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Guest Conductor Johannes Debus; Photo credit: Bo Huang
Glenn Gould School hits a historic landmark with its twentieth anniversary
Photo credit: Royal Conservatory of Music
Review by David Richards
Toronto ON April 21st 2018
It has been twenty years since the full-time diploma programs of the Royal Conservatory were re-imagined and re-named the Glenn Gould School. The school has become one of North America’s pre-eminent professional training institutes for classical musicians. Its graduates can be found on the world’s major stages. As the school year winds up for the twentieth time, it has seemed like a high-speed train moving to its destination. The last month has been a whirlwind of activity.
In March, the annual spring opera, Donizetti’s Die Fledermaus, showcased singers and orchestral performers in the program. For a review, click here. Two weeks ago, all the student pianists came together for a performance of the complete set of Rachmaninoff’s Preludes. Each student presented one or two. Last week, five of the six Rebanks Fellows gave a sparkling demonstration that they are ready for the professional stage in a performance at Mazzoleni Hall. Last night, it was the Royal Conservatory Orchestra that showcased the school’s outstanding work as a professional performance-training institution. While all this has been happening, there have been free student recitals taking place virtually every day, and often several in a day. Master classes by international artists, and regular classes also fit into the students’ schedules. Next Thursday, April 26th, 2018, the annual Chamber Music Competition will be held in Koerner Hall, the winners taking home cash and much sought-after bragging lines in their resumés.
The Rebanks Family Fellowship is made up of six students from around the world, each of whom has completed undergraduate and graduate level degrees in classical performance and has successfully auditioned to be accepted as a Fellow in this coveted program. The fellowship gives them a year with all expenses paid to provide a boost toward long sought-after careers. This year’s group consists of three singers, a harpist, a clarinetist and a violinist. Last week’s concert was the second of two concerts for these students during the academic year. The performers included Sonia Bize, harp; Maeve Palmer, soprano; Adam Harris, baritone; Katy Clark, soprano; and Emily Kruspe, violin. While each gave superb performances, it was Emily Krsupe’s performance of Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Major, op. 78 (“Regensonate”) that gave me goosebumps. Her expressiveness with the instrument matched her technical wizardry. It is no wonder the Associate Dean of GGS, Barry Shiffman, proudly introduced her as a success story of the Rebanks program, given that she has just become the newest member of the renowned Rolston String Quartet.
Last night, it was the Royal Conservatory Orchestra on display in what was an evening of barn-burners led by Johannes Debus, Music Director of the Canadian Opera Company. Debus is known for his attention to detail, and in preparing the orchestra for this concert over the past week, there is no doubt but that he inspired the highest standard of playing. The orchestra delivered in works by Berlioz, Poulenc and Bernstein. It led off both halves of the program with a selection from Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet, op. 17. Debus explained in his pre-concert talk that Bernstein had used these rarely performed selections in a conducting master class while he was a student in Germany.
Highlighting the concert was Francis Poulenc’s energetic Concerto in D Minor for Two Pianos and Orchestra, FP 61 featuring pianists Linda Ruan and Charissa Vandikas. Ruan and Vandikas, known together as the piano duo La Fiammata, are both third year students at GGS. They met at a competition in Vancouver before they entered the school and have been playing together since. Wow! Their playing astounded. Their communication with each other was a treat to watch – a smile here, a nod there, and eye contact almost continuously. Their sense of timing was spot on with each other and the orchestra. As an encore, they dazzled the audience with their sense of style, humour, and rhythmic playfulness in Piazzolo’s Libertango arranged for piano duo by S. Vandikas (Charissa’s mother).
The concert concluded with a spectacular performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. Conductor Debus unleashed the orchestra to allow all the youthful enthusiasm therein to shine. From the finger-snaps, to the shouts of ‘Mambo’, there was an energy and joyfulness in the playing that is rarely heard by seasoned professionals. The work is a virtuosic showstopper. The Royal Conservatory Orchestra was stunning and the spontaneous standing ovation well-deserved.
Click here to watch the Livestream recording of the entire concert.
Next Thursday, April 21, 2018, one can hear the finalists of the Glenn Gould School’s Chamber Music Competition in Koerner Hall. Tickets are free of charge, but for a good seat, reserve early.