Wednesday, November 10, 2010
TSO Pops Season Beginnings
Way back on Oct. 19 the Toronto Symphony opened it's Pops season with Steven Reineke guest conducting Broadway Divas! Side note: when this concert was originally advertised I believe the title was Wicked Divas which makes sense given that the two soloists, debuting with the TSO, previously played the leads in Wicked on Broadway, although not at the same time. Julia Murney was Elphaba , while Jennifer Laura Thompson was Glinda.
What was especially fun for me, was getting the chance to see an open rehearsal the afternoon of the show. It's the first Pops open rehearsal the TSO has done and I hope there are more to come. It amazes me that with one run through they put the whole show together and they never went over any part more than twice. Often it was just transitions and some of the beginnings that were repeated. With just a few comments from the conductor, the second time the orchestra played the section you could hear the changes right away, obviously signs of true professionals. In the concert that evening it was great to be able to pick out the parts they'd gone over and they sounded even better. The vocalists were pros too. You'd never had known at the performance that Jennifer wasn't feeling well and they cut out a bar at the end of "I Could Have Danced All Night" to make it easier to hold that final high note.
Before they'd begin a piece Steven would pass along some instructions or make sure things had been corrected in the parts. For example, in one piece all the B's in the bass part were suppose to be C's, and from what I gathered from musician replies, that had been corrected. After they played through the piece, usually continuously, he didn't stop in the middle very often, there were sometimes questions. A few that I recall involved someone asking something very specific about their part in the opening "Overture to Gypsy", and Steven's replying being he was conducting off the piano score, so couldn't really tell them (and here I thought only the small orchestra I play with had that problem). His reply to a question from the drummer about what he really wanted the rhythm to be was particularly funny since Steven told him "don't play what I wrote" in a piece he had arranged. The percussion section seemed to get the most direction and/or questions from the podium, often about what equipment they had to work with or whether they had all the parts when Steven would notice something missing. For example, the timpani player ended up playing the shaker in "Conga" to cover things off. One piece that I can't recall any comments on other than, "thanks for humouring me by going through that" was "Selections from Carmen". I expect that's a piece that appears semi-regularly on light classics concerts, so wasn't at all new to the orchestra.
"Conga" however, quite likely was new. Before they played it at the rehearsal the principal trombone, Gordon Wolfe, asked how badly they had to play it before Steven would take it off the program. He laughed and jokingly said they'd better watch it, it was his arrangement and everyone loves the Conga! After watching the first try of it, particularly the trombone part that had some pretty rapid slide work going on, I can understand his comment. It sounded a bit rough the first time through, but got better as they worked on sections and that night in performance it sounded great!
Following the open rehearsal there was a Q&A session with second bassoonist Samuel Banks who joined the orchestra in 2009. He was very personable, and answered questions on how he started on the bassoon (was bored with the bass clarinet), how the orchestra prepared for the concert (they got the music about a week in advance, the bassoon part was fairly straightforward with lots of written in metronome markings so he practiced with those), and how he feels about Pops concerts (he enjoys the genre, gets a chance to swing, and isn't about making a statement as a jazz musician just to present great music). Previously he played with the Indianapolis Symphony for 5 years and after finding that out I had to ask if he was on my favourite Christmas CD (which I've started listening to already) but he just missed the ISO Yuletide Celebration recording beginning with the orchestra the fall after they recorded it that summer. Too bad, it's fantastic, and I bet it was a lot of fun to be part of the creation process.
Several hours later, it was time for the performance! So now a few notes about that. It opened with an interesting arrangement of the "Overture from Gypsy". Personally I prefer the original Jule Styne version beginning with the cymbal crash and timpani roll, although according to the liner notes of "Everything's Coming Up Roses" those elements aren't actually in the score. The orchestra had lots of opportunity to show their skills with "Carmen", "Ragtime", "Conga" (which sounded awesome! no need to even consider pulling it from the program), another Reineke arrangement "I Hear a Symphony: Symphonic Sounds of Diana Ross" obviously an assortment of songs made famous by her including "Stop! In the Name of Love", and Concertmaster Mark Skazinetsky was featured in "Over the Rainbow".
The Divas engaged in minimal bad diva behaviour but had fun with each other and the audience. Julia performed a funny rendition of "Ring Them Bells" originally written for Liza Minnelli and Jennifer soared over the high notes in "Think of Me" from the Phantom of the Opera. The program concluded with them each channelling their Wicked rolls for "Popular" and "Defying Gravity" then coming together in "For Good". An interesting choice for the end of the concert in that it's a quiet showstopper not a huge orchestral big bang type. Even the encore "I Will Never Leave You" from Side Show (which I'd never heard of until reading the linked wiki article. It's cool it helped the career of Hugh Panaro-previously blogged about here and here), is a quieter song, although fitting given what it followed.
If anyone from the TSO happens to read this, thanks for a great opening to the Pops season, and I hope the first Pops open rehearsal was a success from your perspective and more will be planned for next year.