Wednesday, November 30, 2011

TSO's High Profile Guest Artist
Lang Lang began a two week stay in Toronto on Nov. 9, where he performed all five Beethoven Piano Concerti linked in concerts with Beethoven symphonies.  In addition to his performing, he engaged in outreach concerts and teaching opportunities with many groups of local school children.

I attended the concert which featured Beethoven's Piano Concerto 2, and Symphony 7 on Nov. 17.  It was quite an exciting evening, beginning with the first time I've seen Jonathan Crow as concert master since it was first announced at a concert I attended last season.  The young, handsome gentlemen are taking over the seating along the edge of the stage.  Crow is quite tall and the violin almost seemed small in his hands.

The first piece on the program was "Tibetan Swing" by Bright Sheng a Chinese-American who was in the audience for the Canadian premiere of his work.  It started off minimalistic then added groups of instruments until there was a cacophony of sound.  I didn't particularly enjoy this part, but preferred when it quieted down again.  For me there was too much going on to understand much of anything.  The trombones (particularly Gord Wolfe) were fun to watch though.  While muted they were engaged in very quick full slide motions, which sounded like ducks quacking at times.  Probably not the effect the composer was going for, however he was welcomed up on stage for a series of bows at the conclusion of the piece.
After a brief break for a stage shift and musician swap, Lang Lang arrived to start off the Beethoven portion of the evening.  He has a somewhat flamboyant style, moving with the music and sweeping his arms at times as if joining in the conducting while he waited for the orchestra to finish the introduction.  At the moment I don't remember much about the actual piece.  The second movement, the Adagio, particularly near the end was sleep inducing, although I'll blame this on my tired state and the lyrical beauty.  It was not boring.  His pianissimos are remarkably quiet giving him the ability to produce a wide dynamic range without having to pound it out of the piano.  The bouncy-ness returned in the 3rd movement, which was followed by an almost full house standing ovation.  Although it wasn't an instantaneous jumping of the crowd to their feet.  One lady from the audience passed a bouquet of flowers to Lang Lang who kissed her hand in thank you.  He then pulled one bloom from the group and presented it to Peter Oundjian.  With no end to the applause in sight Lang Lang passed the bouquet to Teng Li (I think), the principal violist, and returned to the piano for an encore.  But not before Oundjian attempted to hand him back the single flower.  A funny gesture that showed the rapport they have developed over the years.  I have no idea what the encore was.  I'll guess Liszt because that's what Lang Lang's most recent CD consists of, but it really is a pure guess.

Next up was the real reason I wanted to attend this concert.  I'm working at seeing all the Beethoven Symphonies, and this crossed off number 7.  Perhaps I said this before, but whatever one I see last becomes my favourite and this was no exception.  There's a very energetic "amsterdam" rhythm in the first movement that keeps the piece motoring along.  Then the gorgeous yet simple theme in the second movement.  Beethoven did a lot with 4 note patterns, case in point Symphony 5, and it created some very memorable and emotional music.  The fourth movement was almost a frenzy but held together and built to a brilliant finish.  In fact the audience was faster in rising to their feet at the conclusion of the symphony than for the piano concerto!  Myself included.  I was wide awake again for the trip home humming the first movement theme the whole way.

As an added bonus, there was in intermission chat with principal keyboardist Patricia Krueger.  A few interesting tidbits: her favourite instrument to play is the triangle (which she does quite enthusiastically), and the Roy Thomson Hall organ has 5000 pipes!

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