Mon­treal’s Bach fest high­lights tal­ent like counter-tenor Ja­cob Josef Or­lin­ski,

Toronto Star - - ENTERTAINMENT & BOOKS - Wil­liam Lit­tler is a Toronto-based mu­sic writer and a free­lance con­trib­u­tor for the Star. Wil­liam Lit­tler

MON­TREAL— When Hugh MacLen­nan wrote his iconic novel Two Soli­tudes back in 1945, he had in mind what were thought of as Canada’s two found­ing cul­tures.

Were he able to write that novel to­day he might also be re­fer­ring to Canada’s two ma­jor cities, nei­ther of which is as cul­tur­ally aware of the other as it should be.

As a small ex­am­ple, the Mon­treal Bach Fes­ti­val was sched­uled to come to a close last night with a re­mark­able event un­par­al­leled in Toronto, a pre­sen­ta­tion of all six of Bach’s Suites for solo cello, per­formed with­out in­ter­mis­sion by per­haps the great­est cel­list of our day, Yo-Yo Ma.

The Mon­treal what, you ask? Toronto, of course, does not have a Bach fes­ti­val, al­though it once did, and Mon­treal’s is vir­tu­ally unique in Canada now and vir­tu­ally un­known in our largest city.

Toron­to­ni­ans don’t know about Alexan­dra Scheibler, ei­ther, a Ger­man mu­si­col­o­gist who set­tled with her hus­band in the Que­bec me­trop­o­lis sev­eral years ago and took his ad­vice to found a Bach fes­ti­val to keep her­self busy. That fes­ti­val has been re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing some of the great­est in­ter­preters of the mu­sic of Bach and his con­tem­po­raries to Mon­treal and of­fer­ing as well a show­case for the city’s own con­sid­er­able com­mu­nity of Baroque mu­sic spe­cial­ists.

This year’s fes­ti­val opened with a per­for­mance of Bach’s St. Matthew Pas­sion fea­tur­ing the noted Ger­man tenor Ju­lian Pre­gar­dien as the Evan­ge­list, in­cluded Mon­treal Sym­phony Orches­tra per­for­mances of the B mi­nor Mass un­der Kent Nagano and em­braced a va­ri­ety of in­stru­men­tal works, not least among them the Gold­berg Vari­a­tions played by pian­ist Jeremy Denk.

Nagano, by the way, has be­come so en­thu­si­as­tic about the pro­ject that he has agreed not only to con­duct but to serve on its board of di­rec­tors.

To launch the fes­ti­val back in 2005, Scheibler knew she needed a cred­i­bil­ity-build­ing world-class head­liner and not sur­pris­ingly turned to an en­sem­ble she knew well, Mu­sica an­ti­qua Koln, from her na­tive Cologne. That fes­ti­val lasted only a week and its two suc­ces­sors were bi­en­nial. Now the fes­ti­val lasts two and a half weeks and takes place an­nu­ally.

“This is not like a reg­u­lar job for me,” the fes­ti­val’s founder and artis­tic di­rec­tor says with a smile. “You have to give 150 per cent. And I don’t want the fes­ti­val to put Bach in a box. We have even brought over a break­dance group from Ber­lin.”

This year’s pro­gram, with a chil­dren’s concert, com­ple­men­tary talks and lunchtime con­certs fea­tur­ing young Que­bec mu­si­cians, il­lus­trates the fes­ti­val’s grow­ing breadth. Dur­ing a short visit, I man­aged to ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing of this breadth, rang­ing from a concert fea­tur­ing the ex­tra­or­di­nary Pol­ish counter-tenor Ja­cob Josef Or­lin­ski to an­other fea­tur­ing Bach harp­si­chord con­cer­tos tran­scribed for harp, to a third in which Masaaki Suzuki presided from the harp­si­chord over the in­ter­na­tion­ally cel­e­brated Bach Col­legium Ja­pan.

Or­lin­ski, a Metropoli­tan Opera Au­di­tions win­ner cur­rently study­ing at New York’s Juil­liard School, is a real dis­cov­ery, able to toss off vo­cal fire­works in the Ce­cilia Bar­toli man­ner and bring an au­di­ence to its feet. His per­for­mance with L’Har­monie des Saisons also of­fered a re­minder of the mu­si­cal re­sources to be found out­side Mon­treal. This en­sem­ble, di­rected by Eric Milnes, is based in Que­bec’s East­ern Town­ships.

En­sem­ble Caprice, which is based in Mon­treal, proved to be an­other pe­riod-in­stru­ment pre­sen­ter vir­tu­ally un­known in Toronto. Di­rected by Matthias Maute, a vir­tu­oso recorder and Baroque flute player who teaches at McGill Univer­sity and the Univer­sité de Mon­tréal, this group ac­com­pa­nied Valérie Milot, harpist of L’Orchestre Métropoli­tain de Mon­tréal, in the tran­scribed harp­si­chord mu­sic.

But the in­stru­men­tal­ist who re­ally cap­tured my ear was oboist Masamitsu San­nomiya with the Bach Col­legium Ja­pan. I don’t think I have ever heard a more im­pres­sive Baroque oboist. Such dis­cov­er­ies are, to be sure, what a fes­ti­val should be about, bring­ing to our ears sounds that are un­fa­mil­iar and stim­u­lat­ing.

True, Bach him­self is cer­tainly fa­mil­iar. But in this fes­ti­val his mu­sic is ad­dressed from a va­ri­ety of view­points and paired with works by such far less fa­mil­iar fig­ures as Domenec Ter­radel­las and Gae­tano Maria Schi­assi in the case of L’Har­monie des Saisons’ pro­gram, Ai­rat Ich­moura­tov in the case of En­sem­ble Capricco’s, and Francesco Bar­tolomeo Conti’s in the case of Bach Col­legium Ja­pan’s.

What united these pro­grams was an ob­vi­ous fes­ti­val com­mit­ment to ex­cel­lence. We could use such a Bach fes­ti­val in Toronto. But then what would hap­pen to our soli­tude?


Pol­ish counter-tenor Ja­cob Josef Or­lin­ski pe­forms at the Mon­treal Bach Fes­ti­val.

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