On May 9, as Montreal’s professional hockey Canadiens saw its season end in a one-sided defeat to rivals from Ottawa, two resplendent, overlapping musical events also took place in town: the 18th Montreal Chamber Music Festival and the 2013 edition of the Montreal International Violin Competition.
Before a nearly full house in St. George’s Anglican Church in downtown Montreal, the Chamber Music Festival kicked off its season with a concert that was as many layered as the music.
Making their first festival appearance, the Boston Chamber Music Society (BCMS) played Menotti’s Suite for Two Cello and Piano, Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet and Schubert’s Quintet D. 956.
The concert reflected the close bond between musicians in Montreal and Boston, especially poignant after the recent Boston bombings, and the enduring friendship between BCMS artistic director and violist Marcus Thompson and the festival’s founder and artistic director Denis Brott (they had been students together at Aspen 50 years ago).
Also, it was announced that the festival’s three weeks of concerts will be broadcast to U.S. audiences through American Public Media by Boston’s WGBH, and that the program will travel to Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre for BCMS’s season finale.
Menotti’s engaging, 15-minute Suite, highlighted by a gorgeous “Arioso,” was something special for Brott. It was written in 1973 for performance at the Spoleto Festival in Italy by Gregor Piatigorsky and his young Canadian student and assistant, Denis Brott.
On the music’s 40th anniversary, Brott took over the first chair and was joined by BCMS cellist Ron Thomas and pianist Mihae Lee.
The Shostakovich was sensitively delineated by pianist Lee, while the strings led by Harumi Rhodes navigated the composer’s alternately happy and depressed moods.
The Schubert Quintet, with Ida Levin taking over the first violin chair, was one of those deeply personal, incandescent readings that make hearts rejoice.
Meanwhile, five blocks away, at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ Bourgie Hall, the Montreal International Music Competition’s triennial violin trials (alternating with competitions for the voice and the piano) were concluding the quarter finals from which have emerged 12 remaining young hopefuls: four from the US and one each from Canada, France, Poland, South Korea, Taiwan, China, Belgium and Ukraine.
With a phalanx of international judges scoring their every move, the brilliant dozen will play music selected from the usual suspects (Bartok, Beethoven, Brahms et al), plus some not so usual suspects like Lekeu and Schnittke, plus a composition of the performer’s choice written after 1970.
In a welcome, bold stroke, France’s Fédor Roudine will play a work of his own, appropriately titled “Mephistoccata.”
The six survivors who make it through to the finals May 14 and 15 will play one of the big romantic concertos with Maxim Vengerov conducting the Montreal Symphony Orchestra in their spectacular new Maison Symphonique de Montreal.
The gala concert on May 17 will feature the three prize-winners.
Meanwhile, back at St. George’s Church, the chamber festival will be carrying on, including two concerts of chamber music by Saint-Saens, the Swingle Singers (celebrating their 50th anniversary) with an all-Bach program, a Tchaikovsky marathon, and, on May 30, the Emerson Quartet making their debut with new cellist Paul Watkins in a program of Haydn Op. 20, No. 3, Bartok No. 2 and Beethoven Op. 59 No. 1.
It’s no wonder that May is National Chamber Music Month.
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