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Bach, Schumann, Balakirev, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev

By guest blog writer Julie Berridge

On November 15, Danny Driver plays the compositions of Bach, Schumann, Balakirev, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev.

French Suite No. 5 in G Major, BWV 816 was written by Johan Sebastian Bach between the years of 1722 and 1725. It consists of 7 movements: Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Gavotte, Bourrée, Loure and Gigue. Allemande in 4/4 time opens with a gentle interweaving of notes, and then becomes more lively. The Courante is light and quick and the Sarabande, is more stately. (The Sarabande dance started in Spain and as a somewhat lively dance and became more stately when it spread to France.) The Gavotte, a ballroom dance is followed by a country dance. The Loure is a soaring melody and the closing Gigue is a fugue in three voices.

Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13 consists of 12 etudes and was written in 1834. It’s been called one of the greatest musical achievements of the 19th century. In these 12 etudes, the piano is made to sound like an orchestra. From the one instrument, we hear woodwinds and brass, drum beats; horns and trombones, and violin and cello.

The second half of the evening features three Russian composers: Balakirev born in 1837, Rachmaninov born in 1873 and Sergei Prokofiev born in 1891. In Balakirev’s Nocturne No 2 in B minor (1901) Chopin’s grand nocturnes can be heard. Rachmaninov is said to have been inspired by the feelings conjured up by images when composing his etudes. Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 7 in B♭ major, Op. 83 (1942) was one of his “war sonatas”. It is said that in these sonatas, Prokofiev unfavourable feelings about Stalin were revealed. Ironically though, this Sonata received a Stalin prize.


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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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Quatuor Ebène

St. Patrick’s Day this year will find us celebrating a little French this year as Quatuor Ebène takes to our stage for the evening of March 17th.

Formed in 1999 at the Boulogne-Billancourt Conservatory in France, the quartet features founding members Pierre Colombet (violin), Gabriel Le Magadure (violin), and Raphaël Merlin (cello). Adrien Boisseau (viola) joined them in 2015.

In 2004 the quartet participated in the ARD International Music Competition. They place first in the string quartet category and continued from there to win award and gain praise. 2005 saw the ensemble win the Belmont Prize of the Forberg-Schneider Foundation. The Foundation continues to work with the quartet to enable them to play priceless old instruments from private collections.

In addition to performing in Europe, Canada, and the US, Quatuor Ebène has released several CDs. Recording of Bartok, Debussy, Mendelssohn (both Felix and Fanny), and Fauré are all award winners and have received great praise from the critics. In addition to traditional classical recordings they have two cross over CDs. Fiction is a live recording of jazz arrangements and was released in 2010. Brazil was released in 2014 and is a collaboration with Stacey Kent, an American jazz singer. They have a scheduled April 15, 2016 release for another CD – Schubert: Quintet and Lieder.

To hear Quatuor Ebène perform live in Toronto, join us on March 17, 2016 at 8pm at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.

The quartet will also give a masterclass on Wednesday the 16th in the evening.  Details for the class can be found here –  The class is open for any to attend for free.

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On February 19th, collectif9 (pronounced co-lec-teef neuf) launched their debut album, Volksmobiles. And they will bring their Volksmobiles show tour to our stage on March 10, 2016!

Collectif9 is a nine piece string ensemble – 4 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos, and a bass. After meeting to play a piece for two string quartets and a bass, the idea of forming a chamber ensemble developed. Collectif9 was officially founded in 2011.

Infusing a rock-style attitude into their work, the ensemble brings classical music to a younger pop audience. They generally perform single movements of classical pieces with arrangements often done by Thibault Bertin-Maghit, the bass player.

But as their website says:

“Don’t take it wrong; Collectif9 is not just a bunch of good friends wanting to have some fun with their fiddles. And the music they are performing is not some easy listening rearrangements of best-sellers classic but real Piazzolla, Schnittke and Shostakovich.”

Their members have formal music training and many of them have a Masters or a Doctorate in a music field. What you have are very talented classical musicians coming together to present classical music in a slightly new way.

Their program for the evening will include Romanian Folk Dances by Béla Bartók, Divertimento (3rd movement) by Béla Bartók, Rondo alla zingarese by Johannes Brahms, Muertes del Angel by Osvaldo Golijov, Trauermusik by Paul Hindemith, Volksmobiles by Geof Holbrook, Danzón No. 2 by Arturo Márquez, Verano by Astor Piazzolla, Dance of the Knights by Sergei Prokofiev, and more!

To discover more about collectif9, visit their website at

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Countess Marie d’Agoult

As we approach Mother’s Day, why not look at a few women behind some of the composers. This week we will continue with our recent Lizst theme and look at Countess Marie d’Agoult.

In 1805, Marie was born into a wealthy family in Germany. At the age of 21 she was married to Charles Louis Constant d’Agoult, Comte d’Agoult and became Comtesse. This was an arranged marriage and produced 2 children.

The 1830’s were an intense time for the Countess. 1833 saw her start a relationship with Liszt. In 1834, her eldest child died. In 1835, she decided to move to Geneva to live with Liszt, their first child was born, and she and the Count were officially divorced.

Marie and Franz never officially married. Together they had three children – Blandine (married to a future French prime minister), Cosima (who would eventually become the wife of Richard Wagner), and Daniel (a talented young pianist who died at the age of 20). In 1844, Franz and Marie parted ways and officially separated. Relations had been strained since 1839 when Franz had returned to touring full time and Marie and the children moved back to Paris. It was here in Paris in 1839 that Marie started her writing career under the pen name of Daniel Stern. She published several works starting in 1841 and continuing until a few years before her death in 1876. Two additional works were published after her death. She seems to have lived a full life and has left us with many insights into the world of her time.

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Jacques Ibert

In December, we will hear a piece by Jacques Ibert, Deux Interludes, performed by Trio D’Argento. Ibert was born in Paris in 1890 to a businessman father and a pianist mother. He studied music from the age of 4, learning to play both the violin and the piano. He worked as a cinema pianist and accompanist to earn a living initially. In 1910, he entered the Paris Conservatory to continue his formal studies.

Ibert lived through two world wars. During World War I, he served in the navy as an officer. He had to stop his studies during the war. When he resumed and completed his studies at the Conservatory, he won the Prix de Rome in 1919 on his first attempt. During World War II, his music was banned and for a while he fled to Switzerland. Through it all his music persisted.

Through he could play, he chose the musical path of composer instead of performer. Jacques Ibert died in 1962 at the age of 71, leaving a legacy of music to be enjoyed in a multitude of disciplines. Known as an eclectic composer, Ibert does not fall into one specific genre or style, He composed operas, chamber music, ballets, scores for film, music for plays, and songs.

Ibert was also known for his involvement in music administration, belonging to a variety of committees during his lifetime. From 1937 to 1960, just 2 years before his death, he held the post of director of the Académie de France at the Villa Medici in Rome (with a break during World War II).

Join us on December 11, 2014 for a taste of Ibert’s talent.

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In order to continue presenting quality chamber music, fundraising is a necessity. We have a few different avenues to raise money including our yearly Scaramouche dinner and silent auction.

Located at One Benvenuto Place, Scaramouche offers a lovely view of the city to compliment their amazing food and service. Chef Keith Froggett has been with Scaramouche since 1983 and is one of the best in his field. Chef Keith and Carl Korte (co-owners), along with their amazing staff, treat us to an evening of stunning food and impeccable service each year. Having been to Scaramouche for just a “regular” evening out (there is nothing regular about an evening out there!), I know that the high quality of the food and service is the norm for them and not just something they do for our fundraiser. Going to Scaramouche is truly a magical evening out.

To read more about Chef Keith, I suggest checking out this article from The Grid from 2012.

We have been blessed to have such great partners in this yearly event and are looking forward to year number 26 this June! If you would like more information on our fundraiser, please contact Music Toronto at

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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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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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Chamber Music – What is it?

As we start our new blog, one of the first questions to ask is what is chamber music? What makes it different enough from other forms of music to give it its own designation? In the simplest terms, it is music composed for a small group of instruments to be played in a room. Chamber music (musique da camera) was composed for domestic purposes which differentiated it from church music (da chiesa).

Initially that ‘room’ was in a palace or in a specifically built music room of a wealthy patron. As times change, that ‘room’ has grown to include concert halls and even pubs! But the essence of the music remains the same – a balance between instruments with each one having an important part to play and none of them being more important than the others. It is a conversation with instruments, including the performers and the audience.

As we progress though this season, we’ll explore more of what makes chamber music different from other forms. We will look at some of the history of chamber music along with some of the various instrument combinations (both old and new), composers, and the instruments themselves.

Come and join us for a conversation!

Remember as is printed in our MTO brochure:

Chamber music is simply classical music composed for small groups of instruments. A conversation among equals, chamber music requires players to listen to each other – attention, respect, give and take, balance. It is thus intimate and accessible for audiences, who are active listeners.

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