Music lovers in Toronto have the great good fortune of hearing two internationally ranked pianists with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra “back to back.” Argentinean Ingrid Fliter was in town for Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2 last week, and this coming week we have Chinese pianist Yundi Li – now officially re-branded as Yundi – playing Chopin Piano Concerto No. 1. Their presence in Toronto so closer together is particularly meaningful – some of us will remember that these two artists took the top two places in the 2000 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. Yundi Li received the Gold Medal, an honour not given out to any competitor for many years until his win. Fliter came second. By a twist of fate, both Yundi Li and Ingrid Fliter are now on the roster of EMI Classics. Yundi Li ended his relationship with Deutsche Grammophon (home to two other Chinese pianists Lang Lang and Yuja Wang) for reasons much speculated but not confirmed. He has since signed with EMI.
It would be very interesting to have an (almost) direct comparison of these two pianists in Chopin. That said, I personally would have preferred other, more showy Chopin pieces than the two piano concertos. I attended the Fliter concert last Saturday at Roy Thomson. She played with flair, energy, accuracy, assurance, generally pleasing tone, and she was rewarded with an extremely warm reception from the nearly packed house. Despite her fine work, her Chopin played second fiddle – pardon the mixed metaphors – to the monumental Mahler Symphony No. 1, played in near-spectacular fashion by the TS forces under the baton of Peter Oundjian. This week, we’ll get to see what Yundi Li can do with Piano Concerto No. 1, which while romantic is more rooted in the classical tradition and as a result more restrictive and harder to really show off the stunning technique and musicality that Yundi Li possesses in spades. The Chopin is paired with Bruckner Symphony No. 9 in D Minor. Originally to be conducted by Quebec wunderkind Yannick Nezet-Seguin, he has asked to be released because of his heavy schedule, a truly unfortunate state of affairs as the choice of this heavy-duty Bruckner was his idea. Now it falls on the shoulder of Quebec conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni. I heard him as the conductor at the Montreal Piano Competition two years ago, as well as in a couple of opera performances. It would be interesting to see what he can do with this most daunting of symphonic works. Performances are on June 10 and 12, 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall. For details and tickets, go to http://www.tso.ca/Concerts-And-Tickets/Events/2009-2010-Season/Yundi-plays-Chopin.aspx
The other big news this week is the start of the Luminato Festival, also called Toronto Festival of Arts and Creativity. Now in its fourth year, Luminato is a 10-day festival of theatre, dance, classical/contemporary music, film, literature, visual arts and design. The shows, many of them free, are of cutting edge quality. For vocal fans, this year is immensely interesting, with the North American premiere of Rufus Wainwright‘s opera Prima Donna, which had its world premiere in Manchester, UK last July. That show debuts June 14 and I will have more to say when the time comes. For this week, we have free screenings of three documentaries revolving around Wainwright on Sunday June 13 beginning at 5 pm – All I Want: A Portrait of Rufus Wainwright; Rufus Wainwright Prima Donna; and Rufus!Rufus!Rufus!Does Judy!Judy!Judy! The screenings are at the Toronto Mediatheque at 150 John Street. Since these are free events, be sure to arrive plenty early to ensure a seat!
Also intriguing is the world premiere of Dark Star Requiem, presented by Tapestry New Opera Works, a Toronto company focusing on cutting edge new vocal creations. According to its press material, this is a dramatic oratorio by poet Jill Battson and composer Andrew Staniland, tracing the 25 year history of AIDS from its origins to the present day. This is commissioned by Luminato and co-produced with Tapestry, featuring four soloists and the Elmer Iseler Singers and the Gryphon Trio. Performances on June 11 and 12 at RCM’s Koerner Hall. For more information about this and other shows at Luminato, go to http://www.luminato.com/2010/