Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal - 9:45 pm May 31 2015
An evening in old Montreal at dinner with Sylvia L'Ecuyer was a special treat. Sylvia, a veteran of Radio Canada/CBC, is here in Montreal for the Voice competition. She now lives in Vancouver where her neighbour is David Agler. Canada is a large country geographically but our music and opera world is small - the three of us took this opportunity to get together. This is a hospitable place!
Today is a complete day off - but the museums are closed on Mondays and it is raining steadily with the temperature down to 15 from its high of 30 degrees C on Saturday. Disappointing!
There was another treat for young singers from Quebec this afternoon - an opportunity for three of them to spend time with Marilyn Horne on the stage of the Bourgie Hall with the public present. I was there for the first two. Courage was the least of the qualities to be shown by these brave young people. Marilyn Horne does not pull her punches but both survived without tears, and came out of the experience stronger no doubt.
There was an extremely responsive mezzo - Caroline Gélinas - who showed off her Nobles seigneurs, Salut! She is from the Montreal Conservatoire.
And we then had a very gifted young baritone from the Université Laval in Québec, the oldest university by far in Canada, being a 17th century foundation. This was Hugo Laporte who should have a very bright future indeed.
Interestingly and topically he presented an unusual number, It is enough from Mendelssohn's Elijah. Topical because one of yesterday evening's successful semi-finals candidates sang the same piece in his recital. But I was glad to see that the 24 year old Hugo Laporte yielded nothing at all to his senior colleague n his performance of this piece. Maybe he should also have been in this Voice competition. He would have been a very strong candidate for the prize for the best singer from Québec! Next time perhaps - that will be in 2018.
Hugo Laporte (Baritone) with Jérémie Pellettier (Piano) - Marilyn Horne masterclass May 31 2015
This evening I will go to Old Montréal for dinner, a chance to get nearer to the 17th century!
left to right: Anais Constans (France) Vasil Garvanliev (Macedonia) Hyesang Park (Korea) France Bellemare (Canada) Takoaki Onishi (Japan) Keonwoo Kim (Korea)
The "collective wisdom" of the jury has delivered the finalists - through a simple scoring system and no discussion! And we have these six now who will compete on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra conducted by the Canadian Opera Company's music director Johannes Debus.
There is a nice symmetry - three young men and three young women - and five different nationalities. There are only two Koreans. There could easily have been five so strong was their contribution. It was a difficult choice from a really strong semi-final dozen.......
Today there will be feedback to the losing semi-finalists. And we are looking forward so much to Marilyn Horne's master class this afternoon. So this is a busy day "
Yesterday we began the three session semi-final process with a single evening session to hear the first four. And we have now the two new jurors who were unable to be with us for the quarter-finals, Marilyn Horne and Birgitta Svendén. It will be interesting to see what a difference they make to the process. We do not have a single mezzo in the competition - they are all on the jury!!
This afternoon and evening we will complete the process..........anxious times for the dozen remaining. Six will lose out at around 11pm!
Meanwhile yesterday afternoon Birgitta Svendén, David Agler, and I heard half a dozen young Canadian singers who are not participating in the competition. This was a nice idea of the competition's management to reach out to the many excellent up and coming singers who have few enough opportunities to audition to an international panel.
And then before the evening session nourishment was needed. I looked for a new place but ended up at the Pois Penché again - David Agler had had the same idea by chance, so I joined him and we each had a New York strip of great deliciousness......
Today we start at two and finish at 11.
We had a day off, comparatively speaking, yesterday. The opportunity to get feedback was given to the singers who did not get through to the semi-finals. And a number of us spent an hour and half yesterday morning having short talks with the candidates. I was impressed by the maturity of their reactions and the extremely positive attitude to what must have been a great disappointment for each of them. They do understand that a competition is something of a lottery and take comfort from that of course.
After lunch I attended part of Wolfgang Holzmair's masterclass - he had some really excellent young people from the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal - a tenor Mathieu Abel working really well on two songs from Schumann's Op 24 Liederkreis, and a really serious intelligent soprano, Anna Sophie Neher intensely into Hugo Wolf. What a joy to see these gifted early twenty somethings showing such commitment. And how lucky for them to have Wolfgang Holzmair for 30 minutes each......and by the way to have the remarkable Esther Gonthier at the piano!
And Richard Bonynge was the master for the evening. Again I popped in, with my colleague David Agler, and got a sample of the Bonynge magic with a promising young mezzo from the Schulich School at McGill, Pascale Spinney, being put through her paces with Rossini. Again - to have Richard Bonynge coaching this stuff is a huge privilege for them.
David and I then repaired to dinner - this time to a nice Italian restaurant beside the Museum of Fine Arts - Il cortile. To be recommended!
It was a dry warm evening so a walk back to the hotel past the Chihuly in front of the original MFA building was worth a photograph!
An excellent lunch with David Agler at a local bistro - Le Pois Penché - was an appropriate prelude to what turned out to be a remarkable day, culminating at 11 pm with the announcement of the twelve semi-finalists. You can see the full list of the happy dozen here.
We had a flood of excellence all afternoon and evening and it is now clear that there will be a royal battle to be one of the six finalists, and the three first prize winners could be any from at least nine of the semi-finalists. So I think that we are in for a dramatic second stage of the competition.
Another outstanding feature of the day was the playing of the pianists, both the official pianist of the competition and those brought by some of the contestants. I have rarely heard such a sequence of superlative work from that corner. A real pleasure indeed and it make such a difference for the contestants.
This morning we will be giving feedback to the unlucky 11 - this afternoon there is a masterclass with one jury member, Wolfgang Holzmair, and this evening from another, Richard Bonynge. I will be back later!
Museum of Fine Arts, Montréal 1:50 pm May 26 2015
We are extremely well located for the competition here in Montréal, with the Ritz-Carlton, our audition space the Bourgie Hall, and the Museum of Fine Arts which has a great restaurant, all within yards of each other. And the organisation, under the leadership of Christiane LeBlanc, is outstanding. Knowing only too well from Neue Stimmen what a massive task it is to organise these events biennially, it is all the more impressive to see the immaculate management of these competitions which come every year, in rotation - Piano, Violin, and Voice.
We had day two of the quarter finals yesterday, a long day from 2pm to 10 pm. And it is now clear that there will be something of a battle for the top prize of $CDN 30,000; and we have another ten candidates to give their 25 minute recitals today. We should not have too much difficulty in finding a dozen worthy semi-finalists. I can say no more than that at the moment!
Bourgie Hall, Montréal Museum of Fine Arts 7:25 pm Monday May 25 2015
We had the first session of the quarter finals yesterday evening and a taste of the quality we may be sorting out over the coming two days as we examine thoroughly the 24 candidates who have made it to Montréal. And already I feel there may be something special. But we have another ten this afternoon and evening and the balance on Wednesday. Far too early to get too excited!
These "quarter final" sessions offer the singers the chance to show their paces in Opera, Oratorio, and Song. So it is a really tough challenge which requires a lengthy preparation given that each has also to be prepared for full, but different, programmes of around 25 minutes for the semi-final round (there will be twelve of these 24 chosen for that) and the final (six pass through).
The auditions are in the Bourgie Hall of Montréal's Museum of Fine Arts, a really excellent small concert hall of around 450 seats. It is a fine new addition to the concert facilitates in this beautiful city. And we are looking forward to finals next week at the other new concert hall, home to the Montreal Symphony who will be playing for the final sessions and the closing concert. More about that all in good time. Meanwhile we are enjoying ourselves in the coming days with a wide range of programmes extending from Lieder and French mélodie, as well as other song (we had Walton, Vaughan Williams and Rachmaninov for example yesterday evening), through some oratorio and of course a lot of opera. We will get a very good idea indeed of the versatility of these young people!
The jury are housed in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, opposite the Bourgie Hall. So I am happy to be able to have an early morning swim every day. The generous sponsorship of this competition is amazing.
I know that we are in for an interesting ten days.
So flew out from La Guardia to Montréal on this beautiful Sunday morning - a great view from my flight!
It was a reasonably satisfactory set of auditions with Friday more productive than yesterday. I am now done with Neue Stimmen until London on Tuesday June 9. Meanwhile I am here for two weeks - such a nice city Montréal. It is too long since I was last here.
Yesterday evening was the treat of being at Avery Fisher Hall for some block busting Brahms from Susanna Mällki and pianist Kirill Gerstein in the first piano concerto. And there was a delectable opportunity to hear a remarkable piece by the late Jonathan Harvey. For those who do not know his work Tranquil Abiding was a wonderful introduction to the music of this gentle man. He died too young, at 73, in 2012.
I will chronicle events of the next two weeks as best I can........
I am on my way back to Canada, this time to Montréal for the luxury of staying one place for nearly two weeks. This is something of a joy after the wanderings of the last three weeks. I am on the jury of the Montréal voice competition. We will have an intensive but comparatively relaxed time. It will be a treat to be in this beautiful city which I have not seen now for more than twenty years.
I am now at La Guardia waiting to board.
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