Modern Vikings

danish string quartet

What do you get when you put three Danes and a Norwegian together? A “truly Scandinavian endeavor”. For the last 10 years, The Danish Quartet has wowed audiences with their refreshing approach to repertoire classics all over Europe and are now coming to Toronto for the very first time. As part of the Toronto Summer Music’s artist line- up, Rune, Asbjørn, Fredrik and Frederik, will bring a ” rewarding and unusual program to the Festival”. Performing works by Beethoven, Carl Nielsen and Thomas Adès, these four gents will cover 200 years of exceptional music with their own Danish flare of course.

MC: What do you enjoy most about summer festival performances?

TDSQ: Somehow concerts during summer festivals always feel like one-of-a-kind events. The audience is removed from the daily grind and even though the musicians aren’t exactly on vacation, they are certainly in a different mindset during the summer than some random Tuesday in November. It gives the summer festival performances a certain ‘glimmer’ that serves the music well.

MC: Please share more about your repertoire selection for the Toronto Summer Music Festival.

TDSQ: The repertoire for this concert is quite interesting: The first string quartets by national Danish composer Carl Nielsen, the English ‘Mozart of the future’ Thomas Adés and German juggernaut Beethoven. For composers, the string quartet – together with the symphony – has always been a very important medium to excel in. And the way these three composers go about it is very different and interesting. Beethoven’s first string quartet is a perfectly formed classical quartet, but it has plenty of inventions, hinting how far Beethoven would push the medium later in life. The young Carl Nielsen stands on the shoulders of Johannes Brahms. Maybe he shows more courage than skill, but his first string quartet is nonetheless a convincing, exciting and moving piece of music. Adés at 23 years shows more skill than Nielsen and even Beethoven. He creates an imaginative soundscape with lines from several other composers and art forms.
It is incredible to hear how different a string quartet can sound, and it is interesting to see how much things have changed over the last 200 years and how different these three young composers present themselves with their first string quartets. What hasn’t changed is the direct emotional impact of the music that is so present in all these pieces of music.

MC: What composer’s works do all four of you enjoy playing the most?

TDSQ: We all possess pretty eclectic music tastes and we enjoy playing many things: simple folk tunes, Ligeti, late Beethoven, loaded romantic music. What is nice about being a string quartet is that we have so much good music to choose from. We plan to continue playing string quartets for a long time and we won’t run out of good music for a while.

Danish-Quartet-by-Caroline-Bittencourt-003The Danish String Quartet will perform on Tuesday August 4th at 7:30 PM
Tickets are on sale by visiting

PanAm Couture

Couturier Rosemarie Umetsu never ceases to amaze me when it comes to her formidable designs. Always trying to put her in the spotlight whenever possible, her latest project is yet another reason why I adore this woman to the moon and back.

For the PanAm Games, Umetsu has been commissioned to design  a dress for the closing ceremonies. Soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian will wear this custom gown while performing the national anthem a cappella.

Using the logo as her means of inspiration, the satin gown will be red (in Canada’s honour) with a sequined train, clean and geometrical in shape. “There’s never been a dress from Atelier Rosemarie Umetsu,” says Bayrakdarian, “that I have tried and has not looked spectacular on me”. We couldn’t agree more.

Here is an exclusive sketch from the designer herself who is thrilled to showcase her work “on a cultural stage representing Canada”.

RosemarieUmetsu_PanAm Gown for Isabel

The closing ceremonies will take place this coming Sunday, July 26th. 

Summer Music Festivities

Toronto Summer Music 2015 New World.

It’s hard to believe that this year will already mark the 10th season of the Toronto Summer Music Festival. With the city’s concert and opera companies on hiatus until September, it’s all about the festivals and summer performances for the months of July and August. Since 2005, the TSMF has brought world-renowned performing artists to Toronto for an unparalleled combination of concerts, guest lectures and Masterclasses.

On top of the amazing performance line-up, the festival’s academy offers instruction at the highest level to musicians on the threshold of professional careers through the Chamber Music Institute and the Art of Song programs. The artists selected to participate are not only exceptional performers but are also internationally recognized pedagogues. This is has been the unique vision for the TSMF since day one.

Starting July 16th (and going on until August 9th), the festival will pay hommage to Pan Am Games. “The 2015 Festival celebrates the great composers of the Americas, European composers who sojourned in the Americas, and those attracted to the New World – the open-hearted spirit, unfettered opportunities, freedom from oppression, and wide-open spaces that inspired new musical forms and traditions in the 20th century,” shares Artistic Director, Douglas McNabney, ” it seemed natural to embrace the celebration of the Pan Am Games and to explore Music of the Americas”.

“For the first time, we’re doing musical theatre as part of the festival.  It’s probably the most significant form of American opera.  I can’t wait for our opera audience to experience The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown, a remarkable award-winning work that tells the story of a young couple who fall in and out of love over a five year period using an unconventional structure – he tells the story chronologically; she tells it in reverse.”

Other performances will feature The YOA Orchestra of the Americas (in partnership with Orchestre de la Francophonie) featuring pianist Ingrid Filter and Mexican conductor Miguel Prieto, Grammy-winning pianist Danilo Pérez who will premiere a brand new original composition, The Danish Quartet, Finnish soprano Karita Mattila and more!

“I can’t wait for Opening Night and those first few measures of Copland’s Appalachian Spring,” says Douglas, “we get the sense of wide-open space and then the jazz elements come in…for me, it’s essential American music that is concentrated into that piece. The program also includes soprano Measha Brueggergosman singing some excerpts from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess as well as a few songs from Copland.”

For more information please visit for all the festival details.


The Versatile Artist

Daniel Serafin2Viennese born baritone, Daniel Serafin, has been praised for doing, well, pretty much everything when it comes to the musical world. He has become an outstanding artist performing opera, recitals, orchestral concerts as well as musicals. The New York Times call him the “Michael Bublé from Austria” on top of his well known reputation as an opera and operetta singer. He even participated in the Austrian version of “Dancing with the Stars”!

Since his 2011 debut, the stage definitely shows to be a second home for this dashing Austrian fellow. With solo performances including “Danny Strikes Back” and “American Songbook”, he will be launching more solo programs for the upcoming 2015/2016 season, further proving  his vocal variety, beyond classical music. On top of that, his sense of style cannot be ignored as it most certainly shows the artist’s personality through and through. I chatted with him about everything that is Daniel Serafin.

MC: Let us talk music first, how the year has been so far for you as well as upcoming performances. 

DS: A lot has changed since Fall 2014. I’m doing a new program every year, as a way to personally explore the variety and different genres of music. From Winter 2014 on wards, I introduced a new program called: “Sex, Drugs & Serafin” which was showing the dark and sinful sides of the music business in songs, chansons and ballads. I toured in New York, Washington, Florida with that program as well as in Austria and Germany.

Last month, I was elected as Chairman of the Austrian Music Theater Awards. The event was held in Vienna with international stars from the world of opera, ballet and musical theater. Neil Shicoff, Piotr Beczala, Bo Skovhus, Michael Schade, John Neumayr as well as the director of the Salzburg Festival, Markus Hinterhäuser received awards ( I am very proud to have such a fantastic support from our sponsors, especially Glock Perfection who was responsible for making the entire gala a huge success.

Coming up this summer I will be singing the title role in “Weisses Rössl” (The White Horse Inn); an Austrian Show Revue at the Musikfestival Steyr. My new program for this year’s “Film Noir reloaded”  with feature songs from European filsm of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. The opening night will be on Oct. 29th at the “Neue Galerie” on Fifth Avenue in New York. I’m really looking forward to this.

MC: You are classically trained but perform beyond the classical repertoire. What attracted you to fuse together various styles in your solo performances?

DS: It’s a necessity for an artist to explore and wander in different repertoires and genres. Especially as we’re all looking for a new way to express ourselves. In the past 20-30 years, ideas and views have changed. Everything around us changes eventually which, of course if a very natural thing. Therefore, we all have to adapt and reinvent ourselves from day to day. I’m very thankful that I can do what I do and the music helps me to express myself.

MC: Along with your musical versatility, you are also very stylish both on and off the stage. Describe a typical “Daniel” outfit when performing a recital or concert gala.

DS: I try to be authentic and myself. I love everything that I wear on stage. Personally, I try not to follow trends. . I love to inspire myself though. I travel at least 5 months out of the year, so depending on the city and country, I get many impressions and inputs. At the moment, my mind is stuck on “L.A. style” as it’s the most casual – very laid-back style. I love t-shirts, cargo jeans and some cool sneakers. Daniel Serafin

MC: Most of the time, female artists have taken over the spotlight when it comes to fashion. How important is fashion for you?

DS: As I mentioned before, fashion can give you an idea and give you some inspiration on what is “trendy” or “fashionable” but I see a danger in trend chasing. We all are unique and don’t want to be measured only by the labels we are wearing and the brands. Fashion is important but the person behind is by far the most important.

MC: Has there been a favourite costume that you wish you could perform in again?

DS: No! I mostly have to wear a tuxedo or tails. These two are the basic, so I hate to wear them in private life. I do like to wearing a red pocket handkerchief always to pep things up.

Daniel Serafin_photo credit KPBS

MC: Favourite designers for your own closet?

DS: As I said it’s not the designer itself its the style that I like, and some designers I once loved changed there style so much that I lost interest in them. My favourites if I did have to choose are Tom Ford, Scotch & Soda and Lanvin.

MC: How would you depict your personal style?

DS: Casual-smart, italo-american to frame it in words. Whatever you can picture now is up to your imagination.

Visit for all upcoming performances.

Behind the Keys


The world of piano restorations has been very foreign to me but not one to be ignored. For years I have admired from afar a shop in the Rosedale neighbourhood that has brought countless pianos back to life. In 1885, Paul Hahn immigrated to Canada with a musical talent that led him to becoming a renowned cellist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. He was involved with various cultural projects within the community but had always dreamed of opening up his very own shop. Since 1913, Paul Hahn and Co. has been serving the Toronto community repairing, refinishing and restoring pianos from all over.

Today, the third generation of the Hahn family carries on the cherished tradition and have been delighting customers with the same enthusiasm and intimate knowledge. I chatted with their Manager of Sales, Jeremy Elliot, about what it really means to be a part of this unique realm.

MC: Would you say restoring a piano is like restoring a piece of art?

JE: In many respects, yes. Our goal during every restoration is to remain true to the original intentions and design of the original craftsmen. Unlike restoring a piece of art, there is a lot more heavy lifting, and every piano is essentially a mechanical device. Certainly when we refinish the cases of the piano, we take extra care to make sure that the piano is as, or more, beautiful than it was when it was new.

MC: Has piano restoration changed throughout the years from the time Paul Hahn Sr. began this business?

The Paul Hahn Workshop

JE: Yes and no. We use more power tools than we did 100 years ago, but other than that, not really. When Paul opened the store in 1913 he bought some workbenches and cabinets from Nordheimer, the piano makers. We still use them today in our workshop. An old customer just sent us a photograph of him with his Steinway when it was here in the spray booth in the 1960’s getting refinished – in the photo is a box of Red Bull steel wool, and a jack, which are still in daily use here today.

MC: Every piano has a story when it comes into the shop. Any specials stores that you can share with us?

JE: Every piano has a story, it’s true. Two years ago, we were contacted by a gentleman with a tragic story. His parents had both died in a house fire, and the house had been destroyed. This was in mid-January, and the Steinway Grand was exposed to the freezing air. Also, water from the fire hoses had frozen the piano to the floor. The piano was delivered here, and after it warmed up, the smell of smoke filled the store. We began the restoration, and the piano really seemed to respond. I know it sounds crazy, but it seemed to know that we were there to help. It came out beautifully – and the heat from the fire had made the grain in the wood really stand out. When the son and his sister came in to see the piano, and play it, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It was really special to be part of that.

MC: You have brought in some amazing pianos such as the recent 1896 Erard. Is there a certain piano on the wishlist that you have not conquered yet?

JE: We approach each restoration individually – with some of the European bands, like the Erard, we need to examine the piano and deduce the manufacturing process that created it. At that time, no two piano factories used the same approach, so before we can begin, we need to understand how the piano was originally made. Then we need to reproduce as much of that process as possible. So our technicians get to travel back in time, and effectively work in each of these factories. At least for as along as the restoration takes. Then we re-set, and begin again.

There are certain brands we don’t see as often in Canada, like Bosendorfer (though we have just completed a restoration of one, and it’s for sale), Bechstein and Bluthner. Because they’re a young company, we haven’t had a Fazioli in the workshop yet, but that would be fun. I personally would love to have a piano in the workshop that had been used on a favourite recording of mine: like the upright on The Beatles Obladi Oblada, or anything on a record by The Band.

MC: Does music history knowledge play an integral role when selling and restoring these very special instruments?

JE: Absolutely.The piano is such a versatile instrument that is used in almost every genre of music. While most people associate the piano with classical music and jazz, it’s arguably more prevalent in pop recording and performance. Every person I meet has their own musical tastes, so it’s important to connect with them on some level, and to try and stay current. Young musicians falling in love with playing the piano are critical to our future as a business, so I try as much as possible to listen to what they’re listening to. But time marches on, and even though I swore that I would never be ‘that guy’, I’m always a bit late on the scene with some of the current pop hits. Nothing is as withering as having to explain to an 8 year old that you’ve never heard of their favourite artist or the newest single. So I try…

I think a love of music is essential – I can’t imagine doing this unless music was central to my being. It’s also wonderful to be introduced to new artists or pieces by customers and people I meet in the store. My horizons are constantly expanding.

paul hahn1

All photos courtesy of Paul Hahn and Co.
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