The Montreal Chamber Music Festival: Ludwig van Beethoven was born mid-December of 1770, likely on December 15 or 16 – his baptism was recorded as December 17 – so 2020 marks the 250th anniversary of his birth. Beethoven’s music is always in the air, but there have been serious rumblings of ambitious celebrations to come in recent weeks, in programming by the TSO and Mooredale Concerts. So too the recent announcement that the Montreal Chamber Music Festival’s 24th anniversary season – June 7 to 16, 2019 – will be the first of a three-year project to celebrate Beethoven, with the master composer’s 250th birthday coinciding with the Festival’s 25th anniversary. “Unlike any programming Montreal has ever heard,” according to founder and artistic director Denis Brott, each of the 2019, 2020 and 2021 “Beethoven Chez Nous!” festivals will feature “significant cycles of complete works by Beethoven. Not only is Beethoven perhaps the greatest classical composer of all time, he also wrote the most chamber music, perfected the string quartet form, and single-handedly transitioned classical music from the classical to the Romantic era.”
Two complete surveys highlight the 2019 program: 2019 Grammy Award-winner James Ehnes, with longtime pianistic partner Andrew Armstrong, will perform Beethoven’s ten sonatas for violin and piano over three evenings (June 13 to 15). Gramophone maga- zine, in an Editor’s Choice review, called the duo’s recording of Sonatas 6 & 9 for Onyx Classics “a compelling addition to Ehnes and Armstrong’s remarkable discography.” And in an even more ambitious programming stroke, the Festival will present Franz Liszt’s astonishing transcriptions of Beethoven’s nine symphonies over a span of five late-afternoon concerts at Salle Bourgie (June 11 to 15). Among the most technically demanding piano music ever written, Liszt’s remarkable reproductions will be performed by six pianists including Alexander Ullman, First Prize winner of the 2017 Liszt International Piano Competition (Symphonies 1 & 3); Vancouver’s Jocelyn Lai (Symphonies 2 & 6); Juilliard alumnus Carlos Avila (Symphonies 8 & 7); Conservatoire de musique de Montréal faculty member, Richard Raymond (Symphonies 4 & 5); and the virtuosic David Jalbert and Wonny Song (artistic director of Orford Music and Mooredale Concerts) in a two-piano version of the Ninth Symphony. The 5pm concerts include a complimentary glass of wine!
Another festival highlight: a new series of five free noon-hour concerts (June 11 to 15 at Salle Bourgie) spotlights emerging artists under 30: pianist Alexander Ullman; cellists Cameron Crozman and Bruno Tobon; and violinists Christina Bouey, Byungchan Lee and Emmanuel Vukovich. Tobon opens the series with a program devoted to cello duets (artistic director Denis Brott is the other cellist); British pianist Ullman’s June 12 hour includes late Liszt and two dynamic suites (Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker arranged by Pletnev; Stravinsky’s The Firebird); Lee’s program on June 13 moves from Bach to Kreisler to Prokofiev, and Ryan to Hermann in music for a combination of violinists including Martin Beaver, Heemin Choi and Amy Hillis; the June 14 concert headlined by Bouey and Vukovich also features violinists Hillis and Carissa Klopoushak and cellist Crozman in music by Ysaÿe, Honegger and Ernst’s Last Rose of Summer; Crozman and violinist Lee bring their solo and collaborative skills to the June 15 program which ranges from Bach to Ysaÿe and Casado to Glière and Handel-Halvorsen.
Eager to get a start on the summer festival season? There are plenty of reasons to start in June as spring winds down. Beethoven Chez Nous beckons.