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A Concert To Meet New Musicians (April 2019)

A Concert To Meet New Musicians is an annual performance acknowledging the effort of young musicians and encouraging them to pursue their musical dreams. This year, the concert took place at the Yorkminster Citadel on April 6. Many young musicians were given the opportunity to gain onstage experience by performing numerous chamber and orchestral works before an audience.

The first piece on the program was composed by Haiyang Huang, a dedicated member of the CAST Philomusica Orchestra.  Having been in the orchestra for almost 5 years, Haiyang is an avid music lover who composes in his spare time.  He considers Introduction and Waltz in E minor his first significant composition, therefore giving CAST the opportunity to perform it for the first time.  Through an interview with the composer, it was revealed that Haiyang began composing this work around the same time last year and used the span of ten months to edit and polish.  He was mainly inspired to write this piece thanks to his favourite composer, Frederic Chopin, who had written many waltzes during his lifetime.  In this waltz, Haiyang aimed to depict scenes of two dancers waltzing together.  The piece begins with an Andante cantabile in the key of E major.  This introductory passage highlights several of the woodwind players at the concert, creating a conversation among the flute, bassoon, and clarinet.  It represents two dancers introducing themselves to each other before the dance begins.  Then, the entire orchestra came in with triplet waltzlike passages and transitioned smoothly into the waltz.  Tempo changes and compelling musical techniques characterized this work.  The waltz began in E minor, the home key, and consisted of a romantic melody portrayed by violins and flutes.  The tempo changed to Moderato maestoso and cellos provided a stable triple meter beat to accompany the melody.  Not long after, the tempo changed once again to Piu Lento and the key changed to G major.  This section of the piece consisted of a beautiful theme presented by various sections of the orchestra.  The cello principal commenced with a heartwarming solo; the second violins took over the melody thereafter, and the piece landed with the same melody carried out powerfully by all violinists with the rest of the orchestra as background.  Not relying as much on the waltzlike accompaniment, this joyful theme played an important role in the work and was inspired by Chinese music.  Following  a suspenseful fermata and a dramatic coda, the piece finished with five powerful accented chords played at sudden accelerando in the home key.  Haiyang chose to dedicate this piece to Dr. Erhei Liang, an acclaimed composer and the conductor of the CAST Philomusica Orchestra, whose orchestral works have been performed at many concerts and inspired Haiyang to write his own music.

Next on the program came two chamber performances beginning with Isaac Albeniz’s Tango in D, a part of the suite Espana.  It was originally written for the piano but was eventually transcribed for the classical guitar and other instruments.  At tonight’s concert, Shuran Wang, Frances Bai, Glenn Huang, and Christopher Tsai created a new experience of this well-known piece with the string quartet arrangement.  Next, Eros Tang, Christopher Fan, and Irene Huang performed the first movement of Johannes Brahms’ Horn Trio in Eb major.  This melancholic work was composed in memory of Brahms’ mother, Christiane, who passed away earlier in the year.  The composer chose to use a simple and elegant theme derived from an unpublished work he wrote 12 years ago.  The theme alternated between the violin and the French horn, and blended beautifully with the piano.  The speed was slow and eloquent but sometimes altered to Piu Mosso.  The three players effectively conveyed the feeling of love and sorrow.  The deep and somber tone of the horn well suited the mood of the piece. 

The chamber works were followed by a guzheng solo by Sunshine Quan.  Sunshine was classically trained in guzheng and harp and won awards and scholarships for both instruments.  Her performance this evening of a Chinese song, Sleeve Dream, was played with confidence.  Sunshine mastered the technical challenges presented in the piece and evoked the style of Chinese music through her interpretation.  She used rubato as a very poetic musical device and built up tension in climaxes.  The performance brought the audience members back to the royal court of the Tang dynasty, where young ladies danced in long sleeved dresses to imitate the ripples of water and air. 

A highlight of the concert was Eros Tang and Jessica Zhang’s performance of Max Bruch’s Romanze for Viola and Piano.  Eros Tang is the concertmaster of the CAST Philomusica Orchestra and plays viola as well.  He has worked with many chamber ensembles and orchestras and has attended various music festivals.  Having studied under multiple renowned musicians, pianist Jessica Zhang is an active performer in both Toronto and China.  Eros and Jessica delivered a remarkable performance that left audience members with a lot to think about.  The violist’s rubato and the pianist’s delicate treatment of octave passages brought out the beautiful and touching melody of the piece.  Continuing beyond the stage of technical challenges and synchronization, Eros and Jessica experimented with expressing their musical ideas and adding their own interpretations to the piece while staying true to its form.  

“The Song of Wine Bottle Recycler” is the theme song of a Taiwanese musical centred around the life and struggle of a deaf man who raised an orphan girl by recycling used bottles.  The soloist, Carolyn Hao, performed with a small vocal choir and the orchestra.  Carolyn’s voice was brought out clearly and filled the performance hall.  The enthusiastic choir highlighted the lively monophonic melody repeated numerous times throughout the piece.  Next, soprano Guo Ya sang “A Lark Flies to Military Camp”.  Ms. Guo’s voice imitated the clarity and beautiful tone of a bird singing.  She sung the melody with a nice flow and reached high notes at ease.  The cadenza near the end was delivered with precise intonation and Ms. Guo overcame the intricate and technically demanding figures.  Last before intermission, Dan Tong sang the famous Ma Yi La variations with a distinct Chinese style.  The performance opened with a spirited introduction followed by a slow contrasting development section.  The vocal range became much lower but Ms. Tong still maintained her level of emotion.  Her voice became more dreamlike.  An exuberant ascending scale led to the recapitulation, repeating the theme from the beginning. 

After intermission, tenor Bob Feng performed two pieces with the orchestra.  “It Is Me” is a Nostalgia about a son, far away from home, misses his mother and hometown.  Mr. Feng set up a wistful atmosphere with this sentimental song.  He clearly enunciated all the lyrics, effectively delivering the meaning behind the words.  The second song, “O Sole Mio”, was made familiar to the Chinese audience by the famous Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti.  It began with a grand introduction showcasing the violins and the French horn.  Mr. Feng’s interpretation of this work was memorable.  He sang improvisatory passages with confidence even though the notes were quite high.  In both songs, Mr. Feng was greeted with a loud and warm round of applause for his astounding technique and heartfelt emotions.  Next, Meiying Liang sang “I Love You, China”, a song written for the Chinese film, Overseas Compatriots.  Ms. Liang entered with an elegant flowing figure accompanied by rolls on the piano.  She sang with a controlled vibrato that had a definite range and changed throughout the piece, creating variation.  Her voice was warm and captivating to the listeners.  As the last vocal performance, Helen Ho sang “A Blue Sea of Love”.  While “I Love You China” expresses one’s patriotic feelings towards his country, “A Blue Sea of Love” celebrates the romantic love between man and woman.  The orchestra led by the violins brought out a poignant melody leading into Ms. Ho’s tranquil verse.  In the chorus, the dynamics and tension level became much greater and Ms. Ho’s vocal range extended to the higher register.  She maintained a great handle over her phrasing and sang without taking a breath for long periods of time to keep the phrases flowing.  All of the singing performances this evening succeeded in bringing out each vocalist’s individual style.

Lastly, the first movement of Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto No.2 in D minor was performed by Irene Huang with the orchestra.  Premiered in 1862, Wieniawski dedicated this work to Spanish violin virtuoso Pablo Sarasate.  The concerto is known for its technical challenges, containing octaves, double stops, arpeggios, chromatic scales, and artificial harmonics.  Not only is it technically difficult, but the melodies are also extremely appealing and passionate.  Overall, this work is known to be one of the greatest violin concertos of the Romantic era.  Irene presented this masterpiece effortlessly with accuracy and confidence. The orchestra played their exacting roles with dexterity and clean fingerwork.  The conductor and the soloist coordinated together and showcased well-rehearsed tempo changes and rhythmic control.  In general, this performance demonstrated the spirit and energy of young musicians with great potential and willingness to learn.

A group of young musicians, some very new to the orchestra, took on an adventurous journey of music making tonight.  They performed to the best of their abilities and will continue to thrive in a variety of performance environment provided by the Chinese Artists Society of Toronto.

 


Around the World with the Masters (March 2019)

On March 2, 2019, the Chinese Artists Society of Toronto (CAST) hosted a special concert, Around the World with the Masters, for the opportunity to showcase the performance of a number of highly acclaimed artists.  The concert hall was filled to capacity with people from all walks of life who had one thing in common: their love for music.

The concert was opened by the Spring Overture, a joyful piece composed by the orchestra’s conductor Erhei Liang.  After the full orchestra launched the work with an exciting passage, strings, flutes, and French horns brought out a sweet melodic line.  The middle section was more lyrical and flowing.  A delicate flute duet took place in this section.  As the strings receded to a livelier rhythm to accompany the other instruments, the melody became more animated and active.  The harp also played ascending passages that led to intense moments.  The piece finished with the same exhilarating spirit portrayed in the beginning.  A riveting cadence played at fortissimo by the whole orchestra prepared the audience for the much-anticipated program to come.

Next, Rosy Ge performed Franz Liszt’s Piano Concerto No.1.  Liszt composed this work in 1830 when he was only 19 years old.  The entire piece contains four movements and is about 20 minutes in length.  At its premier in 1855, Liszt played the piano and the orchestra was conducted by another celebrated composer, Hector Berlioz.  It begins with a definite motive played by the entire orchestra that serves as a basis for the rest of the work and is later repeated in various fashions.  Throughout this concerto, Liszt experiments with his own original ideas that have provided inspiration for his contemporaries.  Ms. Ge played with a strong spirit and brought out the powerful sound of the piano.  The first movement, Allegro maestoso, is robust and contains many tricky octave passages for the solo pianist.  Ms. Ge played the short cadenza passages confidently and with skill.  The second movement, Quasi adagio, contrasts from the first.  It sounds like a nocturne, warm and peaceful.  This movement is played at cantabile, in a singing style and Ms. Ge’s expressive musicality was showcased.  Her duet with the clarinet was featured.  The third movement, Allegretto vivace - Allegro animato has much use of the triangle.  It also has a rhapsodic form combining themes in the first and second movements.  The fourth and last movement, Allegro marziale animato is technically challenging.  Liszt uses cyclical form and after a lively duet with the woodwinds, the music changes to Presto with octave figures from the first movement once again.  In all four movements, Ms. Ge paid extreme attention to the orchestra and synchronized well throughout.  The ending is played fortissimo by the orchestra and not the pianist, which is different from other concertos of the time.

After the piano concerto, baritone singer Yun Wu performed Ode to Yellow River, a famous Chinese song.  Mr. Wu is a baritone and associate professor of music.  He won multiple awards at different competitions and frequently performed with the CAST Philomusica Orchestra.  Ode to Yellow River is from the second piece from the Yellow River Cantata, written by composer Xian Xinghai in 1939.  The song is about the strength China beholds and how as a country, the people of China will overcome any ordeals that get in the way. At the performance, Mr. Wu successfully portrayed the meaning of the music and clearly expressed the lyrics of the song.  This performance left an impression on many of the Chinese audience members who felt patriotic towards their nation.  Next, Mr. Wu performed Grassland to Father.  Mr. Wu’s voice was very deep and resonant, filling up the entire room.  His vibrato range varied throughout the piece, adding contrast and interest.

Last before intermission, James Xia performed Camille Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No.1 with the orchestra.  This work was composed in 1872.  Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff, and many other prominent composers considered this concerto to be the best one ever written for the cello.  It is composed in one continuous movement instead of the typical three-movement concerto structure.  The movement is divided into three sections: Allegro non troppo, Allegretto con moto, and Tempo primo.  The first section incorporates countermelodies and the call and response technique.  The second section is a well-written minuet that serves as a special highlight in the work.  Mr. Xia played this section with a lot of musical expression and added his own interpretation.  The third and last section serves as a recapitulation, restating melodies in the opening movement, but ends with a completely new theme in the solo part.  This work is highly demanding for the soloist.  The cellist shines in the spotlight while the orchestra recedes and provides a light background for most of the piece.  Mr. Xia skillfully mastered the technical challenges presented in this piece and effectively brought out the slow, musical sections.  In the higher range, his vibrato and solid intonation highlighted the beautiful sound of the cello.  This concerto was performed with impressive capability and musical talent.

The second half of the concert began with baritone Yun Wu returning onstage to perform two more pieces.  “Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre” is a famous Toreador song from Bizet’s opera Carmen.  In one scene, the handsome bullfighter, Escamillo, sings this song to describe the fame and victory he will soon come to face.  It is a song of celebration.  Mr. Wu was accompanied by a small choir consisting of both female and male voices.  The orchestra, soloist, and choir synchronized well.  The voices in the choir were very strong and gave the piece a march-like feel to fit the mood.  This familiar tune was sung with conviction and reflected on the happy mood the work itself set up.  Mr. Wu’s last performance was Bella Siccome un angelo, a song in Don Pasquale, an opera buffa composed by Gaetano Donizetti.  In this scene, Malatesta, the physician, describes the lovely characteristics of Don Pasquale’s bride-to-be.  Mr. Wu sang this song about love with great emotion.  The orchestra accompanied him with repeated sixteenth note figures.  In all four of his performances, Mr. Wu brought us to an atmosphere that well represented each work.

For the finale, violinist Sean Lim performed the famous Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto written by Chen Gang and He Zhanhao.  The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto is regarded as one of the greatest pieces of Chinese music ever written. Mr. Lim beautifully depicted the story between the two young people in love.  Some parts were tranquil and sweet, while others were upbeat and energetic.  The bittersweet piece holds a special place in the hearts of the Chinese people.   At the beginning of this work, the principal flute played an ornate melody that resembled the sound of birds singing together in a flower garden.  The familiar theme that most people associate with this concerto follows.  It is known as the Love Theme and portrays the lives of Liang and Zhu who long to be together.  Zhu is due to marry the son of a wealthy family whom she does not love.  When Liang finds out, he gets angry and dies of grief.  In this section, the setting became much darker.  The drums increased the tension and the entire orchestra played with stormy, powerful dynamics.  On her wedding day, Zhu throws herself into Liang’s tomb and they both turn into butterflies to be together once and for all.  The melody then returned to the original tune of paradise, played by both the soloist and the orchestra.  This concerto is influenced by the Chinese operatic style of the time and the Chinese instrument erhu, an idiosyncrasy of Chinese music.  The erhu-like sliding effects and Chinese folklore contribute to the style and self-interpretation of the piece  Mr. Lim successfully brought out the sad emotion the piece aimed to convey.  His warm tone and vibrato contributed to the general effect.  The captivating melody brought many people to tears.  One could even visualize the conversation between the violin and the cello representing the two lovers.  This was a performance people would remember for a long time.  As an encore, Mr. Lim played ‘With All My Heart/I Will Worship You’ on the violin.  The tender and peaceful melody evoked deep emotions of memories of loved ones.  When the last note faded away, Mr. Lim placed his hand over his heart and looked up.  There was not a dry eye in the crowd as he received a standing ovation for his performance.  The stage was showered with flowers.  As the longtime concertmaster of the CAST Philomusica Orchestra, Sean Lim has inspired all of his colleagues with his leadership, dedication, and commitment to excellence.  Tonight’s collaboration has a special meaning for both Mr. Lim and CAST and proves once again that music is by far the most powerful form of expression.

Tonight’s concert drew a full house of enthusiastic classical music lovers.  The program was extremely demanding for the four soloists who performed with confidence and energy.  Altogether, this concert gave the audience a chance to listen to some of the world’s greatest works performed by some of Toronto’s most esteemed musicians.


 

Spring Festival Concert (January 2019)

 

On the snowy winter evening of January 20, the temperature dropped to -35°C with the wind chill.  Dedicated musicians and music lovers braved the frigid cold to celebrate the 2019 Chinese New Year.  Despite the bitter weather outside, the atmosphere in the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts was heated in anticipation of the Eastern and Western musical banquet that was to follow.  

 

The MC of the night, Kevin He, opened the concert with a brief introduction in both Chinese and English.  Kevin is currently pursuing Ph.D. in composition at the University of Toronto. His works have been performed at several music festivals across Asia, Europe and the Americas.  Following the speech, Chinese-Canadian composer and conductor of the CAST Philomusica Orchestra, Dr. Erhei Liang, presented the first piece on the program, Rhymes From Memory, which was an orchestral work composed by himself.  Rhymes From Memory is based on three rhymes that were part of the childhood memories of people living in Shanghai.  The Shanghainese tunes supplemented into this piece were both melancholic and playful.  At the lift of the baton, the orchestra emerged with a light tremolo passage followed by a rapid triplet figure.  Instruments based on range built up from the bottom, creating a crescendo effect.  The orchestra played with eloquent phrasing and splendid full sound in principal sections of the piece.  The performance was especially sentimental for audience members who recognized the melodies portrayed by the orchestra.


Next, Guessing Flowers and Flying Kites was performed by the Kaleidoscope Women’s Choir and the CAST Philomusica Orchestra.  This arrangement by Yao-Jin He combined two popular and contrasting folk songs from the Hebei Province, one animated and bright and the other soft and expressive.  The song is in compound ternary and combines Eastern and Western harmony.  The female choir gave the work a delicate, light effect.  The choir collaborated well with the orchestra and tempo changes transpired smoothly.  After section A, a more elegant theme was introduced and the choir phrased the melodic lines beautifully.  Many voice parts were featured and the choir held an awareness of both themselves and the orchestra.  The return to section A brought the audience back to the joyous theme depicted in the beginning.  


Spring in Old Town is a celebratory overture composed by Kevin Zi-Xiao He, the MC of the evening’s concert.  Like the piece before, this work combined traditional Chinese musical expression with Western art music.  It began with a beautiful melody played by the cellos and was followed by a resounding crash cymbal at full orchestra volume.  Rapid sixteenth-note figures dominated the first section of the piece and contained many chromatic elements that showcased virtuosity and skill from the violinists.  In the middle, the composer rearranged a Chinese folk tune to form a poetic, emotional figure.  The concertmaster, Eros Tang, played a captivating solo that appeared mainly in the high register.  Rhythmic challenges were presented throughout the piece, and bass lines often occurred on offbeats.  The call and response technique was displayed as woodwinds were echoed several times by the strings and brass.  There was a frequent usage of drums to heighten the intensity and many instruments were highlighted. 


Next, the first movement of Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No.6 in F minor was performed by David Lin and Ryan Shen on the violins, Eros Tang on the viola, and Chris Chan on the cello.  This quartet was composed in 1847 and was the last major piece Mendelssohn wrote.  It was composed for his sister who had died that year and entitled Requiem for Fanny.  All four performers were experienced musicians and played musically at soft parts, while building tension in dramatic sections.  The four performers made the quartet sound like an entire orchestra, and audience members were immersed in different melodies interweaving themselves expertly throughout the piece. A thrilling climax concluded the work and the performers were met with thundering applause.  


The second collaboration of the night came as Fei Yun on percussion, Ye Lan on pipa, and Jiao Ping on guzheng performed Climbing Tiger Mountain, a neo-traditional Chinese piece integrating modern musical elements with Peking opera tunes.  The three ladies performed with bravado and each had virtuosic opportunities to showcase technical and musical abilities.  This was an exciting work with drums providing a compelling bass, the pipa displaying intricate and elaborate figures that drove the work altogether, and the guzheng revealing a harp-like effect with complex finger work.  The pipa solo was met with a special cymbal effect and both performers skillfully coordinated their changes in dynamics.  It was followed by a guzheng solo played with a high level of skill, leading to a fortissimo chord.  The drum soloist played at an intense speed, her hands flying through the air, while still maintaining a steady beat.  This performance was also well received by the audience because of the excitement delivered throughout.

Last before intermission was Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini.  Based on Paganini’s 24th caprice in A minor, this piece is a concertante composed for solo piano and orchestra.  It contains 24 variations which restate Paganini’s original theme in multiple ways.  The eighteenth variation is well known for its enchanting atmosphere and has been used in many movies and TV shows (Somewhere in Time, Groundhog Day, etc.).  Michael Berkovsky, a faculty member at the Glenn Gould School and the Phil and Eli Taylor Performance Academy, soloed at the piano with the CAST Philomusica Orchestra.  Dr. Berkovsky played with a lot of expression, captured the spirit of the movement, and clearly led the orchestra very well.  The tricky, fast passages were played at great ease, and the orchestra also did a wonderful job by helping make the music flow.  Exceptional diversity was demonstrated through contrasting volumes and intensity levels.  The eighteenth variation was played beautifully and depicted Paganini’s warm and moving theme which Rachmaninoff ingeniously flipped backwards in Db major.  The 24th and last variation was notably impressive as more and more instruments began to add themselves into the final climactic ending.


After intermission, the orchestra returned to perform Yun-Nan Folksong with a skilled bamboo flutist, Chun-Jie Wang, a Professor of Folk Music at the Royal College of Music whom the orchestra had collaborated with many times before.  Composed by Gu Guanren, the work is based on The Tune of Caravan and has a distinctly Chinese flavour to it.  Trills were incorporated into the work and decorated the rich melodic lines.  The sound of the Chinese flute was delicate, yet clear and Chun-Jie produced a warm tone that suited the lyrical sections of this piece.  Each note was struck with clarity and precision.  Lyrical sections were accompanied by strings with a repeated harmonic pattern.  During rapid sections, the accompaniment laid on the offbeats while the soloist played quick figures that took a lot of practice to master.

 

Next, Pear Trees Are Blossoming Again, a popular Chinese song in the 80s, was performed by Chao Yi-Feng, arranged for orchestral accompaniment by Kevin He.  Yi-Feng is currently the director of the vocal teaching and research department of the Nanyang Art School.  The song started off with Yi-Feng playing a solo passage on the acoustic guitar.  The strings’ harmonies fit in well with Yi-Feng’s voice.  The key change to F major near the end was dramatic and played at full volume.  Overall, the piece was both simple and catchy.  Dwelling on the childhood memories with portraits of mother and son surrounded by white pedals of the pear blossom, the familiar tune reminded people of where they came from.  For those who have travelled thousands of miles away from home, all the little things in life become the most they miss and never forget.

As the finale, Maurice Ravel’s Tzigane was performed by violinist Huang Ding Yi and the CAST Philomusica Orchestra.  Two years ago, Ding Yi’s performance of Butterfly Lovers with CAST at the exact same hall was a huge success, and this performance was yet another triumph.  Tzigane is a rhapsodic composition that was originally arranged for solo violin and piano.  The same year, Ravel transcribed the piece for the orchestra.  The free and unrestrained music is considered one of Ravel’s greatest compositions.  It began with a four-minute solo without any orchestral accompaniment.  During his solo, Ding Yi displayed wonderful technical capabilities.  The piece has many virtuosic moments, and legend says Ravel was looking at Paganini’s compositions while writing this work.  After the solo, the harp came in followed by the flute and other orchestral instruments.  Harmonics were one of the key features in this work that made it special.  Pizzicato sections were remarkably challenging while Ding Yi played them with great comfort.  The accelerando at the end led to a final exciting cadence.  As an encore, Ding Yi played Harvest Celebration, a piece arranged by CAST’s conductor, Erhei Liang.  This work was arduous for the soloist and the orchestra, but both succeeded in synchronizing together during the entire performance.  Cymbals helped boost energy at loud chords.  The French horn was given melodic lines that flowed nicely.  After Ding Yi’s performance, the audience erupted into cheers and the concert finally came to a conclusion.

This evening’s concert brings audience members of diverse backgrounds closer through the beauty and joy of music.  As Rachmaninoff once said, “Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.”  



 

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.