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.