Monthly Archives: October 2013

Concerts of Hallowe’en Past

Music Toronto is celebrating its 42nd season this year and over that time there have been a few Hallowe’en evening concerts.

In 1974, we heard the Purcell String Quartet perform Mozart, Dvorak, Krzysztof Penderecki, and Harry Freedman. Founded in 1968 by members of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and eventually disbanded in 1991, they often performed new works by contemporary Canadian composers.

Shura Cherkassky performed for us on October 31, 1988. An evening primarily of Chopin with some Liszt, Ravel, and Balakirev, I’m sure it would have been a wonderful piano concert to attend. Born in 1909, he performed for over 70 years and continued to record until just a few months before his death in 1995.

1995 brought us the St. Lawrence String Quartet as our Hallowe’en concert. Always a pleasure to have in the house, we were treated to Mozart and Bartok. They will join us again this season in January 2014 with some Haydn, Martinu, and Dvorak.

Simon Trpceski joined us for the second time in 2006. That Hallowe’en found us listening to his wonderful piano skills while playing Brahms, Chopin, Debussy, and Scriabin.

And tonight we have the delightful treat of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble with Raff, Shostakovich, and Mendelssohn!


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Benefits of listening to classical music

Many of us know that there are lots of benefits from listening to classical music. There are studies out there connecting classical music to increased learning capabilities, lower blood pressure, pain management, and stress reduction.

One reason is that music affects our autonomic nervous system. This is the section of the nervous system that controls those things that just happen in our body without us actively thinking about them – your heart beating, your brain working, for example. This system will respond to the music without your even focusing on it.

Many of the studies focus on the relaxation side of classical music – how it helps you to relax, reduces muscle tension, improves your sleep quality and duration. And while I do find all of this beneficial for me, I also enjoy the other side – those faster paced pieces or that intense allegro movement that can motivate you to get moving. As much as classical music can be soothing, it is equaling stimulating and is great music for sleeping or for working out and for everything in between – it all depending on what you are looking for. But whatever you are looking for, chances are classical music will have it!

What is your personal favourite benefit from listening to classical music?


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Musings on Schubert

It is hard to imagine that such a short lived life produced so many amazing and varied works of music! Franz Schubert only lived from January of 1797 to November of 1828 – not quite 32 when he died. His music instruction started early in his life as he came from a musically inclined family. His father was a school teacher who also played the cello. His brothers played piano and strings. Schubert played viola in, and composed pieces for, the family string quartet.

Despite his obvious talent, his father wished for him to follow in his footsteps and become a school teacher. At the age of 16, started his teacher training and soon after started teaching at his father’s school. For the following few years he taught but continued to compose as well. By 1818, his music was being noticed more and more and receiving good reviews. That summer he gained a position with Count Johann Karl Esterházy, teaching music to the Count’s daughters and gave up regular school teaching for his father.

It is interesting to wonder if his number of compositions would have increased had he been able to pursue his talent completely from the beginning. Or did the stress of the day to day reality of needing to earn a living give him the drive to put his continued creativity down on paper? What do you think?

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Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble

It has been several years since The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble has been on our stage and we are looking forward to their concert on October 31st!

There are many beautiful pieces that were written for quintets, sextets, septets, and octets. Often these larger chamber pieces end up being performed by established string quartets with guest artists. Formed 46 years ago, the Chamber Ensemble performs various chamber pieces specifically written for larger combinations of instruments. The Chamber Ensemble is comprised of established members of The Academy orchestra. Both the orchestra and the ensemble travel extensively each season. The Chamber Ensemble has several configurations and we will have the pleasure of hearing the string octet formation. We are the only Canadian stop on the Chamber Ensemble’s upcoming Canada US tour which starts with our concert on the 31st.

If you are interested in hearing a bit of Chamber Ensemble, you can find a couple of clips of their website at this link –

I am looking forward to hearing them and a few pieces for string octet live for the first time myself!  Have you heard the Chamber Ensemble live before?

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The Eras

Aside from the current Modern era, there are 3 eras in the arts world that are most commonly referred to: Baroque, Classical, Romantic.

The Baroque Era spans from approximately 1600 to 1750. The courts maintained ensembles to show their prestige and were the patrons for many composers and performers. The solo voice/instrument started to emerge – giving importance during a piece to one particular instrument at a time. There was a surge in opera during this time as it gained popular acclaim. Interest in the violin grew. Composers from this time include Johann Sebastian Bach, Arcangelo Corelli, Johann Pachelbel, George Frideric Handel.

Next we move into the Classical Era, from approximately 1750 to 1820. Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, CPE Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Franz Schubert are all familiar names from this period. More patrons started to emerge who were not part of the court, allowing musicians to eventually earn a living without a court appointed position. Publishing music for money increased, adding to the ways for a musician to supplement their income.

Beethoven and Schubert cross over into the Romantic Era, approximately 1810 to 1920. Instinct and emotion were celebrated even more in music. More people now had a piano in their home and searched for music that would suit an amateur playing at home. Composers such as Felix Mendelssohn, Frederic Chopin, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, and Franz Liszt are all associated with the Romantic Era.

We are fortunate to hear quite a variety of composers from different eras during our season. Do you have a favourite time period?

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Giving thanks for chamber music

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and I have many, many things to be thankful for! With chamber music, I am thankful for:

  • the ability to experience such wonderful music. Listening to classical music transports me on an emotional journey every time.
  • amazing artists who are willing to share their talents onstage during performances and so often their knowledge offstage as teachers.
  • youth who continue to learn and play traditional and contemporary classical music
  • patrons who attend concerts. Without the audience, it is just a one sided conversation.
  • reviewers – offering informed opinions, spreading the word about chamber music – without you, chamber music would not have the reach it does
  • composers – both those from long ago who sometimes lived through great difficulties but composed no matter what the circumstances, and those from present day who continue to create new and inspiring music
  • instrument makers who craft new pieces and maintain original instruments so those instruments can continue to share their amazing sounds

Enjoy the weekend and perhaps find a moment to put on a piece of classical music that you are grateful to have.

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Movement titles

Chamber music pieces are often comprised of several movements and generally those movements have a name or title attached to them.

Often the movements have names that refer to the music tempo. Examples such as Allegro, Larghetto, Andante, Adagio are probably familiar to most. They refer to the speed in which the music is played. Adagio, andante, larghetto are all variations of slow tempos; allegro and allegretto are faster tempos.

Movements aren’t always labelled by the specific tempo. On Tuesday, we will hear the Partita No. 1 in B flat Major by Johann Sebastian Bach played by Arnaldo Cohen. It has 7 movements: Praeludium, Allemande, Corrente, Sarabande, Menuet I, Menuet II, Gigue. Praeludium is another form of the word Prelude. It can be an introduction to the movements to come. Allemande, corrente, sarabande, menuet and gigue are all different styles of dance music. The allemande is a medium tempo dance with origins in Germany and later France and Britain. Corrente (or courante) is a more upbeat and lively dance from the Renaissance and Baroque time period. Sarabande has Spanish dance ties and is a slower piece. Menuet is also known as minuet and comes from a social French dance. Gigue is an upbeat dance with connections to the British jig.

There are many other types of musical movements. The above is just a sampling of the variety available in classical music. Movements are played together when performing a piece, however, sometimes movements can stand on their own. I enjoy listening to several andante movements by different composers back to back when I want to relax or am having trouble sleeping. Do you have a favourite style?

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When people think of chamber music, they sometimes assume that it was all written long, long ago in France, Italy, or Germany. But that simply isn’t true. Chamber music has been around in various forms since the 1600s – and is still being created today. And it has been and still is written in many locations around the world.

Born in 1906, Shostakovich was a Soviet Russian composer and pianist. Shostakovich was a child prodigy, playing the piano since the age of 9, displaying an amazing talent to be able to recall what he had heard played previously, and composing by the age of 12. At 13, he entered the Conservatory in Saint Petersburg.

He started his career as both a pianist and a composer. Along with concerts and competitions, he played piano in a movie house to earn money to pay his way in life. In his early 20s, he shifted more to composition. Over the course of the next 48 years of his life he composed quite a variety of classical work including 15 symphonies, 15 string quartets, 2 piano trios, numerous preludes and fugues, 3 operas, and the list goes on.

Shostakovich received awards, praise, and disfavour from the government over the course of his career. Early on he had a favourable relationship with the government. However, in 1936 he fell out of favour with Stalin. Bad reviews followed, and his income dropped. Those who had supported him publicly distanced themselves from him. During the Great Purge (1936-1939), Shostakovich lost many friends and family members. Difficulties continued off and on for Shostakovich until Stalin’s death in 1953. Throughout it all though, he continued to compose and, as many artists do, he allowed those trials to shape his wonderful work.

In 2013 we heard the Jerusalem Quartet perform Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 11 in F Minor, Op. 122 and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble perform Prelude and Scherzo for String Octet, Op. 11, one of 2 pieces that Shostakovich wrote for string octets.  The St. Petersburg Quartet treated us to Quartet No. 8 in October 2014.

We will hear Shostakovich twice on our stage this coming season.  The Carducci Quartet will perform Quartet No. 4 in D Major, Op. 83 on November 16, 2017 and the Schumann Quartet bring us Quartet No. 7 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 108 on April 12, 2018.

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