Playing musical name games

The Gazette (Montreal)
October 30, 2004 Saturday
Final Edition

Playing musical name games


The sensational recital appearance last Sunday of the 19-year-old
Armenian violinist Sergey Khachatryan raises an interesting question:
How should we spell his name?

Usually the individual whose name it is has total authority over the
matter. But when names are transliterated – from Cyrillic or, as in
this case, Armenian script – the destination audience is entitled to a
say in the matter.

First, know that his surname is identical to that of the composer Aram
Khachaturian. As fate would have it, young Khachatryan has recorded
Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto. The spellings are not harmonized. Nor
is it hard to imagine Sergey playing Sergei – Prokofiev.

Make that Prokofiev as opposed to Prokofieff, the spelling seen during
the composer’s lifetime. Rachmaninoff is also starting to slip in
favour of Rachmaninov – in spite of the fact that the California-based
composer habitually signed his name with two f’s.

Transliterations come and go – French and English do not agree on a
host of musicians, including Stravinsky (Stravinski), Tchaikovsky
(Tchaikovski) and Shostakovich (Chostakovich).

Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, in English, are themselves obsolete
spellings by current academic standards. I recall a music library in
which the card catalogue cross-referenced Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich
– universal in English – to “correct” spellings that in fact are never

I have not mentioned German, a language with spellings of its own,
including eyesores like Schostakowitsch and Prokofijew. Since Sergey
Khachatryan lives in Frankfurt – he appears to be an interesting
example of an Armenian violinist not schooled in the Russian style – he
cannot afford to disregard the priorities of his second home. At any
rate, he is young enough to change his name and mind. Sergei
Khachaturian looks good to me. Possibly Prokofiev and Aram would

– – –

Pro Musica subscribers have been pleasantly surprised this season by a
renovation – if that is the word – of the stage of the Theatre
Maisonneuve. Hiring its own team of three technicians in the post-IATSE
era, the chamber society covers the pit of the second-largest
performance space in Place des Arts before each performance, thus
extending the stage apron and bringing artists closer to the audience.

The rear is defined by a curtain, dramatically illuminated by coloured
lights shining from the floor of the stage. It is a great improvement
over the drab beige shell we have known for years. Black panels in
front of this curtain give the musicians visual definition. More
importantly, they project sound more crisply to the crowd. The new
stage takes less than an hour to assemble, according to Pro Musica
managing director Monique Dube.

Necessity was the mother of all this invention last season when Pro
Musica found itself squeezed by the sets of Odyssee, a long-running
musical. All the same, with a few bold and simple strokes, the
long-suffering PdA resident has transformed a midsize chasm with
mediocre acoustics into a pleasant chamber hall.

Can something then be done with larger Salle Wilfrid Pelletier, home,
for better or worse, of the MSO? If the experts answer no, this is
probably because they have never bothered to try.

– – –

Ross Pratt, a former director of chamber music at the CAMMAC music camp
and pianist known for post-Romantic and French repertoire, has died in
Montreal at the age of 88.

Born in Winnipeg, Pratt had a wide-ranging education and career. He
trained in London before the Second World War and toured Asia and
Australia during the conflict to perform for servicemen. Gazette
clippings reveal that he toured Western Canada in the winter of 1944
and Mexico and central America in the summer of 1945.

Pratt was an educator as well as a performer. He taught in London
intermittently in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as at the University of
Alberta and Carleton University. His home base, however, was Montreal,
where he was a teacher at the Conservatoire. Among his notable
performances was the Canadian premiere of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a
Theme of Paganini, which he gave in 1940 with the Montreal Orchestra
under Douglas Clarke. He was also the soloist in Ravel’s Piano Concerto
in G in the Montreal debut (with the MSO) of conductor Leonard
Bernstein in 1944.

Canadian composers often figured in Pratt’s solo programs. He also
enjoyed the lecture-recital format. The last Gazette review of Pratt,
on March 1, 1985, was of a Debussy program at Marianopolis College with
spoken comments in English and French.

After this the record then falls silent. A friend of Pratt says he died
on Oct. 6 of pneumonia, after a long illness.

There will be a memorial concert tomorrow at the Unitarian Church, 5035
de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., at 3:30 p.m. Pratt is survived by his wife
Audrey, who suggests a memorial donation to CAMMAC, 8 Chemin Cammac,

Harrington, Que. J8G 2T2 .

– – –

Yannick Nezet-Seguin has earned a 21-gun rave for his last-minute
leadership last week of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra through
Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5.

“I doubt the excellent, absent (Emmanuel) Krivine, even on a good day,
could have kissed the sleeping beauty of this symphony awake as surely
as this young prince of the conductor’s art did on Thursday,” wrote
Globe and Mail contributor Ken Winters.

Praising the interpretation in some detail, the veteran critic asked
why Nezet-Seguin was not considered for the directorships of the MSO or

“Genuine talent is rare,” he concluded, “but when it comes, it can
change your perspective and your mind. Nezet-Seguin is that genuine