Thursday, November 19, 2009

Night of Fast Fingers with the TSO!

Last night I went to the "Best of Benny Goodman" concert with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and some amazing guest artists! This year would have been Goodman's 100th birthday, hence tributes seem to happening at several orchestras (NACO has theirs scheduled for January, although with a different clarinetist).

Jeff Tyzik (principal pops conductor of the Vancouver Symphony among others) conducted with Dave Bennett providing the awesome clarinet stylings which are apparently as close as you can get to the Benny Goodman originals. I was particularly surprised to arrive in the hall and find what I would call a glockenspiel but what is apparently a vibraphone sitting centre stage. Peter Appleyard who has been performing for 65 years and spent 8 of those touring with Benny Goodman (he's now 81 years old) performed throughout the first half primarily with a "swing band" consisting of Reg Schwager (guitar), John Sherwood (piano, who according to Bennett, drives from St. Catherines to wherever they play), Dave Young (bass, this guy didn't stop the entire show!), and Terry Clarke (drums, who incidentally is playing with Young this weekend in the NAC's "Celebrating Oscar Peterson" performance). Aside from some string accompaniment, the orchestra didn't do a lot in the first half. Although it was nice to see one of the basses and first chair cello player swinging with the music. It's always an added bonus when the musicians appear to be engaged and enjoying themselves, whether they're playing or not.
They played a bit more in the second half, which also included vocalist Carol McCartney singing "Why Don't You Do Right?" and "Blues in the Night". She has a lovely voice and it was a nice addition to the concert.

So a short rave about Dave Bennett. His tone is incredible when loud or soft, I don't know how his fingers can move so fast. Jumping the bridge is no challenge and his range is glorious. Certainly no controlled squeaks, pure tone the whole way. At one point he was acc-
enting a single low note then jumping to quick, high runs and I had to check if the clarinetist in the orchestra was playing, it sounded so much like two people. He never had a bit of music and had funky shoes :)

Peter Appleyard was equally enjoyable to watch and listen to. He's hands moved pretty fast at times too, and that was with 4 mallets in them! I believe it was "Sing Sing Sing" where he tried to get the drummer to bite and finish off a phrase he started. It's easy to sing yet impossible to describe in words, but in short the drummer didn't, and the audience had a chuckle. Speaking of the audience, during intermission he went up to the mezzanine and talked to some people he obviously knew, including a gentleman and lady all dressed up in the front row. It was a bit far to tell for sure but I'm going to go out on a limb and say it was TSO music director Peter Oundjian.

Jeff Tyzik didn't have a lot to do during all the solos, yet joined in the subtle swinging to the beat from the podium. Where we were sitting off to the side in the balcony we had a great view of Bennett and could see more of how Tyzik related to the orchestra than you would if you were seated directly behind him. He complemented the orchestra several times and gave credit to all the musicians. He's not in the running to become my favourite conductor, but enjoyable to experience none the less.

I do have a question for the TSO though. In the program they publish the names of the orchestra members, but in this case it certainly didn't reflect who was on stage. For example, only 2 trombone players are listed (and one of those is marked as being on sabbatical), yet I believe there were 4 on stage. There was a young guy in the middle who almost looked like a teenager, but who obviously was good enough to play with the symphony! But alas, no information on who these extra performers are. It would be nice if all additional musicians were somehow listed in the program, perhaps at the end of the bios.

All in all a great evening out and a change to "sing sing sing" all the way home!

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