Thursday, December 24, 2009

Beethoven and Another Premiere

December 12th marked my second TSO trip of the month. A performance of Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony (#6), and a world premiere of a new violin piece commissioned by Robert McDuffie and the TSO from Philip Glass. It's a modern take on Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Technically it was the third time it was performed, since the TSO had done in at the Wednesday concert, then Thursday at my other favourite place, the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. According to a few reviews the Glass piece stopped the show. Which is perhaps why they reversed the order and played the Beethoven first.

It was the first casual concert that I'd attended...half hour earlier start, no intermission, and a party in the lobby afterwards. We didn't really stay for the party, but the straight through performance worked well. It was also the first time I saw Peter Oundjian conduct. He's ok, certainly not boring to watch or bad, and he shared with the audience a bit of history on how he knew McDuffie (back when they were both at Julliard and recognized each other while wanting to purchase the same steak at a grocery store...who knows if it's true or not). I always like it when conductors interact with the audience.

As for the music, well you'd have to mess up Beethoven a lot for me to dislike it. I think Symphony 6 is my favourite. It's just so lyrical and really gives the feeling of the countryside. Not being a huge fan of violin solo works, I'll admit to finding the Glass piece a little long. Amazingly played though. How someone can memorize a 45 minute piece is beyond me! The style is repetitive, although there were enough new themes to keep it mostly interesting. I do like the combination of solo "songs" and then the orchestra movements. Perhaps a bit more guidance as to what theme might be winter, spring, summer, fall is needed for me. Although part of the point I expect is that the audience decides for themselves. The double stops were great! Something I'd never heard before.

All in all an enjoyable evening out.

More later, as my December with the TSO continues.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Concordia Pops Christmas

Tonight was our last concert before the Christmas break, and in my opinion it was the best so far. The audience at Thorton View was certainly the most engaged. The oboist wasn't there so the other 1st clarinet and I played the solo in Linden Lea (because our music had the cues) and we nailed it! Booyah! It was certainly the best I had played most of the pieces. There's still a few that are easy to get lost in, and we don't really get cued for entrances, although the getting lost doesn't happen while counting rests so I'm not sure it would really help anyway.

The Christmas music is fun to play, although it feels long. Particularly the last sing along piece where the audience gets to join and sing along (did you expect them to do something else? :) ). It seems to never end and my cheeks are aching by the end. The overall tone was really good tonight and the acoustics in the room sounded very nice.

So a few weeks with no official rehearsal, yet new music was handed out, hence no rest from the practicing.

Looking forward to hearing more of the Toronto Symphony and Handel's Messiah next week though. More about last weeks Beethoven's 6th and the world premiere of Philip Glass's Four Seasons to come. Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Dvorak, Tovey, McCandless, world premieres, and the TSO

December 2 was another great concert night. Beginning with a side note: Section R6 in the mezzanine is really quite good. You can see the whole stage and are close enough to see exactly who's playing. I had a great view of the principal clarinetist, and could see his fingers moving. End side note.

The conductor for the evening was Bramwell Tovey, conductor for the Vancouver Symphony among others. His voice I was familiar with from the series of CBC podcasts on Beethoven's 9 Symphonies, where he also played parts of the symphonies on the piano, so obviously talented and knowledgeable. His talent extends into being a pretty impressive composer as well. The first half of the concert included his "Urban Runway" and "Songs of the Paradise Saloon". As a conductor he definitely knew the music. He didn't open the score of "Urban Runway" until half way through the piece and then didn't really turn pages once he did open it. The intimate knowledge that comes with being the composer I suppose.

"Urban Runway" looked hard to play, particularly with watching the drummer. At one point the trumpet player had to take out the mute, turn the page, and get ready to play again in very short order. There also didn't seem to be one set of instruments that maintained the melody for long stretches (violas did for a bit apparently as a reminder of "the pre-owned grunge look") yet you could still pick out a continuous musical line. It was good modern music and totally had the sense of walking down a street looking snazzy!

"Songs of the Paradise Saloon" is a trumpet concerto commissioned for the TSO's Principal Trumpet Andrew McCandless, and this was it's world premiere. It ended up involving a C-trumpet, 2 fugal horns, a cornet, piccolo trumpet, and various mouthpiece he had hidden in his pockets to keep them warm. A longer piece than "Urban" yet equally enjoyable. A sort of theme and variations type which I always enjoy and it had some definite hummable melodies. It was great that Tovey and McCandless introduced the piece by explaining a bit about where it came from (based on a scene in Tovey's in progress opera "The Inventor") and how it developed. This intro concluded with "for those who have been to a pub you can imagine your own scenarios [referring to people one may meet there], for those who haven't, you can decide after this if it's somewhere you'd like to visit". If pubs had that kind of music it's somewhere I'd go!

The 2nd half was Dvorak's "New World Symphony". I've been anxious to hear this performed in full since the Largo movement was featured in "A Chorus of Hits" (further discussed here). I listened to parts of it on youtube for the first time before going to the concert and was surprised to hear some themes I recognized from John Williams music. The 3nd movement has some sequences of notes that likely influenced "Dual of the Fates" and the 4th movement starts as "Jaws" does. Although this was much more noticeable in the youtube version than live. The Largo was again beautiful (aside from the people who decide that's when they need to cough! ), with a duet between the oboe and clarinet I hadn't noticed before. The more lively movements were also fun to watch and listen to.

Something I'd like to know though. The principal clarinetist, oboist and a french horn (I don't believe the principal. He sat in the section beside us during the first half.) didn't play the first half, yet did perform the second. Why would they not want to play a world premiere yet want to play a symphony they've likely played many, many times over the course of their career? If anyone would care to fill me in on how this stuff works for orchestral musicians and what they can pick to perform, I'd be interested to know.

Stay tuned for notes about Beethoven's 6th next week and the first time I finally get to see Peter Oundjian conduct.