THUNDER BAY, ON - September 30, 2009 - I have been thinking about the season’s opening concert of the Consortium Aurora Borealis. A lot has been cooking on the kitchen stove since last season. For one thing it is the first time in 31 seasons that music director Elizabeth Ganiatsos has not been present for an opening concert.
The season’s opener also marked a change in the music we have become accustomed to hearing from the Consortium, mainly focused on early music and music from the baroque era. The night’s program was an all out Romantic program featuring the music of Robert Schumann, Schubert, and Felix Mendelssohn. Schubert pioneered the house consorts which later bore his name. A Schubertia would be an evening centered about the parlour grand piano of a well established home. Some of these gatherings were very prominent musical events. In Schubert’s time and hosts would do their best to procure the best talent they could afford. These evenings became important to composers such as Schubert as well, for the occasions required music suitable for the grand piano and the invited artists, and who better to provide this music than a composer such as Schubert? This was a time when the grand piano was at its zenith, and some of the best composers wrote music for the piano, as well as voice and piano.
There are only a few places in the city that can afford to hire a professional pianist, let alone three. Lakehead University music program uses the talent of all three pianists on this night’s program. Dr. Natalia Lerner, Heather Morrison, and Derek Oger are all well respected local pianists. Lerner and Morrison have worked up literature for four handed piano repertoire. Much of this music is at the very heart of a good musical soirée. Were it not for the University creating the opportunity for these fine pianists to come together we would not have had their four-handed music on the program. Their performance on Saturday night was first rate. I especially enjoyed their performance of Schubert’s Fantasia in F- for four hands (duet).
George Holborn has sung with the Consortium many times over the years, but it is a special pleasure to hear him sing Lieder. German Lieder or art song is essential music for a good Schubertia. Accompanied by Derek Oger, Holborn sang the complete song cycle “Liederkreis” by Robert Schumann. George Holborn was in good voice this night and the combination of his voice and Derek Oger’s piano work is particularly good. In music of this type the piano plays an equal role to the voice in telling the musical story. In Thunder Bay this is even more important since there are not that many German speaking people in the audience. This concert then offered city concert goers a taste of two new collaborations, and I hope to hear more piano four hands, and Lieder in future concerts.
Attendance was good for the first concert of the season, and the playing of the four performers was well received. There are many piano players in the city and there is a market for this type of recital. The Steinway piano at St. Paul’s church is an admirable example of a parlour grand piano and is ideal for this type of concert.
I have always had some questions about piano four hands. This is when two pianists share the same bench. Piano duos require two pianists and two pianos. So in a piano duet, who gets to operate the piano’s pedals’, the pianist playing the treble part or the person playing the bass part? To their credit Heather and Natalia shared the roles equally, and with this four hander combination the bass player has the pedals.
My experience playing piano four hands is brief and best forgotten history. There are a number of challenges that do not present themselves to the solo performer. For one thing both players should be like minded at least when it comes to music. Secondly I found that being positioned higher or lower on the bench changes the relative position of the keys and this always caused me grief. Lastly the performers have to be closely aware of their partner’s actions. Often this will require yielding a little room so that they can play some notes on “your” keys! While my memories of piano duets are filled with elements of sibling rivalry I have come to admire those who can get this right.
This was the Consortium’s first concert of the season. There will be five more. The next concert will be Saturday October 17/09 at St. Paul’s United Church, 349 Waverley Street. Elizabeth Ganiatsos (organ) will be back with Thomas Cosbey violin, Doris Dungan flute, and others for a Haydn and Handel celebration.
While things have been cooking in the kitchen, one thing about the Consortium Aurora Borealis has not changed, and that is the group’s dedication to excellence and professionalism. This year as in years past, their concerts will be amongst the city’s best!