one of her fellow students.

Her family had a large estate in Podolia. Her father was a mathematician who taught in the neighbouring schools and, being a forward thinker, sent his daughters to school abroad. In 1904, she obtained her medical degree.

In 1915, the Lutoslawski family started their journey to flee Poland from the oncoming Prussian forces. It would eventually lead them to Moscow where Jozef was imprisoned for his political activities. In 1918, Jozef and his brother were killed ( and Maria was left with a family to raise.

Finally able to return home after the war, she attempted to run the family estate in Drozdowo for a few years before settling in Warsaw. Maria returned to medicine and continued working as a physician. In addition, she worked at translating books from English, mainly books for children. She also served as a City Councilor for the City of Warsaw.

While the suffering and hardship of WWI should be enough for anyone to have to live through, Maria then had to endure the capture and death of one of her sons during WWII.

She lived with her son, Witold, and his wife, Danuta, in Warsaw until she passed in 1967.

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Our 2016-2017 season!

As with most arts organizations, we are already looking to next season! Season subscriptions are already on sale for our 2016-2017 season. Existing subscribers – you should have received your renewal information in late February. You have until May to renew and keep your existing seats. Contact the box office at 416-366-7723 if you have not received your renewal information. Subscriptions done before the end of April will get the bonus of an additional ticket!

This will be our 45th season and it is an exciting one!

We open our season on October 13, 2016 with the Juilliard Quartet. Last fall, cellist Joel Krosnick announced his retirement from the quartet after 42 years. We will have the pleasure of welcoming the quartet back to our stage with their new member, cellist Astrid Schween.

Our piano series starts with Janina Fialkowska on October 25, 2016. This concert is part of her year long “Birthday Celebration Tour” as she celebrates turning 65 years young.

November brings us Quatuor Arthur-LeBlanc on November 10, 2016. Quartet-in-residence at the Université Laval, they were our ensemble-in-residence in 2007-2008. A few short days later, UK pianist Danny Driver joins us on November 15, 2016 for his Toronto debut.

Soprano Suzie LeBlanc and the Blue Engine String Quartet join together for a concert on December 1, 2016. Entitled A Pocket of Time, the evening is a musical tribute to Elizabeth Bishop.

Before we take a break for the holidays, we will enjoy the talented Gryphon Trio on our stage once again! Join us on December 15, 2016 for an evening of great music.

January starts off with young pianist Sean Chen making his Toronto debut on January 10, 2017 and wraps up with long time MTO performers, the St. Lawrence Quartet on January 26, 2017.

Ilya Poletaev takes to our stage on February 7, 2017 with some Bach and Schumann. The Eybler Quartet will play us some Haydn and Beethoven on February 16, 2017.

We finish off our season in March next year with two long standing internationally renowned quartets – the Prazak Quartet on March 2, 2017 and the Philharmonia Quartett Berlin on March 16, 2017.

Bookmark our website at and you can find us all season long!

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Wrapping up our 44th season!

Tonight we finish our 44th season with a performance by the Artemis Quartet.  This world-class quartet will give their Toronto debut on our stage. An exciting finish to a great season!

We started the season what feels like a lifetime ago but was really only six short months ago!  October started us off with the return of Benjamin Grosvenor (Oct. 13) and then the Toronto debut of Cuarteto Casals (Oct. 22).  Both concerts were amazing evenings to start off our piano series and quartet series respectively for the season!

Our past season featured several Toronto debuts.  In addition to Cuarteto Casals, we presented the Toronto debuts of Peter Jablonski (Nov. 10), the Apollon Musagète Quartett (Nov. 25), and the Artemis Quartet (Apr. 14).  All stunning performances!

The fall also saw the world premiere of a new composition by Nicole Lizée – Isabella Blow at Somerset House (2015) performed by the Cecilia Quartet (Nov. 5).

We ended 2015 with another world premiere!  We were treated to Gryphon Realms by Vincent Ho written for and played by the Gryphon Trio (Dec. 10).

We rang in the new year with the familiar and enchanting sounds of Marc-André Hamelin at the piano (Jan. 5).  We covered all our main areas in January!  We presented the popular and talented JACK Quartet (Jan. 14) as part of our strings and Contemporary Classics series.  And we finished off the month with a Discovery series vocal recital by Canadian opera star Andriana Chuchman (Jan. 21) accompanied by pianist Craig Terry.

February was a month of strings with the Annex Quartet coming to our main stage for the first time (Feb. 4) and a return of the ever popular St. Lawrence Quartet (Feb. 18).

The busy month of March kept us on our toes.  With a snow storm at the door, Stephen Osborne (Mar. 1) gave a wonderful piano recital to the crowd who had braved the weather.  Collectif9 (Mar. 10) brought a nonet to our stage with a light show to back up their innovative sound.  And on St. Patrick’s Day we all forgot about green beer for a few hours and listened to the extraordinary performance of Quatuor Ebène (Mar. 17).

Last week we had the final performance of our piano series this season with Duo Turgeon (Apr. 5).  As this concert was part of our Contemporary Classics series, we were also treated to conversation from the stage with Jeffrey Ryan, our composer advisor.  It was a lovely way to end the piano series for another season!

Join us tonight for our final string performance of this season – the Toronto debut of the Artemis Quartet!

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Artemis Quartett

On April 14, 2016 we will close our 44th season with the Toronto debut performance of the renowned Artemis Quartett. We have tried to bring them in the past but scheduling conflicts have meant we were unable to have them as part of our series until now.

Currently comprised of Vineta Sareika (violin), Anthea Kreston (violin), Gregor Sigl (viola), and Eckart Runge (cello), the quartet was originally formed in 1989 by four students at the Musikhochschule in Lübeck and has seen a few changes in personnel over the years. Eckart Runge is the remaining founding member.

All four of the performers teach at University of the Arts Berlin and Chapelle Musicale Reine Elisabeth in Brussels. As with many prominent string quartets, they maintain a busy schedule of performances in addition to teaching. And somehow managed to squeeze in time to record and release 18 CDs in the past 10 years with Virgin Classics/EMI.

To read more about the quartet or to listen to some excerpts, visit their website at

To hear them live, join us on April 14th for some Wolf, Shostakovich, and Beethoven with the Artemis Quartett!

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Duo Turgeon

April 5, 2016 brings our final piano concert of the season as well as our final contemporary classics instalment this year.

Dr. Edward Turgeon and Dr. Anne Louise-Turgeon are the married pianists who form Duo Turgeon. The Duo is Algoma University’s Artist-In-Residence and individually they both teach at the Algoma Conservatory and at Algoma University. Previously they were on the faculty and ensemble-in- residence at Florida Atlantic University’s Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters in Boca Raton, Florida.

Anne is originally from Montreal and Edward from Toronto. They have played together since 1988, moving to the professional side of performance as a duo in 1994. They have been married for over 25 years.

Add in performances around the world and seven CDs and you have a pair who have been quite busy over the years! To read more about them, visit their website at

Hear them live on the 5th at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Art. They will perform Variations on a theme by Paganini by Witold Lutoslawski, Mother Goose Suite by Maurice Ravel, Drift by Derek Charke), Migrant Voyage (Canadian premiere) by Manuel Valera, A selection of Sketches by Valery Gavrilin, Variations on a theme by Joseph Haydn, Op. 56b, by Brahms. Visit our website to order your tickets in advance –

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Witold Lutosławski, part three

As mentioned in the previous blog, Lutosławski left Warsaw in 1944. He returned in 1945 and married Danuta Bogusławska in 1946. Lutosławski returned to work on his first symphony at this point in time. It was performed in 1948. He also continued to compose more functional pieces to earn a living, writing items like piano studies and music to accompany a silent film.

Under Stalin, there was much artistic censorship. Lutosławski continued to compose functional pieces and was recognized with the Prime Minister’s Prize for some of his children’s songs. It wasn’t until after 1953 (Stalin’s death) that more of Lutosławski pieces would be performed. He composed many pieces over the years, developing and refining his own unique style.

In addition to the classical music we are familiar with, Lutosławski also composed some lighter fare. Between 1957 and 1963, he wrote about 40 pieces under the pen name of Derwid. These were pieces for voice and piano – many of these waltzes, tangos, or foxtrots.

Over the years he again international fame and continued to compose. Lutosławski lived in Poland through continued unrest and upheaval. Between 1981 and 1989, he declined all professional engagements in Poland to show his support of the artists’ boycott connected to the Solidarity (Polish trade union) movement.

He continued to compose and tour up until shortly before his death in early February 1994. Not long before his death, he was awarded Poland’s highest honour, the Order of the White Eagle. He was the second person to be awarded this honour after the fall of communism in Poland. Pope John Paul II was the first person to receive the award.

In February 1994, he lost his life to cancer. Danuta, his wife, passed away not long after.

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Witold Lutosławski, part two

Upon completion of his studies in 1937, military service was up next. He was trained as a radio operator. Hoping to continue his studies in Paris, his plans were interrupted by World War II when he was put into service as a radio operator. He was taken prisoner in the fall of 1939 but managed to escape and join his mother and oldest brother in Warsaw. His brother, Henryk, was captured and died in 1940 in a work camp.

Lutosławski found work as a pianist. Working as an accompanist and eventually as part of a piano duo, he spent 4 years playing in cafés. This was really the only way to hear live music as organized gatherings had been banned so it was impossible to give a traditional concert.

The other half of the piano duo was Andrzej Panufnik. Between them they arranged and performed over 200 pieces. Almost all of them were lost when Lutosławski and his mother left Warsaw quickly in July 1944. One that was saved was Lutosławski’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini, rumoured to be a favourite among patrons at the Aria café. We will hear it played live in Toronto by Duo Turgeon on April 5, 2016.

Aria café is also the place Lutosławski met his wife, Danuta Bogusławska. They married in 1946 and were together until his death in 1994. Danuta became his copyist and a great help in finding ways to overcome some of the challenges with notation in his works.

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Witold Lutoslawski, part one

Duo Turgeon returns to our stage on April 5, 2016. One of the pieces for the evening will be Variations on a Theme by Paganini composed by Witold Lutoslawski.

Witold Roman Lutoslawski was born in Warsaw in January 1913 to Polish parents of landed nobility, owning property in the Dorzdowo. Maria and Józef had met at school and married in 1904. Witold was the youngest of three boys. He and his brothers Jerzy (9 years older) and Henryk (4 years older) initially lived on the family estate in Dorzdowo which had been in their family for 150 years.

While his father was still managing their family estates, they moved to Warsaw due to the war. In 1915, the war pushed them to Moscow. Witold’s father, Józef, was involved with the Polish National Democratic Party. Józef and his brother, Marian, were both arrested by the Bolsheviks and the Lutoslawski family could not return home when the fighting ended there. In September of 1918, Józef and Marian were executed, days before their trial.

The rest of the family returned to Warsaw after the war. Their estates in Dorzdowo were in ruins. It is here in Warsaw that Witold started piano lessons at the age of six. His mother, Maria, ran the ruined estates for a time but eventually moved back to Warsaw permanently and went back to earning a living as a physician and translator to English.

Witold was accepted into the Stefan Batory Grammar School and also attended the conservatory to study music. He started to study the violin in 1925. He eventually attended Warsaw University to study math. He also joined the composition classes at the Conservatory in 1932 to pursue his interests and continue his music studies. In 1933 he stopped his studies for mathematics and concentrated on piano and composition. He received a diploma for piano performance in 1936 and one for composition in 1937 from the Conservatory.

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