Saturday, April 2, 2011

TSO Goes to France

This concert, on March 30, marked the start of 3 trips to the TSO in 1 week.  They programmed a lot of good stuff all together this week.  Officially titled Thibaudet Plays Liszt, the program was almost exclusively music by French composers (except for Liszt who was born in Hungary) and featured French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and conductor Stephane Deneve.

Opening with a lesser known work by Paul Dukas (of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" fame) "La Peri, poeme danse" is a ballet and was the final score Dukas wrote.  It had light airy moments, lots of trembling strings, and frantic sections.  Frantic and fast were recurring themes of the evening.  However, the beginning of this piece threw me for a loop because I recognized it!  The opening brass fanfare is used in the Walt Disney World "Impressions de France" music from EPCOT which I have heard many, many times.  I went back and found the fanfare buried about 7 minutes in.  So now I know one of the composers used in the compilation.  For an interesting fanfare performance check this out.

Next Maestro Deneve introduced "The Shining One", a piece written for Jean-Yves Thibaudet by Guillaume Connesson, which apparently captures Mr. Thibaudet's style of playing.  Technically a contemporary work, in that Mr. Connesson is still living, still I really liked it!  Maybe "new" music is growing on me.  Anyhow, the title is from a superhuman character in the fantasy novel The Moon Pool from 1912 written by Abraham Merritt who was "the [American] equivalent of our own Jules Verne" according to Connesson.  Indeed there were times throughout that it had a very sci-fi feel to it.  Maybe that's why I liked it.  The thought crossed my mind that it might fit into Sci-fi Spectacular quite well.

A quick side note about the performers.  My first thought when Maestro Deneve appeared was that he looked like Penn Jillette (not just with the hair but his stature as well), the outspoken magician from Penn and Teller. Although his personality when he spoke seemed the exact opposite.  Obviously well liked by the orchestra, he was engaging to watch even if his hair was somewhat distracting (it's now even longer than in the photo).  He's the current music director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, a post which TSO music director Peter Oundjian will fill beginning next season.

Mr. Thibaudet walked out on stage in a slim cut suit, and pointy shoes (what can I say, my seat was on the main floor, I was at shoe level) and all promo photos of him I've seen do not do him justice.  They seem so somber, yet he was smiling and seemed genuinely happy to be there, giving the Maestro a hug after his performances and acknowledging the orchestra.  For comparison, on the left is the picture in the program, and on the right one I found with a quick google search.  Personally, I think the right is much more flattering.

Back to the performance, oh wait, it's time for intermission.  Typically a dull time of the evening, but tonight William Littler was chatting in the lobby with Canadian composer Gary Kulesha on the subject of contemporary music.  A few of this thoughts, which follow, made a lot of sense to me.  Since recordings have become so prevalent, people have come to like what they know, and aren't always willing to take a risk on something new.  He said that people don't "get" contemporary music on a first hearing, so there needs to be something in there that will make them want to hear it again.  Heck, I have that problem with classical and even pops music sometimes!  I previously blogged about not particularly liking Frank Loesser on first hearing.  But it contained something that made me listen again, and it's amazing what can grow on a person.  Additionally he gave permission to not like new music.  People often feel they should like it when it's ok to say, I didn't really enjoy that.  When asked about how players respond to new works, Mr. Kulesha catagorized it this way:  5-10% of an orchestra will love playing new music, 20-30% will absolutely despise it, and the rest are professionals and will just play it.  However, he also brought out that playing new works makes players better.  Apparently the TSO typically plays slightly behind the beat of the conductor, yet in new works can have razor sharp precision and be right on top of it.

Post intermission was "Totentanz for Piano and Orchestra".  With the main Dies irae (Day of Wrath) theme running through it and lots of keyboard gymnastics to watch, I quite enjoy this piece.  It was performed at the TSO's Halloween concert as well and was one of the main reasons I wanted to come to this concert, to hear it again by a well known pianist.

The evening concluded with "La tragedie de Salome" by Florent Schmitt.  Originally written as a ballet and limited to the 20 member pit orchestra, when Schmitt had the opportunity it 1910 to expand it using full orchestral colours, he did so; also shortening the score by half to create the current symphonic poem which he dedicated to Stravinsky.  Stravinsky quite liked the work, echoing parts in his "Rite of Spring".

It has some of the frantic and fanatic elements mentioned earlier, but also great contrasts.  Played in two movements, the first ended with such power that there was some applause.   Considering some pieces with movements don't pause between them, I was wondering if it was the conclusion as well.  Without fully turning around Maestro Deneve held up 2 fingers indicating that there was still another part to go.  He didn't seem upset, some orchestra members looked amused, and it did lighten up the mood a bit before settling into the conclusion.

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