Monthly Archives: September 2016

Juilliard Quartet

On October 13, 2017, we will open our 45th season!  The Juilliard Quartet will start off our season, joining us once again.  With a 70 year history of excellence, they have delighted our audiences several times over the years.  This time they return with new cellist, Astrid Schween.  Previously, she was a member of the Lark Quartet and had an active career as a chamber player, soloist, and teacher.

In addition to performing, all of the members of the quartet are dedicated teachers.  The JSQ is the String Quartet in Residence at the Juilliard School and all of the quartet members are faculty members devoting time to teaching string and chamber music.  Each May, the school hosts the Juilliard String Quartet Seminar where quartets receive intensive coaching from the JSQ.  To find out more about the application process, check out this link –   It looks like applications are not yet open for the 2017 session but bookmark it and check back soon if you are interested.

Giving the average person an in-depth experience of quartet playing, in 2015, the quartet released the app “Juilliard String Quartet – An Exploration of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden”.

You can find out more about the Juilliard by reading our previous blog entry from when they were on our stage in December of 2014 – – or by going to their website –

Join us on October 13, 2016 to hear them live in Toronto with an evening of Beethoven and Bartok –


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Elizabeth Bishop

On December 1, 2016 Suzie LeBlanc, Robert Kortgaard, and the Blue Engine String Quartet will bring a musical tribute to Elizabeth Bishop to our stage, entitled “A Pocket of Time”.

Born in 1911 in Massachusetts, Elizabeth Bishop spent 68 years on this earth and had a large impact on American poetry.  Her childhood was one of upheaval.  Her father died when she was less than a year old.  Her mother was mentally ill and eventually institutionalized.  Elizabeth went to live in Nova Scotia with her maternal grandparents at first but was later taken by her paternal grandparents to live with them in Worcester, Massachusetts.  Unhappy there, she was eventually sent to live with her aunt in Revere, Massachusetts.  It was her aunt Maud who introduced her to the works of many Victorian poets.

As a young woman, she came into her inheritance from her father.  It was enough to allow her to travel cheaply without worrying about regular employment.

Elizabeth Bishop did not have what is considered a large output of poetry.  She was honoured with many literary awards during her life time, including a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

As with many artists, her life experiences were part of her art.  However, she wrote from a more objective and distant point of view and often you would not know she was writing about something personally connected to her.  Her poetry was influenced in part by her childhood experiences, her mentors and friends in college, her life and relationship in Brazil – where she went for a two-week trip and ended up staying 14 years.

You can find out much more about Elizabeth Bishop on this website –

Join us on December 1, 2016 for the musical tribute “A Pocket of Time” –

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Balakirev, part two

By 1856, Balakirev was performing his own pieces and others at public concert.  Balakirev’s two main patrons died in 1857 and 1858 respectively leaving him without the support that comes with influential patrons.  He had 12 compositions published in 1859.  However, his main source of support still came from teaching piano (sometimes up to nine lessons in one day!) and from performing at private events.

He felt strongly that Russia should have its own school of music, free from other European influences.  In the late 1850s and early 1860s, he gathered a small following of like-minded musicians.  They eventually became known simply as The Five.  1862 found him helping to form the Free School of Music and he became the principal concert conductor there.

Balakirev is known for his tyrannical nature.  He felt that formal academic schooling for music was a hindrance to composing music.  His uncompromising personality did not gain him many friends and caused many issues with his co-workers and employers over the years.

After a bout of brain fever at the age of 21, he struggled with depression over the years.  By the early 1870’s, Balakirev had suffered a complete breakdown.  He withdrew more and more from music.  Friends found him lacking in his usual energy and drive.  In 1872, he took on a job as a clerk with the Warsaw railroad in order to make ends meet.

By 1876, he started to return to his music and went back to the Free School of Music in 1877.  However, many of his early unpleasant traits were even stronger now.  He resumed a series of musical Tuesday evenings at his house in the 1880’s.  And in 1883 he became the director of the Imperial Chapel.  He continued to compose throughout but worked more in isolation now as the younger generation of Russian composers found his style too old-fashioned.

He retired in 1895 and turned his focus more to composition in the final years of his life.  He passed away in 1910 at the age of 73.

We will hear one of Balakirev’s piano pieces (Nocturne No. 2 in B Minor) on November 15, 2016 when Danny Driver takes to our stage!

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Balakirev, part one

Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev was born in 1837 to a poor family.  He started learning the piano very early in life from his mother at home.  He started school at the Nizhny Novgorod Gymnasium.  When he was 10, his mother travelled with him to Moscow for a series of piano lessons during his summer vacation.

Upon the death of his mother, he was boarded, and continued his schooling, at the Alexandrovsky Institute.  Here his musical talents were noted by Alexander Ulybyshev.  He became Balakirev’s patron and Balakirev continued his musical studies with pianist Karl Eisrach at this point in his life.  With Eisrach, Balakirev’s music background was greatly expanded.  In addition to playing and reading music, he was allowed to lead the count’s personal orchestra in rehearsals and eventually in performance.

Balakirev started university in 1853 as a mathematics student.  He taught piano lessons to help bring in some extra money.  His school holidays were spent back in his home town or on the Ulybyshev estates playing the piano.  When he finished school in 1855, he was introduced to Glinka and encouraged to make music his career.

Come back next week to read our post on the rest of Balakirev’s life in music!

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