Past Events

 

Rising Stars Gala (November 2018)

 On Sunday, November 25 at the Living Arts Centre, a group of young musicians delighted a packed house of classical music lovers.

 The concert opened with a chamber ensemble comprised of 8 young violinists performing 2 pieces with Danny Chik at the piano.  First, they played “Country Dance” by Donald Heins,  a Canadian violinist and composer.  The work was played with a lot of energy, and the many violins produced a grand, majestic effect.  It finished with an elaborate ritardando leading to a powerful final chord.  The next piece, “Song of Nostalgia” was written by the Chinese composer, Ma Si Cong during the Japanese occupation of China in the 1930s.  The chamber ensemble successfully expressed the wistfulness Ma felt while writing this song, and brought back some of the special moments of lives in their home country for the audience.  After this piece, a direct change of atmosphere was presented when five of the violinists performed “Perpetuum Mobile”, a virtuosic work written by Ottokar Novacek in 1895.  Although this piece presented many technical difficulties (e.g. scales and arpeggios, a rapid tempo, and repeated streams of notes), the young violinists managed to perform with rhythmic energy and appealing harmonies.  Playing such work as a group was a big challenge to take on, yet the ensemble delivered a remarkable performance.

 Next, Evan Jing performed the famous “Valse in Db Major, Op.64, No.1” by Frederic Chopin.  This work is popularly known as the “Waltz Of The Little Dog” because of the repeated eighth notes resembling a dog chasing its tail. Evan played with much enthusiasm, lightness, and humour, showcasing a great contrast of dynamics and rapid fingerwork.  This was followed by Franz Schubert’s “Impromptu in Ab Major, Op.90, No.4”, played by Ethan Li.  “Impromptu in Ab Major” is one of the four Op.90 impromptus written by Schubert in 1827.  Ethan performed the arpeggios very easily, and the contrast of mood was demonstrated through his use of pedal and varying weight put upon the piano keys.  The second piece by Chopin performed this evening was the “Nocturne in C Minor, Op.48, No.1”, played by Jerry Tian.  The piece began with a quiet, subtle melody that was later transformed into a dramatic climax point.  Jerry expressed the sensational feeling the work requires.  In addition, octaves and large chords were played with precision and resolute quality.  As the last solo piano performance of the night, Gabriel Wu performed “Rhapsody in B Minor, Op.79, No.1”.  The Rhapsodies were written by Brahms during his summer vacation at Portschach in 1879, during the highlight of his career.  This work is structurally made up of technically arduous passages that call for hours of practice to overcome, for which Gabriel successfully achieved.

 Felix Mendelssohn’s “Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor, Op. 66” was presented by Chris Soong at the piano, Ryan Shen at the violin, and Chris Chan at the cello, all of whom attend the music department in the University of Toronto.  The first movement, marked Allegro energico e con fuoco, consists of a very rich harmonic language that was demonstrated beautifully by the three musicians.  The dynamics created various colours and brought out intense emotions from the audience.  In contrast, the fourth and last movement, Finale Allegro appassionato, was performed in a light and lyrical manner, with fast figures showcasing distinct virtuosity from all three members.  Their musicality and technical fluency was exceptional.

 The first concerto work of the evening, Nikolai Kapustin’s “Piano Concerto No.4”, was performed by the piano soloist, Jacqueline Renée Yu, along with the CAST Philomusica Orchestra under conductor Erhei Liang.  On Mr. Kapustin’s facebook, the composer himself posted Jacqueline’s rehearsal with the orchestra prior to this evening’s performance.  Kapustin’s work requires complex orchestration featuring various percussion and woodwind instruments.  Jacqueline’s energetic approach made the tricky parts seem easy.  Her musicality came out even during the complex figures where the technical level already took up much attention.  This work is in the jazz style, but since the composer studied piano with Alexander Goldenweiser at the Moscow Conservatory, the piece has a very clear classical structure as well.

 After intermission, the first movement of Edouard Lalo’s “Concerto for Cello in D Minor” was performed by Wendy Yuan with the CAST Philomusica Orchestra.  This concerto was composed in 1876.  Throughout the piece, Spanish idioms are presented, demonstrating Lalo’s cultural background.  In the movement, a melodic phrase is repeated throughout the work and displayed in various fashions.  Wendy’s warm tone quality served as a great addition to the lyrical and melancholic mood conveyed through most of the piece.  Her broad-ranged vibrato heightened the melody lines as well.   Moreover, certain sections of the work had a very high intensity level, which was elevated by the orchestra’s powerful volume.  

 As the finale of the concert, Xinyi (Shelley) Shen performed the first movement of the “Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35”, composed by Pyotr Tchaikovsky.  This work was written by Tchaikovsky in 1878 while he was at a Swiss resort on the shores of Lake Geneva, undergoing depression from his recently horrible marriage.  Although it was received with criticism at its first performance, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto is now highly regarded by many as one of the greatest violin concertos of all time.  Shelly’s performance was unmistakably stunning and many technical challenges were played at ease with very accurate intonation.  As with Wendy, Shelley’s warm vibrato helped enhance the subtlety of the work.  Fast scale passages were played very confidently and with full use of the bow, creating depth and excitement for the audience members to relish.  Above all, Shelley’s cadenza was very intense, and the quick, descending double stops and alternating arpeggios were very impressive.  Harmonics were sculpted with precision and clarity, and the orchestra’s important role was brought out nicely.  A dramatic, slow-building crescendo at the end led to the final cadence played at fortissimo by the orchestra, bringing a grand closure to the evening.

Along with other annual concerts such as the Celebration Gala and A Concert To Meet New Musicians, the Rising Stars Gala concert is one of the many performances that truly define the CAST Philomusica Orchestra.  CAST is one of the principal foundations in Toronto that promote and give recognition to younger musicians who may become outstanding performers in the years to come.

 

 


 

A Concert To Meet New Musicians (August 2018)

On August 18 at the Yorkminster Citadel, the Academy of Chamber Music for Young Musicians performed with many distinguished young artists.  The opening piece of the concert featured the Kaleidoscope men’s choir in their performance of “Hulun Buir Prairie”, a song by Wuzhatuoga and arranged by Eugene He.  The work painted a picture of the Hulunbuir Grassland, a district in Inner Mongolia of China with an immense land, beautiful scenery, and abundant plants. On the stage, an elegant orchestral passage was followed by seven singers who effectively displayed the graceful melody projected throughout the piece.  The successful employment of imitation defined the phrases, and unison sections emphasized the significance of the text. The high notes were implemented effortlessly and with decisive intonation. (video clip)

Next, the Kaleidoscope women’s choir performed a work entitled “Years and Months” by Sun Shi Yan and arranged by Eugene He.  This noteworthy piece was performed by acclaimed singers such as Wang Fei and Na Ying. A passionate character brimming with emotion was expressed through the choir’s refined performance.  The two solos sung at the beginning were delicate and clear, highlighting the simplicity of the melodic line. All six voices blended well together, and a rich polyphonic texture was generated through the application of numerous intervals (in particular thirds and sixths). (video clip)

The Five Pieces for Two Violins and Piano by Dmitri Shostakovich were performed by Danny Chik on the piano and Irene Huang and Glenn Huang on the violin.   Differing from Shostakovich’s conventional gloomy and ironic works, these pieces are bright, lively, and lyrical. The first piece, Prelude, reveals a passionate and warm quality, and the use of dynamic markings create a climatic effect.  The Gavotte has a joyful aspect to it in opposition to the first piece, and a lilting figure is achieved through light bow strokes. The vibrato of the Elegy creates a strong and resonant sound. The Waltz contains emphasis on the first beats to further depict the dance-like 3/4 meter.  The last piece, Polka, begins with a spirited figure played by the piano. Accents and sudden chords contribute to the humorous mood. The numerous rehearsals among these three instrumentalists permitted them to place their own stamp on this engaging work and served as an enjoyable experience to remember. (video clip)

Performed by Chris Fan and Blair Jia on the French horn and Irene Huang on the piano, “Trois Melodies Op. 25, No.3, Agitato”, composed by Louis Francois Dauprat, is an excellent example of demanding works written for the French horn.  The piece begins with an air of mystery and the tension later builds toward a dramatic climax and a thrilling finish. The robust sound of the French horns suits the vigorous spirit of the work. Ritardandos and tempo changes coordinated smoothly as well.  Triplet passages requiring skill and quick fingerwork were performed at ease. Dotted note figures were executed with crispness, and crescendos on lengthy notes created interest and variety. (video clip)

“String Quintet Op. 39” by Alexander Glazunov was performed by Shuran Wang and Frances Bai on the violin, Haiyang Huang on the viola, and Wendy Yuan and Jacob You on the cello.  The subtle harmonies created a sweet sounding correspondence. All five instruments were given the chance to demonstrate their individual capabilities, and the coordinated dynamics produced a rich sound.  Warm vibrato heightened the intensity and created a vivid tone colour. This work features eloquent counterpoint; the exquisite melody alternating among instruments soars above the harmonic accompaniment, and often, there are a few parts playing independent melodies at the same time. (video clip)

“Oblivion” is one of Piazzolla’s most popular tangos, and is arranged for the ryuteki by Kevin He, the Canadian composer who also played the ryuteki at the concert.  The ryuteki (which translates as dragon flute) is a Japanese instrument that produces loud and high pitched sounds. It is made by bamboo, creating a high sound quality.  Piazzolla, an Argentine composer, often combined classical and jazz traits, and is known as the first and foremost composer of tango. Oblivion was originally composed for a 1984 Italian film, Enrico IV, and has been transcribed for many other instruments ever since.  At the concert, a feeling of sadness and melancholy was expressed through Kevin’s performance. His playing had an exotic sound, and the phrase structure coincided comfortably with the music. (video clip)


Following “Oblivion”, 10 year old soprano soloist, Lucia Li performed “My Heart Will Go On”, the theme song in the 1997 film “Titanic” originally sung by the Canadian diva Celine Dion.  To reflect the meaning of the words, the emotion must be distinctly conveyed to the audience, which was demonstrated adequately in Lucia’s performance. The pure sound from the soprano resulted in a beautiful tone quality, and the modulation to A flat major heightened the suspense.  High notes were sung effortlessly and with complete control, involving an excessive degree of skill and technique. Lucia’s voice had an unexpected level of maturity for such a young age, and her confidence on stage and wide vocal range are a great asset to her musical development. (video clip)


“Come Paride Vezzoso”, from Gaetano Donizetti’s opera “L’Elisir d’amore” was performed by the baritone soloist, Blair Jia.  In this scene of the opera, Belcore (a sergeant) proposes to Adina (a beautiful landowner). Blair performed the aria with warmth and clarity, and his use of dynamics enhanced the work as a whole.  His intonation was precise, and inflections of vibrato contributed to the musical style. Slight tempo shifts corresponding with the music created diversity. Melismas on important words were emphasized, and often delayed, to portray the meaning of the text.  The orchestra’s steady pulse and ability to follow the singer served as an ideal accompaniment to the voice. (video clip)

“Love Letter”, by Yi-Feng Chao, was performed by the composer himself.  It began with a delicate piano accompaniment, followed by the singer on his guitar.  A serene and tranquil mood was portrayed. As the piece developed, orchestral accompaniment came in.  The emotional tension was increased in the chorus, followed by a short orchestral passage incorporating chromatic inflections.  On the repeat of the verse, orchestral accompaniment was used throughout. The tension reached its highest degree near the end, and the piece finished with a quiet piano passage.  Yi-Feng sang with much expression, escalating the spiritual power of the work. One of the climaxes of the concert came when singers, Yi-Feng Chao and Kevin He performed “You Are My Beloved Girl” by Wang Feng.  This celebrated piece began with a short guitar passage, followed by the verse sung by Kevin. The two singers maintained excellent control over vibrato and dynamics, and the orchestra expanded on the contrast of dynamics with short tremolo figures.  The emotion was once again elevated to a new level, and the orchestra complemented the singers nicely. The harmonies created via the two singers enriched the work. Many audience members were exceedingly impressed with the maturity this performance exhibited, and the number was very well received. (video clip)

After intermission, the orchestra returned to play “Jasmine Flowers to Mother”, a piece arranged by the orchestra’s conductor Erhei Liang and performed by the soprano Beckie Tan.  Full orchestral sound at the beginning helped set the stage for the compelling work that followed. Beckie’s voice was delivered powerfully across the hall, and she enunciated every word clearly to present the message of the text.  Her phrasing was skillfully controlled and well defined by a wide range of intervals. Beckie struck the high notes effectively, communicating a sense of delicacy, and finished with a virtuosic solo as a grand close to the performance. (video clip)


“Love Song from Kangding” is a Chinese folk song, with the orchestral arrangement produced by Kevin He.  It was performed by singers Jerry Yang and Wang Lan. This work is a traditional folk song of Kangding, Sichuan Province.  Beginning with a remarkable violin solo played by Eros Tang, concertmaster of the orchestra, the intricate theme served as an introduction to the melodic statement presented by the singers.  The contrast between upper and lower registers provided variety, and pizzicato accompaniment from the strings served as a light background to the voices. Both singers demonstrated their expertise through solos and proved to be well aware of not only their parts, but the other singer’s as well.  Synchronization between the two singers struck as an impressive feature of their performance. (video clip)

As the finale, Darius Yang, a guitar soloist, performed the second movement of “Concerto de Aranjuez” by Joaquin Rodrigo, with the Academy of Chamber Music for Young Musicians conducted by the musical director Erhei Liang.  This piece is by far Rodrigo’s best known work, and his inspiration came from the gardens at Palacio Real de Aranjuez (Royal Palace of Aranjuez). The work strives to bring audience members to another time and place by depicting the sounds of nature.  Preceded and accompanied by guitar chords and long notes on the cellos, the oboist Ciara Wheeler played a haunting melodic line that recurred throughout the movement. Darius highlighted the incredible sound of the classical guitar. An ornate moment occurred after the highly polished cadenza, where the entire orchestra played the nostalgic melody performed by the oboist earlier in the movement, but in the dominant key. In both high and low registers, Darius successfully showcased stunning technique and musical virtuosity.  As an encore, Darius performed “Cherry Blossom Time” by Kotaro Oshio. The lyrical and peaceful melody brought the audience to springtime in Japan, with glorious pink flowers all around. (video clip)

 A Concert To Meet New Musicians provides an excellent opportunity for evolving artists to emerge in various performance settings.  The contrasting numbers presented in the evening’s program were skillfully interpreted and well rehearsed. For young musicians who still have time to advance and develop, many possibilities lie ahead.

 


 



Celebration Gala Concert (June 2018)

    Celebration Gala is undoubtedly one of CAST’s most significant annual concerts.  This year’s performance gave CAST the pleasure of collaborating with many prominent artists. 

   In the evening of June 16, Scarborough Citadel was packed with families, friends, and music lovers alike who, from past experience, expected a magnificent performance ahead of them.  This evening’s concert proved to be of even higher caliber than the awaiting audience had anticipated.

   First on the program was “An Impression of Beautiful Southern China”, a piece composed by CAST’s conductor, Erhei Liang.  Before the full performance of this work, Dr. Liang addressed the audience about how the Sichuan dialect inspired him to compose the piece and how the dialect was depicted using short demonstrations from the orchestra.  This not only gave the audience some background information on the piece, but also provided them with an understanding that would help them appreciate the work at a higher level.  The performance of “An Impression of Beautiful Southern China” evoked a nostalgic response from the audience, especially for those who used to visit or live in Southern China.  The many contrasting themes and lively dynamics were portrayed beautifully by the orchestra.  The piece has many solo sections for different instruments to display their musical capabilities, and the powerful brass section with the drums enhances the work as a whole.  This work not only showcases strings virtuosity, but often, the wind and brass instruments play a big role in the orchestra. (For example, the oboe solo repeats various times throughout the piece.)  This piece requires a distinct connection between the conductor and the orchestra, owing to the complex and constant changes in meter.  The orchestral members all watched the conductor closely, leading to an incredibly united performance as a result.  From beginning to end, this enjoyable piece successfully captured the audience’s full attention.

 

    The orchestra subsequently accompanied Ms. Pei Zhen Huang in her singing performance of “Butterflies in Love with Flowers”, a Chinese traditional song in Suzhou Pingtan style composed by Zhao Kaisheng and arranged for orchestral accompaniment by Erhei Liang.  The performance began with a loud and resounding orchestral passage, followed by an extraordinary solo by Ms. Huang.  This work is highly virtuosic, and requires an excessive level of skill from the vocalist.  The audience was extremely impressed with the combination of Eastern singing alongside Western instruments.  It was also a great experience for CAST to work with Ms. Huang and perform a different genre of music than they typically perform.  

   Following “Butterflies in Love with Flowers”, two sisters performed the fourth movement of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Sonata in G Minor for Cello and Piano, with Jocelyn Chu on the cello and Rebecca Chu playing the piano.  This piece needs a high degree of technique, musicality, and synchronization, all of which the sisters accomplished.  In addition, Jocelyn’s warm vibrato and Rebecca’s ease during even the most difficult of passages made their performance very powerful and sentimental.

   As part of a five-day visit from England to Canada, the University of Kent String Sinfonia performed “Serenade for Strings in E Minor” by Edward Elgar.  The group of ten string players coordinated incredibly well and were deeply involved in their performance.  The rich and beautiful chords were only possible thanks to the secure intonation of all the players.  The cello and bass provided a deep and resonant sound, serving as a baseline for the elegant melodies played by the violinists and violists.  This performance surely moved many of the audience members, creating a work that they would unlikely forget.

   Eros Tang next performed the first movement of the Violin Concerto in D Minor by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.  Even non-musicians can comprehend how demanding this piece is.  Eros mastered the technical challenges presented in this piece, and his sense of musicality was favoured by both audience members and musicians.  As assistant concertmaster of this concert, Eros is very experienced and knows how to lead the orchestra in passages with tempo changes.  This was another performance that serves as a reminder to listeners the valuable role music plays in their lives.

    After a brief intermission, the Xiao Ping Chorus performed the “Sound of Music Choral Highlights” with CAST.  The music was composed by Richard Rodgers and arranged by John Leavitt.  This performance was much appreciated, since the majority of the audience members were familiar with the famous movie.  The collaboration between the orchestra, the conductor, and the chorus was extraordinary.  The choir sang with spirit and accurate intonation.  Their heart-warming performance was of high quality in many aspects, and CAST would definitely be thrilled to work with them again.

   Among the pieces showcased in the program was an orchestral work, “Beyond the Gate of Supreme Harmony”, by Canadian composer Kevin He.  Like Dr. Liang, Mr. He explained to the audience what had inspired him to write this piece.  The combination of all the instruments created rich harmonies, which worked very well together.  The percussion added grand effects to this piece, and the wind instruments helped maintain a quiet and subtle mood.  As the title implies, this piece goes beyond the typical harmony we use, and includes some perfect intervals that we normally don’t write in basic harmony.  Mr. He extended to further experiment with different intervals and methods of composing, which resulted in an amazing effect and took the audience back in time.

    The highlight of the concert came when the internationally renowned singer Hu Xiao Ping performed the fourth movement of Gustav Mahler’s famous Symphony No. 4.   With a voice that possesses exceptional clarity and warmth, Ms. Hu’s inflections of vibrato heightened the emotional capacity of this work.  She struck the high notes at seemingly great ease and with precise intonation.  Ms. Hu led the orchestra with clear movements and expressions.  Her musicality was top class, and she captivated the audience in her wonderful performance.  After the piece ended, the audience, in standing ovation, demanded an encore, in which Ms. Hu sang the “Song of Marino” with the orchestra.  The performance was spectacular.  Instead of the melancholy melody conveyed in Mahler’s Symphony, “Song of Marino” is a light and jolly piece, which served as a well-suited finale for the concert.  Ms. Hu completely depicted the animated atmosphere sought in this piece, and her encore delighted not only the audience, but the orchestra as well.  The end of Ms. Hu’s performance was met with thundering applause.  To say that her performance was well received would be an understatement. After bowing multiple times, Ms. Hu began to leave the stage, but to no avail.  The audience insisted on listening to the famous soprano sing once more.  After another repeat of the “Song of Marino”, the concert finally came to a conclusion.

    CAST helps assemble artists from all over Canada to enjoy a wide variety of music genres, and to appreciate music together.  Hopefully, younger generations will continue to preserve the multicultural environment and make Toronto a peaceful and vibrant city.