Sunday, June 20, 2010

Day of Firsts with Ballet and Bruckner

Thursday was a great day!  I was able to enjoy an afternoon and evening of culture :)  There is nothing better than taking advantage of the deals offered to young adults in the city of Toronto and my entire day cost less than one full price ticket to either the National Ballet of Canada or the Toronto Symphony.  For all you other young folk out there check out DanceBreak and tsoundcheck.

So lets start with the ballet.  What caught my attention was West Side Story, which is why I wanted to go.  Other than The Nutcracker I've never been to the ballet, and quite honestly I don't much care for the National Ballet's current version of The Nutcracker, and find the Royal Winnipeg's much more entertaining.  But I digress.  Since this was my first experience, I did a bit of research.  Primarily this consisted of reading the ballet notes online and listening to the music.  The other two ballets on the program were a new commission by Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo called Pur ti Miro and Jerome Robbin's Opus 19/The Dreamer.  Pur ti Miro is set to Beethoven's "Violin Concerto in D, movement III: Rondo", and "Consecration of the House Overture", while "Pur ti Miro" is from "L'incoronazion di Poppea" (The Coronation of Poppea), an opera by Claudio Monteverdi.  The Beethoven pieces were easy enough to find on youtube (versions of the concerto by Itzhak Perlman as well as a rather young Pinkus Zukerman and the Overture), and are quite lyrical and lovely to listen to by themselves.  I particularly like the joyous aspect of Perlman's performance.

Opus 19/The Dreamer is danced to another violin concerto in D major, this one by Sergei Prokofiev (who incidentally also wrote the music for the ballets Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella).  I found this on a CD from the library and honestly did not like it at all.  The ballet notes described the piece as a "brilliant concerto...dissonant, bittersweet, [an] oddly compelling work with its blend of romanticism and modernity".  Well I got the dissonant part, but not the compelling.  So I was expecting to enjoy at least the music in the first ballet and of course Bernstein's score to West Side Story.

I picked a seat in the front row, since I've never sat in the front row of any performance, and I wanted to be able to see the orchestra.  Well I needn't have worried about the second part because the pit at the Four Seasons Centre is more in front of the stage than under it making for a wonderful view from the audience.  At times there was far too much going on to take it all in with the dancers, orchestra, conductor, and even singers, providing visuals.  Through my research I also found out there was a pre-ballet talk about the various works and I'm very glad I went.  Ballet Master, Lindsay Fischer provided insight into the choreography, story lines, and artists through a very engaging and heart felt talk.

The surprise of my experience was how something can completely change when you put movement to it.  I thoroughly enjoyed Opus 19/The Dreamer.  The violin soloist, Benjamin Bowman, was phenomenal in both Pur ti Miro and Opus 19.  So, I would probably have had a new appreciation for Prokofiev's piece just with that; however, add the abstract story of the ballet and it was incredible.  The music and movement fit so well that it all came alive!  Abstract or not I understood more of the searching and yearning to fit in showcased in Opus 19, than I did the more narrative story of Nero, the emperor, and Poppea, his mistress, in Pur ti Miro.  Granted the pas de deux between Tanya Howard and Jiri Jelinek was beautiful and the lifts throughout were breathtaking, but I didn't feel like she really loved him.  Maybe she didn't and that's the point, but he looked at her loving, while she looked at him almost with distain.

West Side Story was fun, and lively and everything it should be.  The conductor, David Briskin, was enjoyable to watch, sang along at parts and at times had a similar beat style to my favourite conductor :)  One dancer fell in "The Prologue" as the guys were skidding across the stage, although he was up again so quickly you almost had to second guess if it actually happened.  I imagine that's a very shocking experience for a dancer.  A nice job was done of singing and acting "America" by Jordana Damec as Anita and Stephanie Hutchison as Rosalia.  These dancers are obviously very multi-talented!

Several hours later, the evening began at Roy Thomson Hall for what was originally marketed as Yannick and Yundi.  Yundi, a Chinese pianist who recently won the Warsaw Chopin competition was to play Chopin's "Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor", with Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducting.  The evening was completed with Bruckner's 9th Symphony.  Unfortunately, Mr. Nezet-Seguin (who I was looking forward to seeing) was unable to make it due to scheduling conflicts, so with 9 days notice another French-Canadian conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni, stepped in.  He conducted "The Messiah" this past Christmas.

This was also my first experience with Bruckner.  I've heard various interviews which give the impression he is the epitome of classical music, and while technically I'm working backwards by hearing his final, unfinished symphony first, might as well start with the one that would showcase all his experience.

There was a fair amount of dynamic contrast and the piece progressed at a lively tempo, so it certainly wasn't boring.  Near the ending there were repetitive notes in the strings and horns which got a little dry though.  The sound from the four French horns sounded so much louder than usual, which I assumed was because I was sitting in the choir loft directly above them (great place to watch the conductor from and Mr. Zeitouni was very expressive making it quite entertaining).  Then when leaving I noticed there were four other horns sitting behind them!  No wonder the principal clarinet (side note: he appeared to use a synthetic reed) put in an ear plug when the volume increased.  It was also neat to see that of the full stand of mallets/sticks laid out the timpani player used at least 4 different sets.

In conclusion, I think I like Bruckner and will go searching for his other symphonies.  Unfortunately, both the TSO and National Ballet seasons are drawing to a close, so for the summer months this blog might expand more to CD/movie reviews.  Stay tuned!

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