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VRSchubert- Day 1: Lewis on Schubert


In anticipation and celebration of Paul Lewis’ performance of the Late Schubert Sonatas on October Tuesday, October 23, the VRS is embarking on 23 days of tweets, Facebook and blog posts about the life and work of Franz Schubert and this celebrated interpreter of his music.

Follow us daily on Twitter with the hashtag #VRSchubert, visit, or check back in with us each day at

Paul Lewis has been described by Gramophone Magazine as “arguably the finest Schubert interpreter of his generation.” Modest as he is, here is the artist’s perspective on performing music by Franz Schubert:

“This is the music I love, and my hope is that the people who come and hear it can love it too. That the experience will be long-lasting – and if it is, it will be because of Schubert.” – Paul Lewis

Spread the word and save: if you re-tweet or re-post any of our VRSchubert posts, you have the opportunity to save 25% on regularly priced tickets. Call our box office to reserve your tickets: 604-602-0363.

Small print: discount on A, B, C, D price section not to be combined with other offers.

Three Violins and the Talented Trio


Imagine my delight when I received an email from Jonathan Chan in London, where he is studying at the Guildhall, telling me that he had been awarded the 1715 Dominicus Montagnana violin on loan from the Canada Council Musical Instrument Bank.  Canada’s finest young talents compete for the opportunity to use these instruments for a period of time. The competition is tough.

“I ended up leaving with the absolutely gorgeous Montangna that I had been eyeing since they (the Canada Council Instrument Bank) sent me the list of violins available.  It’s easy to play on and also easily the smoothest instrument I have played on”.

Jonathan is a tremendously gifted young violinist from Vancouver whom the Vancouver Recital Society has been mentoring for the past several years.  He has played twice for the VRS – once at the Kay Meek Centre, and he also gave a stunning performance of the Ysaye Unaccompanied Sonatas for Violin as our first ever surprise concert artist. Interestingly, there was someone from South Africa in the audience (alright, I’ll confess, my cello teacher from my university days in Capetown) and she was so taken with Jon’s performance that she arranged a concert tour of South Africa for him a couple of years later. And, imagine… on that tour he played both piano AND violin!

Then, next day I received a phone call from another young protégé of ours, Aaron Timothy Chooi. He’s a young violinist from Victoria who is entering his first year at Curtis in Philadelphia.  He could hardly speak, he was so excited. “Leila, I got a Guarneri. It’s worth a fortune. My mom says I have to lock my room every time I go out.  I get to keep the violin for three years. I’ve never had a violin for that long.”

He is the recipient of the Canada Council’s 1729 Guarneri del Gesu.  Timmy (as he is known) has also played for the VRS; once in our “Budding Brilliance Concert” at the Chan Centre a few years back; as the “opening act” to the recital at the Orpheum by pianist Yuja Wang, celebrating the 30th Anniversary Season of the VRS; and finally, he played our surprise concert in the spring and gave a splendid concert and talk for local school children.

His older brother (just by a little), Nikki Chooi, has just received his second violin from the Instrument Bank, having had to return his first. He now is playing the 1700 Taft Stradivari.  Nikki graduated from the Curtis Institute last Spring and I had the pleasure of attending his wonderful grad recital, sitting between his teacher and his mother.  Nikki played a recital for the VRS at the Kay Meek Centre a couple of years back.

It is indeed thrilling to be involved with young musicians like these… at the beginning of what we hope will be illustrious careers.  Naturally, they are all smart as well as gifted, and they are well aware of the challenges ahead.

May the violins take them to great heights!

Leila Getz

PS read about our talented trio and other winners on the Instrument Bank website.

Program Notes: Paul Lewis


Paul Lewis performs the Late Schubert Sonatas

The year of Schubert’s death, 1828, saw the birth of an extraordinary number of masterpieces from the pen of this master lyricist: the “Great” C major Symphony, the Mass in E-flat, the String Quintet in C, thirteen of his finest songs, and the final trilogy of great piano sonatas. This trilogy might be compared with the last three symphonies of Mozart. Each trilogy was written within a short period during the last year of its composer’s short life; each is a compact picture of its creator’s musical personality comprising three works of markedly differing character; each is a distillation of its composer’s last years of suffering and was written in a period of despair and deprivation; all the sonatas and symphonies are spacious in design, noble in concept and almost epic in scale; and each trilogy contains one stormy work in a prevailing minor key.

These sonatas also prompt thoughts on Beethoven’s last works in the genre, “final pronouncements of great minds,” as Ernest Porter puts it. “The sense of finality,” writes Porter, “is with us who cannot imagine any greater succeeding works and who perceive in these a summation of the composer’s output. Both had gone through trial and tribulation and the passions of sorrow and joy, and had arrived at that period when they could meditate on the inner meaning of life while still expressing its heights and depths. … The sequence of emotional thought is more highly controlled and resolved with persuasive logic.”

Schubert died before the sonatas were published. Diabelli published them only in 1838, with the dedication going to Schumann, an apt choice in light of his championship of Schubert’s music.

With regard to Schubert’s treatment of form, it is worth quoting Joseph Machlis’ observation on the sonatas in general: Schubert “was not the master builder Beethoven was. Inevitably he loosened the form, introducing into its flexible architecture the elements of caprice and whimsy, improvisation and inspired lyricism. His sonatas are spacious, fantasy-like compositions that display all the characteristics of the Schubertian style – spontaneous melody, richly expressive harmonies, rhythmic vitality, charming changes of key, emotion-charged shifts from major to minor, figuration that is almost always fresh and personal (with an occasional tendency to ramble), and great freedom in the handling of classical form.”

Piano sonata in C minor, D. 958

The opening subject of the C minor sonata – tragic, stormy and brusque – is often compared with the theme of Beethoven’s 32 Variations for Piano in the same key. The second subject, however, is a gracious, utterly beguiling melody in E flat major that only Schubert could have written, and probably the most memorable theme in the entire sonata. Yet Schubert devotes little time to it in the course of the first movement’s development section, preferring instead to focus on the defiant opening idea and even more so to a new, serpentine motif which becomes the predominant material of the development.

The Adagio opens with a solemn, hymn-like theme in four-part harmony in the key of A flat major. Two unsettled interludes, both derived from the same contrasting material in this A-B-A-B-A-form movement, interrupt the placid mood.

The Menuetto returns to C minor. The tempo marking of Allegro (rather brisk for a minuet) helps avoid what otherwise might have been a somber movement. The central Trio, reminiscent of a Ländler (a rustic Austrian dance in triple meter), has “Schubert” written all over it.

The finale is infused with a touch of the demonic. On paper, the rhythmic pattern suggests a tarantella (a lively Italian dance), but the effect in performance is closer to a gallop – of a ride to the abyss.

 Piano Sonata in A major, D. 959

The A major sonata opens with a grand, majestic subject that breaks off at the end to introduce one of the movement’s most characteristic features, gentle cascades of triplets. Schubert extends both the opening subject and the triplets for some time, spinning out his lyric ideas with ineffable ease. Eventually he introduces the second subject, a serenely reposeful theme as notable for its simplicity as for its charm.

The slow movement is a three-part structure. A gently rocking theme of almost hypnotic power slowly unfolds in F sharp minor. By contrast, the central section is highly dramatic, full of clashing dissonances, long trills, chromatic scales and rumbling bass.

The Scherzo is one of Schubert’s most delightful, and its lighthearted, bouncy mood all the more welcome after the seriousness of the two preceding movements.

The long rondo-finale reveals Schubert at his most endearing and congenial, calling to mind Schumann’s famous comment about Schubert’s C major Symphony: music of “heavenly length.”

Piano sonata in B flat major, D. 960

Olympian in scope, expansive yet coherently organized in its concern for proportion and balance, saturated with gorgeous lyricism and often discussed in terms of hushed reverence by its admirers, the B flat sonata stands as a landmark in the history of musical achievements. The first movement opens with one of Schubert’s most heavenly themes – a tender, reflective progression of smoothly-connected chords suggesting vast spaces and extended time spans. The sublime beauty of this theme is underscored by its utter simplicity. It closes on a low, mysterious trill, as if from a distant region. Three more times we hear the theme, each one slightly altered, but no less ingratiating. “Schubert’s piano melodies are not involved with struggles, metamorphoses and chasms,” said pianist Jörg Demus; “they wander along with gentle corpulence – likenesses of their creator – through the musical keys as through countrysides, changing by means of an apparently abrupt harmonic inflection, appearing suddenly in another light and assuming a new countenance from one measure to another.”

The deeply contemplative second movement is no less sublime than the first, but is cast in a simple A-B-A mold. The accompaniment consists of a constantly repeated four-note figure that in itself contributes to the music’s hypnotic effect.

After two long and profound movements, some lighthearted relief is needed. This Schubert provides in the form of an elfin Scherzo in which the single theme darts about, touching briefly on various keys. The brief central Trio relies on syncopation and a darker mood for its effect.

The finale’s main theme is announced by a one-note “call to attention,” which is associated with the theme upon nearly every subsequent appearance in the movement. On and on flows the music, propelled by endlessly repeated rhythmic patterns and a natural power of melodious invention.

Program notes by Robert Markow, 2012.


Following their incredible journey through the Beethoven Piano and Violin Sonatas in three concerts for the Vancouver Recital Society, Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov were anxious to blow off excess steam and see something of Vancouver before they left for their next engagement in San Francisco.

So I, as the tour guide, and Allison Hart, one of the concert sponsors and the driver for the tour, set out with the musicians on Sunday after they had changed and packed up. We headed down to Granville Island where the plan was to take them on a quick tour of the market before driving through Stanley Park, and then continue on to West Vancouver, where we were to meet the rest of the Beethoven Project sponsors for dinner.

At Granville Island we re-fueled the musicians with strong coffee and literally ran around showing them the wonders of the market. Then, we walked over to the Net Loft into the craft gallery where Alexander made a purchase. Isabelle walked across the corridor and spied Edie’s Hat Shop. “Oh,” she said, “I love hats!”  In we went. The young salesman pointed out that the store would be closing in three minutes, to which Isabelle responded, “Oh, you may not want to close in three minutes as you have some serious customers!”

As it turns out, Isabelle has the perfect head and face for hats. Every single one she tried on looked fabulous on her. Meanwhile, Alexander (who is a HUGE fan of Fred Astaire) asked whether they carried Top Hats. And of course, as you can see from the photograph, they do!

We left Edie’s hats 45 minutes later having purchased a total of 6 hats among us. Now there was no time to drive through Stanley Park, but we were wide awake from our hat shop adventure and decided to wear our hats to dinner. We turned a few heads, and had a wonderful dinner.

Is this really why artists so enjoy coming to Vancouver? 

RU35: Recitals Under 35

Ru35_smallLooking for a way to experience heart-stopping classical music recitals without breaking the bank? RU35, or Recitals Under 35, is the Vancouver Recital Society’s new program for discerning young Vancouverites between the ages of 18 and 35. RU35 tickets for all recitals are only $18, a savings of up to 75%.

As one of the few recital series in North America dedicated to presenting internationally-acclaimed artists, both emerging and established, the Vancouver Recital Society has built a reputation around the world for innovation and excellence in programming, garnering prestigious awards in New York and Toronto. We hope to provide our audience with the experience of discovery, of hearing the future of classical music, and of uncovering the “superstar” candidates for the 21st century.

Interested? Feel free to contact our friendly staff at the Vancouver Recital Society Box Office for RU35 tickets and to learn more: 604.602.0363