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GGS Recitals: Keeping it Live During Lockdown

GGS Recitals: Keeping it Live During Lockdown

Artur Chakhmakhchyan (Violin, BMus, ‘21) performs Chaconne by Manitoba composer T. Patrick Carrabré with pianist Jeanie Chung in Temerty Theatre

The 20-21 Academic Year has certainly come with its challenges, but one stronghold for many GGS students has been their recital preparations. In a year of cancellations, postponements and rescheduled events, student recitals were one performance opportunity guaranteed not to dematerialize – instead, recitals were adapted to suit even the most intense lockdown restrictions, including the forced closure of both Koerner Hall and Mazzoleni Hall this spring.  

Once again, adaptability has been the name of the game for recitals this year – ADP pianists were given the rare opportunity to record their December recitals in Koerner Hall, The Royal Conservatory’s premiere concert venue, which in a regular year is booked to capacity, and for the Spring recital season, Temerty Theatre has been transformed into a de facto recording studio.

“Naturally, the level of preparation was the same, but with a heightened level of awareness in knowing that it would be recorded, then shared with others,” said Artur Chakhmakhchyan (BMus ‘21, violin). “I think we’ve all experienced that reality check this year – recordings are far more stressful, particularly if you only get one take!”   

Sasha Bult-Ito (BMus ‘19 / ADP ‘21, piano) performs Schumann’s Kreisleriana, Op. 16 in Koerner Hall this past December as part of her recital

Sasha Bult-Ito (BMus ‘19 / ADP ‘21, piano) was able to record one of her two graduating recitals in Koerner Hall this past December. “I especially enjoyed the calm environment before going on to perform. With only you and the recording crew in the area, you can really tune in with yourself before and during the performance, without distraction.” 

While the absence of an audience is certainly felt, the acoustic environment is much easier to control, and students are therefore able to walk away at the end of the day with a professional quality recording which can be shared with family and friends, posted online, or even submitted to an international competition round.  

“My recital was a great opportunity to perform repertoire that I love, and because the school has provided me with a recording, I will be able to share that love with friends and family who might not have been able to come to Toronto for a live recital,” said Vivien Illion (BMus ‘22, voice). “The collaboration between voice and piano is integral to much of the vocal repertoire, and so being able to sing live with my coach despite the circumstances was very gratifying." 

Vivien Illion (BMus ‘22, voice) performs Amor dormiglione by Barbara Strozzi with pianist Peter Tiefenbach in recital on Sunday, May 9

“Preparing to sing for only the camera, it was easy to lose sight of the real value of live performance and to become fixated on attaining some idea of perfection,” Illion noted. “It became necessary to remind myself to strive for what I would consider important if an audience was in the room: communicating with, inspiring, and exciting others through the words and music!” 

“It's definitely disorienting to walk out into a hall to perform a recital, and not be met with physical people in seats and the sound of applause,” said Bult-Ito. “I would have to say that personally it has been quite freeing, since my most immediate audience is myself. I have always preferred being alone to being around a lot of people, so getting to perform all my repertoire with only myself in the space has been quite rewarding. I love sharing music with others, but it's so special to embrace the setting of playing for only yourself, or for yourself and one or two other people.” 

“I was able to publish the recording on YouTube as a premiere, which gave me the chance to watch it ‘live’ with my guests,” said Chakhmakhchyan. “Though it will never compare, this was the closest to an in-person recital that we could get.”  

Regarding approaches to their repertoire selection, responses were as varied and unique as each performer.  

“This year, I learned a lot about the kinds of repertoire I love to sing, and I've become particularly excited about sharing repertoire that audiences might not have heard before!” Illion enthused. “I was very excited to feature two women composers, Strozzi and Tailleferre, on my program this year. I hope to continue considering diversity in programming as I look to next year's recital.” 

“As part of our recital requirements, we have to play a Canadian work. I spent quite a while searching for a piece that truly spoke to me, and I was thrilled when I found the Chaconne,” said Chakhmakhchyan. “After I published the recital, it was a relief to receive so many wonderful comments and feedback on the work – everyone seemed to enjoy it, as did I.” 

GGS Students Brayden Krueger (ADP ‘21, percussion) and Julien Altmann (ADP ‘21, viola) perform Rumble by Peter Lieberson for their Spring recitals, with support from GGS Faculty member Jeffrey Beecher (Double Bass)

While tightened restrictions prevented most students from programming chamber works in their recitals, some took advantage of the opportunity to program works for smaller configurations of performers. Programming duos and trios in recitals has afforded students the opportunity to collaborate with their peers, an opportunity which has been especially rare this year.  

“The preparation and performance of Rumble might be the most fun I’ve had on a recital,” said Julien Altmann (ADP ‘21, viola). “Working with an amazing chamber musician like Jeffrey Beecher, and a good friend like Brayden was a dream come true, especially with such a wild and original piece of music...I am a big lover of folk and jazz music, and Rumble is a brilliantly worked combination of contemporary classical music with some homages to Stuff Smith and Argentinian tango.” 

"Collaborating with Julien and Brayden has been a rejuvenating reminder of what makes teaching at GGS so rewarding,” said Jeffrey Beecher, a faculty member who also serves as Principal Double Bass with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. “It was a sincere musical bright spot to work with two talented, open-minded, and hard-working young professionals.” 

When asked how they would compare their recital experience this year to that of previous years, students’ answers varied greatly. It became clear that each student had their own unique experience in performance, affected mostly by their own performance backgrounds and approaches to music making. 

“Preparation for my recital was the same as any other year, with the only exception being slightly more fear for the performance,” said Brayden Krueger (ADP ‘21, percussion). “I’ve learned that the act of performing is just as much a tangible skill as playing a soft snare drum roll.” 

“Actually, I've never done a recital with a live audience before!” said Illion. “Last April would have been my first solo recital, and I ended up recording it at home singing to pre-recorded piano tracks. This year, having the filming aspect handled by a very helpful recording engineer made the entire process much easier.” 

“The mental preparation process has been the most different for me,” said Bult-Ito. “In the past, I have made an effort to run through my program for other people prior to my recital date, but that of course hasn't been possible this year. It's been particularly interesting re-evaluating what performing means to me and allowing myself to explore the more intimate performance setting of playing in an empty hall.” 

On the whole, students commented that their recital recording was a positive experience.  

“I think my recital experience went much better than expected!” said Chakhmakhchyan. “Of course, I was very sad not to have had a live audience with an applause, a meet-and-greet, and that general concert atmosphere, but having the recital professionally recorded was of great advantage.”  

“Despite thoroughly enjoying the more intimate performance experience, I really do miss one thing,” Bult-Ito commented. “Not being able to have my teachers and parents as physical audience members has been very, very hard – they have been my grounding points over these past 6 years in Toronto, and I wouldn't be where I am today without them. Even with that in mind, I've tried to view it as a new experience to embrace and make the best of!” 

“The end goal is the same, to share music with our friends and family,” said Altmann. “I am very glad, despite the heavy restrictions in Toronto, that GGS has worked hard to make a professional quality recording for my recital possible.”

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