Pedja Muzijevic delighted the audience at Walter Hall last evening with a piano recital that was distinctively different from most. Instead of performing the usual repertoire of 19th and 20th century composers, he delivered a program focussed on four sonatas by Joseph Haydn interspersed with music by composers of today. 


The differences didn’t begin and end with the repertoire however. Muzijevic’s approach to the concert entitled Haydn Dialogues was somewhat casual in that he remained on-stage for the entire program and spoke with the audience between works. He organized the program in such a way as to expose the contrasts between Haydn’s early and late works as well as between the music of the 18th century and that of three renowned contemporary composers. He reminded the audience of the context of Haydn’s music. By juxtaposing the Haydn and contemporary works, he also demonstrated that music of both eras can reach out and touch us in similar ways. He did all this with understated wit and joyfulness.

In his remarks, he made reference to the theme of the Toronto Summer Music Festival - London Calling: Music of Great Britain. He explained why Haydn made a trek to London late in life. The Esterházy family in Hungary had just disbanded his orchestra at the palace when John Solomon arrived from London with an invitation for Haydn to travel to Britain. The ensuing visit resulted in some of Haydn’s most endearing music. With tongue in cheek, Muzijevic noted that for Haydn it was indeed “London Calling”!

From the first notes of the opening Sonata in D major, Hob.XVI:51, it was clear that the performance was going to be special because of the transparency in each and every note and phrase. Following the concert, one member of the audience remarked, “Every phrase mattered”. Another added, “His music sparkled with clarity and humour”. The second movement of the piece was one of extraordinary tenderness and simplicity. This short early sonata became a true gem in the hands of Muzijevic because of the ease and musicality of his performance.

The contemporary works by the British composer Oliver Knussen and American composers John Cage and Jonathan Berger were stylistically distinctive; Muzijevic made every sound of each a beautiful experience. Nothing was ever over-played.

Sonja’s Lulluby Op. 16 by Knussen is a delicate programmatic piece depicting the cackles and cries of his infant daughter during a sleepless night. The unresolved dissonant chords and seemingly unrelated individual tones suggested an awake yet happy baby.

John Cage’s In a Landscape was beautifully meditative in its modal sequences and repetitiveness throughout. Again, Muzijevic captivated the audience with the delicacy of each tone that he produced. The tranquillity of the final notes was magical. He held the audience in stillness as the vibration of the last notes faded into nothingness and then immediately embarked on the next Haydn sonata. The dramatic contrast was compelling.

Intermezzo by Joanathan Berger was commissioned for Muzijevic’s Haydn Dialogues concert that premiered in Washington earlier this year. Using a fragment from Haydn and having been inspired by a todder’s attempt at story-telling, the work is full of surprises.

Each of the Haydn sonatas demonstrated his evolution as a composer. Sonata in C major, Hob.XVI:50 written in London in 1794 ended the program. The only three movement sonata performed, it is a larger work that foretells his student Beethoven’s sonatas that followed. Nevertheless, this mature work maintains Haydn’s charming style complete with humour and dramatic pauses.

The Toronto Summer Music Festival continues through to August 7th with solo, chamber, orchestral, choral, and opera performances. Concerts, masterclasses and lectures occur each day of the festival. For information: www.torontosummermusic.com

Review by David Richards
Toronto July 20, 2016

Pedja Muzijevic, ​Photo courtesy of Toronto Summer Music

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PEDJA MUZIJEVIC: understated elegance, insight and humour…