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Borealis Beat

A glimpse into the mind of our Artistic Director as she shares her knowledge and expertise on our music selections, the composers, artists, concerts, and more

Beethoven Rebooted: VC2 Cello Duo

Consortium Aurora Borealis is truly thrilled to announce the second live concert of our 44th season, as we return to our beloved pre-Covid performing venue, the beautiful, historic St. Paul’s United Church, with its excellent acoustics. For this occasion, we are happy to introduce two passionate cello virtuosos from Toronto who will amaze you with their artistry and versatility.

Captivating audiences with their expert playing skills and their energetic, innovative approach, Bryan Holt and Amahl Arulanandam of the VC2 Cello Duo perform with panache! They convey “an enthusiasm that is catching”, appealing to all ages, including youth. They quickly win audience’s hearts both with their virtuosity and their warm, witty and humorous patter about their music and experiences, drawing many chuckles and smiles.

Their curious concert title “Beethoven Rebooted” will offer something a bit out of the ordinary, as VC2 has brilliantly concocted an intriguing programme referencing both the old and the new. Compositions from around 1808 are arranged for two cellos, but four cello sonatas are also referenced, reworked and highly transformed by living composers. Putting things into perspective, two years ago the musical world commemorated the 250th Anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven. Unfortunately, COVID-19 interrupted some of the celebrations, including Consortium’s. We’re so pleased that our special guests are now able to bring us their Beethoven-themed programme. Beethoven composed five sonatas for violoncello and piano, two of which were previously performed at our concerts. These form the basis of tonight’s Beethoven-inspired concert.

In the Duo’s own words:

“Beethoven Rebooted” provides a snapshot of the cello repertoire—historic and new compositions—with ties to the great composer. VC2’s Amahl Arulanandam and Bryan Holt introduce their own arrangements of works by Beethoven, including Ludwig’s cello colleagues Duport, Kraft, and Romberg. These works are intertwined with a few commissioned pieces by Canadian composers, again inspired by Beethoven’s cello sonatas. Spanning genres and with influences from jazz to contemporary, and even hints of the rock world, VC2’s program will showcase the diverse future of virtuosic music for cello duo.

Two of Beethoven’s most familiar works will be heard in the concert. VC2 has arranged the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (with its “fate knocking at the door” motif) for two cellos, quite a feat! In a calmer mood, they will play their version of the equally famous “Moonlight Sonata”. It will be interesting to see how a symphony and a piano sonata have been reduced to two cellos!

VC2’s aim is to present artistically challenging yet accessible programs, from classical masterworks to unknown gems and boundary-pushing music. They have performed across Canada in a great variety of venues, from intimate cabarets to Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall. Both have also performed individually in numerous orchestras and ensembles, and as soloists.

Known for his artistic versatility, Bryan Holt has performed throughout North America and abroad in numerous concert halls and alternative venues. In 2012-13, he was a cellist in the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra, so he is no stranger to our city. He maintains a private teaching studio, and throughout the month of October, he will appear as the Cellist on the stage of Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille, in the world premiere of the movingly poetic play “The Year of the Cello”, a love story about Hong Kong that once was. Here is a quote: “The Cello, relentless, eternal, infinite in its beauty. I want to drown in its sound”.

With tastes ranging from Baroque music to metal, prize-winning cellist Amahl is known for his musical ability to adapt to many different genres. He is a strong advocate for music of our time. Feeling at home in studios, small clubs and large concert-halls, Amahl hopes to convey that musical expression is beyond genres and labels. He has “totally embraced the bizarre sounds the cello has to offer and takes special pleasure in playing on areas of the instrument other than the strings”.

In addition to performing in concert on Saturday evening, we are being treated to a glimpse into VC’s exciting musical life, through their intriguing “Up Close and Personal” presentation at the Lakehead University Department of Music earlier that afternoon. This is an Ontario Culture Days special educational event, free and open to the public, and combines chat with playing of musical excerpts, in their inimitable style. This is a great opportunity to come and meet the artists!

Bryan Holt and Amahl Arulanandam present “a modern, street-wise energy”. They will have you on the edge of your seat!

We warmly thank our Concert Sponsor of “Beethoven Rebooted”, Saverio Veltri – TD Wealth.

Here are particulars on “Up Close and Personal” with VV2 Cello Duo. It’s a Culture Days presentation, free and open to the public. Saturday, October 1, 12:30-2:00 p.m. Jean McNulty Recital Hall, Lakehead University Department of Music. It is presented in partnership with Consortium Aurora Borealis.

I look forward to your joining us for our next concert on Saturday, November 19 at 8 p.m., auspiciously two days before St. Cecilia’s Day (the Patron Saint of Music!). We will delight you with aristocratic Baroque Chamber Music from the Courts of Germany. “Count, Duke, Prince, King”, again held at St. Paul’s United Church, 349 Waverley St., will include music for flute, oboe, violin, cello, and harpsichord by Quantz, Telemann, J.S. Bach, his son C.P.E. Bach, and even by King Frederick the Great of Prussia himself! Doris Dungan, Colleen Kennedy, Katie Stevens, Marc Palmquist, and I (Elizabeth Ganiatsos) are the performers. I am happy to say that I will fly up to be part of this concert, my first since February 8, 2020, and look forward to seeing everyone again at long last!

I now give you VC2’s very full programme notes for their “Beethoven Rebooted” concert verbatim, as was their intent. Since the music was mostly unknown to me, I really appreciated receiving their descriptions and insights, including from three of the commissioned composers, and hope that it will shed some light on what will be heard. Please read them at your leisure!

VC2 Cello Duo, with cellists Amahl Arulanandam & Bryan Holt
“Beethoven Rebooted” Programme Notes

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 (I. Allegro con brio)

We all know the infamous four-note motive: “Dun-Dun-Dun-DuH!!” What more needs to be said?

Perhaps one of the more interesting facts about Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, coming from a time of great musical output from the composer, is about the work’s premiere. The concert took place on December 22, 1808 and featured several works by the famous composer, lasting over five hours in the freezing cold! The symphony took four years to complete, between 1804-1808, well in line with the composition of the Third Cello Sonata, Op. 69 (premiered a few months later in March 1809).

In this abridged first movement (which we have arranged for far fewer players!) both cellists are given the opportunity to give their best impressions of many of the other instruments in a symphony orchestra, including the thrilling violin passages, epic horn calls, and the sombre oboe solo before ending with the classic full ensemble chords.

VC2 Cello Duo

Jean Louis Duport (1749-1819): Etude No. 2 from 21 Etudes for Violoncello

Both Jean-Louis and his older brother Jean-Pierre were very close with Beethoven, with the elder brother premiering some of the composers early cello works, including the first two Sonatas and most likely his sets of Variations for Violoncello and Piano.

In 1806 Jean-Louis, himself an accomplished performer and pedagogue, published his “Essai sur le doigté du violoncelle, et sur la conduite de l’archet” (Essay on Fingering the Violoncello, and on the Conduct of the Bow). This essay has been considered the foundation of modern cello fingering and contains many exercises including fingering for all scales and every combination of double stops that suited the style of Beethoven’s period.

The appendix of this method contains twenty-one etudes that sit at the core of the cello repertoire, much like the Beethoven Sonatas. Originally written as a solo part with second cello ad libitum, our arrangement features a passing of phrases between the two instruments much like other traditional duets of the time. Though Duport’s music is sometimes seen as being mostly academic, this etude showcases the style of the time that Duport wanted to pass on to future generations.

VC2 Cello Duo

Andrew Downing (b. 1973): Five Little Pieces

Five Little Pieces was written over a period of two months in the summer of 2017 in Rīga, Latvia and Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The commission was to compose a piece for the VC2 cello duo taking influence from Beethoven’s Cello Sonata #1 in F Major, Op. 5 No. 1. It was to be included in a program of five new pieces by five cellist-composers, each tasked with responding to one of Beethoven’s five great cello sonatas.

Since the number five pervades this entire project, it seemed appropriate to break my own portion of the work into yet five more distinct and unique pieces. Each of my pieces is its own short vignette and draws on a particular style of music (classical and non-classical), technique and/or practice as its focus. The thematic materials are all extracted from the source Sonata – whether a short bit of melody, a rhythmic pattern, a harmonic progression in the accompaniment or just a collection of notes – and recontextualized.

#1 is a kind of sentimental pseudo-ragtime piece that features a pizzicato technique derived from guitar finger-picking coupled with a harmonic chord structure featured in many places in the Sonata as well as short melodic excerpts from all over piece as a sort of introduction or overture. #2 gives a nod to Turkish folk music with its 5/8 rhythmic pattern, improvised section and ornamentation to flavour the main melodic theme of the slow first movement of the Sonata. #3 is quiet and contemplative in its mood, but dark and dense in its harmonies, and uses double-stops passed back and forth between the two parts to create 3-voice harmonies. The sonata is referenced in short, flowing arpeggios that intermittently leave the confines of the harmony as little bursts of expression amidst the darkness.

#4 is metronomic, energetic and simple in its accompaniment, inspired by and expanded from the rhythmic cello part beginning the second movement of the Sonata, with an angular melody taken from a flowing piano cadenza from the first movement. #5 is the slow, folky closing movement which features a pizzicato accompaniment and arco melody interwoven for most of the short piece culminating in one of the only moments in the whole piece when the two cellos are truly in unison. The material is mostly taken from slow-moving harmonies from all over the piece placed together such that it creates a simple song-like harmony on which the plaintive melody sits.

This work, commissioned by and dedicated to VC2, was made possible by the financial support of Shauna Rolston. Many and heartfelt thanks go to Bryan, Amahl and Shauna for the idea of the project, the wherewithal to see it through, the resources to make it happen and the generosity of spirit and to include me in the process.

Andrew Downing

Matt Brubeck (b. 1961): Entsprechung

The inspiration for Entsprechung emerged from a striking Beethoven texture found in the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Cello Sonata IV, opus 102. In the transition to the development, the cello quietly builds a drone in fifths for eight beats. This moment of calm is dramatically disrupted by the piano playing a short ascending scale motive at a forte dynamic. Before the piano can complete the motive, the cello interrupts with the same ascending scale. While composers have experimented with the idea of echoes in their work, most allow the “shout” to finish before the “echo” starts. In this passage, the sounds dovetail briefly as echoes often do in the natural world, interrupting the initial sound before it finishes. The idea of composing a piece for two cellos incorporating this approach was intriguing.

Entsprechung has various shades of meaning in German, including equivalence, counterpart, and correspondence. Throughout this piece the cellos engage in a dialogue using similar, but not identical, materials. A statement by one cello is often followed by its analogue; a phrase that upon first hearing might seem to be the same, but is not.

Aside from the chasing rhythms, other elements drawn from Beethoven’s sonata include the ascending scale motive and the abundant use of fifths. Beethoven’s influence is also felt in the use of abrupt pauses, sharp dynamic contrasts and an atmosphere of playful experimentalism.

Matt Brubeck

Bernhard Romberg (1767-1841): Sonata in E minor, Op. 38, No. 1

Bernhard Romberg was a pivotal cellistic figure in the life of Beethoven. The two were close friends and musical partners, playing in a string quartet and piano trio together. Even though Romberg did not claim to like or understand Beethoven’s music, one can hear a lot of Beethoven’s influence in his own music.

Romberg’s Sonata in E minor began life as a trio sonata for cello, viola and a continuo or bass accompaniment, so it is not unlikely that he performed this work with Beethoven, a violist himself. It was then arranged for cello and piano, which we then further rearranged for two cellos, while adding a little of our own modern flavour.

The first movement is in sonata form, which is followed by a short ABA form slow movement before concluding with a boisterous rondo. While the work is uniquely Romberg, there is an undeniable influence of Beethoven’s writing, as Romberg begins to touch on the idea of extremes (especially dynamically) that Beethoven would so fondly embrace.

VC2 Cello Duo

Anton Kraft (1752-1820): Grand Duo in G minor, Op. 5

Anton Kraft has always held an interesting role in the folklore that surrounds cello repertoire. Kraft was one of Haydn’s faithful musicians at the court of Prince Esterhàzy, where he performed the string quartets of Haydn, Mozart and later Beethoven alongside the Prince, every Friday morning.

Beethoven was a great admirer of Kraft’s, giving him the nickname “Die alte Kraft” (the ancient power), and is said to have had Kraft in mind when writing his Triple Concerto in C Major, Op. 56. Kraft also performed alongside Beethoven, with records indicating a performance in April 1809 of Beethoven’s Third Sonata in A Major, Op. 69.

Kraft was part of a long-standing controversy involving the authorship of what is now known conclusively as Haydn’s D Major Cello Concerto. Kraft studied composition with Haydn (and was most likely not as difficult a pupil as Beethoven), and his mastery of the cello would have greatly influenced both composers. His own writing was heavily focused on the cello, including sonatas, concertos and several grand duos. The Grand Duo, Op. 5 is seemingly the only one of its kind that survived.

This reconstructed version of the final movement is the perfect conclusion to this cello duo masterwork. It includes a great deal of fanfare, showcasing the drama, comedy and at times violinistic virtuosity that Anton Kraft brought to the cello.

VC2 Cello Duo

Fjóla Evans (b. 1987): Ridge and Furrow

Ridge and furrow refers to the archeological traces left by a style of farming popular in Medieval England. These formations were created when farmers would through plow the same area in the same direction, year after year. This piece written for VC2 explores this concept by cycling through and over the music of the past, in this case Beethoven’s Cello Sonata in A major. By taking the contour of a phrase from the restless Scherzo and slowly transforming its shape during the course of the piece, Ridge and Furrow focuses in on the undulating lilt of Beethoven’s sonata.

Fjóla Evans

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): Piano Sonata No. 14 in C# minor, Op. 27, No. 2 (“Moonlight”)

Yet another opportunity for musical impressions, this time with both cellos occupying one of a solo pianist’s hands (with a few switches). This opening movement from Beethoven’s reflective sonata can be heard in any number of contemporary contexts, much like the Fifth Symphony. The subtitle “Moonlight” was not given to the work by Beethoven, but instead by critic Ludwig Rellstab (l799-l860) five years after the composer’s death. Rellstab had once remarked that the first movement made him think of “a vision of a boat on Lake Lucerne by moonlight”. A very strong image that can possible be heard through the continuous flow of the triplet bass line that is heard throughout the work. Beethoven is at his best in the right hand melody, taking few notes that occupy a limited range and turning them into something magical.

VC2 Cello Duo

Raphael Weinroth-Browne (b. 1989): Triumvirate

Triumvirate was the first of the works composed, and is based on Sonata No. 2 in g minor, Op. 5 No. 2. The work is a nearly non-stop onslaught of fast scales and arpeggios, taking its cues from the world of death and black metal – musical genres very close to the heart of the composer. There are three distinct sections with each section developing a distinct theme from the sonata. After a brief quiet opening we are thrust into a world of relentless intensity before arriving at a hymn-like section quoting the opening phrases of the original work. After this short reprieve we are once again thrust into a barrage of notes before concluding with electric guitar-like harmonies and a final flourish. We end as we began the concert with a thunderous final chord.

VC2 Cello Duo


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